Lake Garda Marathon

On 21st December 2012 by Rachael


I’ve stood on start lines in some stunning locations, but few quite as spectacular  as the Lake Garda marathon.

The race starts in the beautiful village of Limone sur Garda on the west of the lake, all stone built houses which tumble down the hillside like the gnarled lemon trees for which the village is famed, and ends on the opposite side at the castle village of Malcesine.

The race is a small one with only about 2000 runners in all, which includes the 30k race runners who padded out the numbers on the start line. Although the most noticeable thing was not the small numbers, but how many men there were to women. For the first time in my life, I encountered a longer queue for the men’s toilets.

This was my first marathon and I shared the start line experience with five of the Fitbitch Running Club who were running 30k, while our remaining 24 runners were in Torbole at the start line for the 15k race.

Because so many of our club were in the 15k race, we’d stayed in Torbole which had meant an early start for the rest of us. While the event organisers put on a pre-race ferry from Malcesine, we had to get a taxi at 6.30am to avoid road closures.

Arriving before the sun came up, we decided to camp out at the nearby Bar Italia for coffee.

Here, amidst the rich smell of espresso we met Helen, from the north east of England, who was running the marathon for the second time. She gave us handy tips about the finish line (it turns back on itself) and pointed out last year’s winner.

A scrawny Italian man in his thirties, he had an impressive beard that would not have looked out of place in the Appalachian mountains. I couldn’t help wondering how much faster he might be without it (although he won again, with a time of 2hrs 31).

By the time I lined up at the start line, having waited for three hours I couldn’t wait to run. And with some music to drum up the atmosphere, we were off.

Despite the small numbers, it was a hesitant start with slow runners and groups to navigate. But once clear I was able to take in the glorious scenery, with the Dolomites rearing up into the sky and the lake glittering in the pale autumn sunshine.

While the north end of Lake Garda is renowned for the mountains, the route  never goes above 100 metres tracking the edge of the lake and swooping through tunnels blasted through the rock.

Had it been hot, these would have provided much needed shade but it was a cloudy day with just the occasional shaft of sunlight breaking through.

Often, as I ran through the tunnels all I could make out were the reflectors on the back of trainers and runner’s clothing. It was like being in the middle of a silent space invaders game.

By the time we ran into the beautiful town of Riva Del Garda, complete with traditional cobble stoned squares, and supporters cheering from their cafe tables and Sunday morning cappuccino, I was grateful for the crowd noise.

From here the route ran alongside the footpath to Torbole. Until this point I’d felt relaxed about running my first marathon, or so I thought. But as I hit the marker where the marathon diverted it really hit me that I was running 26.2miles and felt a momentary flash of anxiety.

It was at that point that the only runner who spoke to me throughout the race piped up. A Dutch runner, wearing a huge fancy dress top hat (the only runner in fancy dress) he asked why I was running with a backpack and whether I was carrying stones.

I’d begun to think the same thing, it felt heavy, and there were plenty of refreshment stations along the route with water, orange squash, bananas and even biscuits and apricot flans on offer.

In a moment of brain fog delusion, I even decided to try a piece of the tart. Big mistake. Dry pastry, long run? Not wise.

Ironically, despite the beauty of the lake scenery, I quickly become used to the view and so I was glad of the variety as the route went through some local vineyards to the small, village of Acro, and along the river before spilling back on to the lake side at Torbole.

Until then, the weather had been perfect but at mile 23 the heavens opened, washing stinging sweat into my eyes. Thankfully, that was the only discomfort I encountered.

I had heard so much about hitting the wall, and watched so many marathon runners in agony at the final stages, I’d been prepared for Armageddon to hit.

But while my legs were tired and tight, they were OK, although in the last mile as I ran through the rain soaked, deserted streets of Malcesine I was glued to my Garmin, counting down the distance.

I was about to despair when my watch hit 26.2miles and I couldn’t see the finish line, but then I was greeted by the cheers of 31 women from Fitbitch cheering me in. Despite the fact I’d been willing my legs to run faster in the last six miles to no avail,  it’s amazing what support can do. I managed a sprint finish with a time of 3hours 50mins, according to my watch at 26.4 miles.

Although there were warm showers at the finish line, after picking up my bag (efficiently transported by ferry across the lake from the start line) and hobbling sideways down a steep flight of stairs, I went straight to the restaurant at the finish line and celebrated with a glass or two of prosecco.

Would I do another marathon? Definitely. Not because I want to beat my time (although, I do) but because running this distance in another country means you get the chance to see so much more. And, if truth be told, I like the out of body feeling you get when you run a marathon.

If you are a fan of the spectacular views that you usually only get by going off road, but you don’t fancy taking on a hilly marathon, the Lake Garda marathon is the perfect option.

Just don’t try the pastries – and bring your own cheering squad!

Good points

The spectacular scenery, including the vineyards around Arco

Catching the post race ferry – how unique is that?

The wealth of delicious food available when running in Italy

Bad points

Few toilets, and the ones on the start line were squat toilets

Not enough supporters

Final information was sent out very late

Fact file

Where to stay: Hotel Villa Stella in Torbole (ideal for the 15k start but you need to leave early by car to get to the start line for the marathon as they close the roads at 7.30am) with fantastic pre-run breakfasts and a sauna and swimming pool.

Race Bag Goodies – 15K runners received compression socks and the usual mixture of glucose snacks. Marathon and 30 runners received flattering race t-shirts.

For more information visit The 2012 marathon was on October 14th but dates for 2013 have yet to be released. Entry free from 30 Euros

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