The good and bad of racing organizations

Living in a predominately Catholic country like Italy, you get used to the “Saint of the day”. And if your name coincides with that saint? Well, it’s even better than your birthday. Then there’s the Patron saints of each city, for which you get an official holiday if you live in the city limits.

Last Friday, January 31st was Modena’s patron saint day: San Geminiano. He was a Bishop in Modena in the year 390 and today is celebrated with an annual race.

Front of the pack

The race is a big deal in Modena. The main race is 13.3 km and then there’s a mini circuit of 3km. Whenever I train a new athlete in Modena their first goal is to run this race. After spectating forever they want to be a part of the action. It always surprises me because as a race,  it’s not all that great. Being held on 31 January 31st the weather is always sucky. It either snows or it rains, usually alternating from one year to the next. The course is flat and uninteresting, going to the outer limits of the city and then back again. But this year was the fortieth edition so it’s an historical race and just that fact makes it a little more interesting. Even my husband ran it when he was younger and still pulling out sub 5:00 miles!

I ran it with two friends and at about the 4km point we spotted Piero on the course taking photos…

Paola ahead in pink and Stefania behind in red.
Paola ahead in pink and Stefania behind in red.

Mimmo Ricatti, an athlete my husband trains also raced (and placed 12th!)

I *love* looking at good racing form!
I *love* looking at good racing form!

I have no idea who this next photo is, but I love the fact that she’s flying. Literally.

Fly girl!
Fly girl!

So, my story should end here but sadly it does not. Sunday I decided to run a half marathon. I have the Barcelona Marathon coming up in March and need to get some mileage in. It was held in the next town, Reggio Emilia, just a twenty minute drive from Modena.

My iPhone’s LCD screen broke and is being repaired, hence no photos. It was a crap race. It was probably one of the worst races I’ve ever participated in. But no photos to tell the tale. Let’s try with words…

There weren’t many participants, maybe a hundred. I was a little worried but I knew I could make the 2:30 time limit. We took off and right away I was at the very back of the pack. By the eighth kilometre I was in last place but I swear I was still fine with this.

I got to the 10km water station in last place. A truck came by and asked if I was okay and I gave them the thumbs up. When I got to the 15km water station they had one lonely bottle of water sitting on a table.

“Where’s the cups?” I asked. The guy explained that he had finished them all and if I wanted I could drink directly from the bottle. I let him know that I’d paid just as much as the first runner and that they had no excuse for not having a cup for me.

I took off again and they told me that in 100 metres I needed to turn right. That was the last sign of running civilization I saw. There was no sweep car; no bicycles following. Since there were no runners I couldn’t ask anybody if I was going in the right direction. At about 16km I mentally gave up and started walking.

Somewhere around 18km I came to a crossroads with marks on the road that were part of the first 5km of the race. I thought about going straight but I didn’t see any signs or road marks and had no idea where I was. I decided to turn right…and knew I’d made a mistake when I saw my gps signaling 23km.

The thing that p*ssed me off was that there was nobody from the organization worrying where I was! Since I was stinky and sweaty I couldn’t just flag down any car, so I waited until two road workers in a truck came by. We tried to figure out together exactly where I needed to go and finally they just told me to get in, they’d take me back to the start. See? There are some very lovely people in the world.

I got hold of the race director and gave him my story. He apologised and said it was their fault. Apparently there was a foible with the guy closing the race course. Whatever.

I have to say I didn’t really care; I was just angry that mentally I’d given up the race so quickly. I think it was really about not knowing what direction I was going in and if I was on the correct route… OMG METAPHOR!

I went home still upset but I had a lot of work to complete, two important articles to write; so I needed to snap myself out of that funky state. Pizza with my family for dinner helped.

Today I feel good. No aches, no pains and even more determined to get this training where it needs to be. So as they say, everything is exactly as it should be.


  1. Jen
    I'm sorry you had such a terrible experience. t hate races that don't treat all the runners well. Considering they only had a few hundred runners, they should have been able to buy enough cups not to run out.
  2. Julia Jones
    Hi Jen, it wasn't about the cups, it was about being left out on the race course without any direction or support. I've been in plenty of races, even marathons, where they ran out of water at the 5km water station! But I've never, ever been left out there alone by myself. And that is not acceptable.
  3. Jen
    It sounds so frustrating and confusing. Hope the next race is better.