Interview with Roberto Veneziani

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HONG KONG, 16 January 2009 (marathon.HK). A constant on the podium in Hong Kong's 2007/08  running season, Italian Roberto Veneziani has "disappeared" after coming in second behind Thomas Kiprotich at HKMP Half Marathon in November 2008.

marathon.HK found the father of two who loved cycling in his youth. Roberto has been living in South China since 1999 and is glad to counsel talented local athletes.

We asked him  the "8 + 8 questions"...

Numbers, please..

Date & Place of Birth: 23 September 1969 in Genoa, Italy

Weight: 70 kg

Height: 181 cm

Shoe Size: EU 42.5

Resting Heart Rate: 55 (but I do not check it too often)

PB Full Marathon: 2:38:26 in Fukuoka, 2007

PB Half Marathon: 1:14:27 in Hong Kong, 2008
PB 10 k: 33:36 in Hong Kong, 2008

Coach: myself

Warm up - 8 General questions:

The best thing to do after running? I never thought about it... usually after running I am always in a rush to go to work or to tend to my family.

The next best thing to running? I think that cycling on some great Alpine roads, with gorgeous landscape and crisp air is even better then running.

Whom would you always have liked to meet over lunch? No particular desires.

With whom would you like to swap for one day? Maybe Samuel Wanjiru for a Sunday morning...

What drives you mad? I am really depressed about the loss of ethical standards in China, the waste of public money and lack of integrity of government officials there. In general the "Race to rich" is leading the country to some huge troubles (just think about the Milk...).

Where would you wish yourself on a day when everything goes wrong? Running on some forest road in the mountains, alone with my thoughts and sweating out the malaise. Exercise is the best way to release stressful situations.

Your concept of happiness? I like to live in a flow... static environment is not for me. So happy life means a dynamic life.

Imagine you arrive late at a major HK competition just to realize that you have not packed your running shoes. Not really a "funny question" because it happened to me to arrive at a bike race forgetting to bring the front wheel... What would you do? The best way would be to ask around if someone has a spare pair to give... It would be anyway a disaster because I use heel lift in one shoe (to compensate leg length discrepancy) and I use only shoes with anti-pronation support... so I am terribly picky with shoes, but I can recall that my first running race ever (in junior high-school) was in a pair of spikes which I just had borrowed.

Endurance Test - 8 in-depth questions:

marathon.HK is going to conduct a poll for "Runners' Choice - Hong Kong's Favourite Half Marathon". You have run most of the Half Marathons staged around Hong Kong. What is your personal hit list? I have never done the UNICEF one, so I speak about the others. My favourites are Shatin HKMP because it is my own training ground, so I can run with closed eyes and Xiamen because the course is great and the crowd support is terrific.

Roberto, last time we saw you running in Hong Kong was at Hong Kong Marathon Pro Half Marathon in November. For next Sunday's China Coast Marathon you will have the bib number "1" for the full distance. Last year you finished second in the half marathon … Ahhh... I am injured and I will not race in CCM, even though I am really keen to make a try to win the Full Marathon. Back in October, I began to feel some pain in my right hip and ankle. I had to skip the Seoul Marathon, which was my main target. After some rest I felt much better, so I accepted the invitation from HKAAA to represent Hong Kong at the Singapore Marathon. It was such a great honor for me to run in the colors of Hong Kong!!. The HKMP Half Marathon gave me positive indications that I was fit to run a good marathon. But in Singapore, after 30Km my ankle totally "locked" and I was forced to stop. I was very stubborn and stupid to want to finish the race anyway, so I limped for 12 km to the finish line. Those 12 km were a huge mistake and my ankle tendons were a disaster after the race. I had not run since.

But all the medals have 2 faces: my son was born only a few days after the marathon (ahead of schedule... but he was kind enough to wait until I was back home) and so the running disappointments were a secondary issue. I put my efforts into supporting the family, and so the injury is a small regret in a very happy moment of my life.

