Endurance
Eyob Faniel, as told to Aishwarya Kumar 19d

Venice Marathon winner shares experience of bizarre wrong turn

Endurance

"Unknown local wins Venice Marathon after favorites take wrong turn" read one of the many headlines. That's how soccer-player-turned-runner Eyob Faniel gained instant fame recently by winning the second marathon he had ever entered. The 24-year-old Eritrean-born Italian took up distance running three years ago and made his 26.2-mile debut at the 2016 Florence Marathon. On Oct. 23, he triumphed in Venice after the six lead runners erroneously followed a guide motorcycle off the course in the middle of the race. By the time they figured out their mistake, the favorites had lost approximately two minutes. Faniel was running well enough to take advantage of their gaffe, and his excellent time of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 16 seconds made him the first Italian to win the race in 22 years.

Faniel shares his experience from that confusing day, as told to ESPN.com's Aishwarya Kumar.

I was running at a consistent pace when I began the marathon. The plan was to run 3 minutes, 7 seconds per kilometer the first 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) and then pick up the pace. I had prepared well for the marathon and wanted to finish at around 2:15. When I hit the 23-kilometer mark, something strange happened.

I was a minute behind the group that was leading the marathon, and when I hit the 23-kilometer (14.3-mile) mark, I knew where I had to go. There was a fork in the road, and I had to take the left and go underneath the level pass. I had specifically seen that confusing part of the course when I was reading the map and took a mental note to take the left. I took the left, but I couldn't see anybody running ahead of me. It felt like I was the first person running.

I kept running.

When I hit the 26-kilometer (16.2-mile) point, a scout caught up with me on the motorcycle and told me I was leading the race. I was confused, but I also realized this meant I had a chance to really win. This meant only one thing: The leading group had taken a wrong turn at some point. I did not see them take [the] wrong turn. I was just far [enough] behind that I missed them taking the wrong turn.

I picked up my pace and ran 1 kilometer in three minutes.

I turned around to take a quick look when I knew I was a little ahead. By then, the leading group that had taken the wrong turn had realized their mistake. They had run 200 yards before realizing they were on the wrong path. They were on the right track and were slowly catching up to me.

I saw I was still at least a minute ahead of them. I made a mental calculation and realized they had lost two minutes in the whole confusion.

I ran even faster.

It was all happening so fast, and it was very difficult to understand how they made the mistake. How can they all take the wrong path? At that point, I did not know that a motorcycle scout misjudged the turn and told them to take the path.

I reached the finish line, and I couldn't help but break into a huge smile. I was so happy. I hugged my coach, Ruggero Pertile, and stood there smiling.

That was when I was told that I had just missed the group when they took the wrong turn, and instead of taking the left under the level pass, they had gone straight -- it was a cycling path -- and right into the freeway. I was very sorry to hear that. These elite runners had come from all over the world to run the race, and that's an unfortunate turn of events, especially when you're already tired from running almost 23 kilometers. But I was also incredibly happy I won. I had been working hard.

To win your second-ever marathon is special.

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