‘All you need to do,’ Chris said. ‘Is come out of the hotel, turn left, walk to the end of the road and you’ll see the runners. Then walk to the other end of the road and you can watch us come past again. After that, head for the finish and I’ll meet you there.’
It seemed simple. Out of the hotel. Left. Right. Then to the finish. My guide to marathon spectating.
I was slightly annoyed that I wasn’t out there running. This marathon had been my idea. I’d wanted to visit Florence for a long time, and when I’d seen the advert for the race, it seemed like a great way to explore the city. I was the one who’d entered and talked Chris and some friends into running with me.
Except now, after picking up a knee injury and missing huge blocks of training, I couldn’t run. My duties in Florence were limited to cheering on the others. But if I couldn’t run, I was determined to be the best cheerer-on-er.
After waving everyone off at the start, I strolled back to the hotel, passing the beautiful Duomo, the cathedral in the centre of the city. It was November and cold, but the sun was shining. With its multicoloured buildings and cobbled stone streets, Florence looked amazing. I could enjoy it much more at a slower pace.
So, I took my time, walking down to Ponte Vecchio the old bridge of Florence, where coloured shops teeter on the edge of the bridge. It was quiet, as though the city was holding its breath before the runners invaded its tranquillity.
On the other side of the bridge officials dressed in brightly coloured jackets waited for the elite runners. I glanced at my watch. Time was getting away from me. I had to get back to the hotel and get in position for marathon spectating. Chris and my friends were expecting me.
We were staying at the Borghese Palace Art Hotel, and when I made it back, I got distracted by some of the art on display. Another glance at my watch. I was late. Chris was hoping to complete the marathon in two hours forty and here I was – his cheering squad – enthralled in the art of the hotel and not where I should be at the end of the street.
He’d be coming past at any moment. I grabbed my camera and rushed out of the hotel. I was walking at such speed that I swung the doors open, stepped out and lost my footing.
I could feel myself falling. It happened in slow motion, my upper body tipping forwards, the ground coming towards me. I did that thing of moving my legs faster in the hope that they caught up with my upper body and stopped the fall. But gravity was in motion.
I hit the deck, sprawled out like a starfish on the cobbles on one of Florence’s oldest streets. An Italian couple rushed over to me, speaking Italian.
Apart from hello and thank you, my Italian (much to my shame) is limited. They helped me up, nodding and talking.
‘Grazie,’ I said. ‘Grazie. Grazie.’ But I’m not sure they understood my Barnsley-accented Italian. ‘Thank you.’ I said instead.
I was shocked and shaking, but thankfully my tights were intact, not even a ladder or a pull. I had fallen with style. I dusted myself down and resumed the walk, albeit at a much slower pace.
At the end of the road the runners had already started to come past. Within a few seconds, there was Chris. Perfect timing!
He looked fine. He smiled and waved.
‘I’ve had a fall,’ I told him. I’m not sure why I needed to share this information when he was at mile 18 of a marathon. He slowed, a look of panic on his face.
‘No, carry on! I’m fine.’
He ran on past. He’d trained hard and I could tell he was running well. He looked relaxed, his body moving smoothly. I watched him run down the street then disappear around a corner. I turned and started walking towards the other end of the road, remembering my instructions. Out of the hotel. Left. Right. Then to the finish.
My legs were stinging and sore. I could feel my hip stiffening. Not another injury! Was I the only person in the world who got injured watching a marathon?
It had happened before. When Chris ran the Yorkshire Marathon in York. I’d got distracted talking and walking with a friend, taken a wrong turn, and almost ended up in Scarborough. Realising my mistake, I’d run (in heels) to where I should have been, and in the process, injured my knee. Marathon spectating was a dangerous business.
It was quite a wait before the runners came back past. These were the latter miles and it showed in their faces and posture. Chris looked white, like all the blood had drained from his body. His shoulders were lifted, his body tense. I started cheering and shouting, but he didn’t see me. He kept on running, one foot in front of the other, head down, like he was blocking out the world. The road was narrow, surely, he would see me. I started waving, shouted louder. Nothing.
So, I ran towards him. ‘Chris!’
He jumped sideways, looking startled. It took him a few seconds to realise who I was.
‘The cobbles,’ he said. ‘Painful.’
‘I know!’ I’d fallen on them. I should have been a bit more sympathetic. He had run 24 of the 26.2 miles, so he was bound to be hurting.
On he went. He crossed the line in two hours 45 minutes and seven seconds. He looked like he was going to die.
With the race over I’d wanted to whisk him off to explore, visit the galleries and museums, see the sights and really get to know the city. But one look at his face, I knew he’d struggle.
We spent the rest of the day, eating and relaxing. The following day Chris was aching but looked almost back to normal. He braved the 95-metre-high climb to the top of the Tower of Palazzo Vecchio where we were rewarded with some spectacular views of Florence.
After that we strolled around the city some more, before visiting the cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, after St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London and the Duomo in Milan.
While the exterior of the cathedral is elaborate with its mix of pink, white and green marble, the interior in comparison is plain. This surprised me, but with its art, sculptures, mosaics and frescoes, it is still impressive.
A romantic meal in what has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world brought our trip to Florence to an end. I felt quite sad. I hadn’t got to know the place as I would have liked. I wanted to return. I decided that I would and when I did, I wouldn’t be watching from the side-lines. I would be out there running.