When do you expect to participate in races again? The inflammation is regressing slowly. I count to resume running maybe in February and see what comes along. Very likely I must write off the rest of the season and focus on a strong come-back for next September. I had trained very hard during last Summer and could not show it at many races. It is an unfinished "business".

You have run many international marathons, from Fukuoka to Singapore, from Boston to Krakow. To which will you return first after your recovery? I think that Fukuoka is the ideal marathon under any aspect. I am looking forward to go back there.

Can you describe us how you prepared for the Fukuoka Marathon, where you achieved your PB in Full Marathon?

That training cycle was good because everything went very smooth. I did a first phase of shorter workouts to increase the threshold and later move into the specific endurance training. In those weeks, my usual schedule would have been:

Total around 100/120km. The key is being consistent for maybe 12/16 weeks with higher mileage. For my next marathon, I will try to reach 120/130km (if times and legs allow)

You are CEO of a major European Electronic Manufacturer's South China operations and divide your time between Dongguan and Hong Kong. A busy job. How do you still manage to train so much? I do not sleep too much... so I am used to run at 5am or 6am before work or before my family is awake. That gives me a good slot of 60/90 minutes to train every day. Sometimes I can involve my friend Erich Felbabel to train with me when I am in Hong Kong, but mainly I train alone. My life is crazily busy but I like it that way.. I am not the person laying on a couch watching TV (even better, I never watch TV and my daughter can not watch it, so at the end we have a lot of time spent together doing more interesting activities). Obviously some days I arrive in the evening that I collapse in bed for the fatigue... once I fell asleep on the floor while feeding my daughter (she was on her bed...). … and still have time to run a blog with almost daily entries… The blog is a way of motivating myself to run consistently even in the harsh conditions that I must manage (honestly speaking, running at 6am in the dark around an industrial estate in Dongguan is not exactly the dream of a runner). At times, I wish that I could have some more support through a coach or a running group/team that fit my life schedule, but it is not easy.


Roberto Veneziani after finishing his favourite and fastest Marathon in Fukuoka.


Roberto has coaching certificates for cycling and is fond of studying training theories. "I have the pleasure to have helped my friend Stefano Passarello in revealing his huge talent"

After your sixth place at Mizuno Half Marathon 2008, Martin Kennard remarked "A huge achievement for an athlete who seems to have gone from being an 'also ran' to a front runner in less than two years." What was it that made this achievement possible? I took up competitive running quite only when I was 26 and never trained consistently. I scored several marathons under 3 hours but I was a very average amateur runner. Once I moved to China, I quit running again for 5 years and resumed in 2005, picking up my usual habits (erratic training, low mileage, many fast workouts). I was in my usual standard also in Hong Kong, running around 37' for 10k and so on. After a very disappointing race, I took the time to think about my training as a runner, compared to what I had learnt from my cycling life and my "studies".

So in the winter of 2006, I took the challenge to enroll in the Boston Marathon (driven also by the wish to visit my sister, who lives in NY state) and to train for it using a different approach: I ditched all the fast interval trainings and tried to build up as much mileage as possible. The start was very tough (running 90 km weekly for someone who was used to only 40-50 km), but my body was responding and by April 2007 I run in Boston in 2:42, even though the weather was awful. From that day, I understood that in reality the secret is being consistent and try to add mileage as much as you can.

At every cycle I tried to increase the weekly mileage and got always an improvement (until now). The problem is obviously that with all the other life commitments, it is difficult to have enough recovery.

In general, I do focus on workouts that are specific for the race that I am preparing for. If you are training for a marathon, workouts like 10x400m are only a waste of time and energy. I also put a lot of attention to the long runs, with a greater effort than what I normally see around in HK...

As a AVOHK member you are actively involved in making running in Hong Kong more popular, your contributions to running websites benefit many other runners. What drives you? Running at my age is not only a sport, but also a "lifestyle statement". Running (and cycling) made me a better person and I find that helping other people in their running life is a natural way to give back to a community and a running movement that helped me so much in my life. Especially in Hong Kong I met many fine people through running.

Roberto, thank you for your time. We wish you a sustainable recovery and many new PB's in the Year of the Ox!

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