I thought a long weekend in Tuscany would be the perfect place to prepare for the London Marathon. During my athletics career, I won an Olympic silver medal and a string of titles over 400m, but these days I run for pleasure over much longer distances. I also needed this short break because I knew I was about to enter a hectic time at work as I was part of Channel 4’s team presenting the Paralympic Games in London.
Pasta master: Iwan creates his dough during an Il Maggio cookery lesson
With good weather almost guaranteed and a short flight time from the UK, no wonder thousands of Britons head to this part of Italy every year. We flew to Florence, and from there it was a 90-minute drive to our 18th Century farmhouse, Il Maggio, near the delightful city of Siena.
Another of the attractions of this stay was the chance to have a cookery lesson – I was runner-up on the BBC’s Celebrity MasterChef several years ago, and I’m really passionate about food.
Il Maggio was very impressive, with attractive limestone floors, terracotta tiles and original beams. There was underfloor heating throughout the house too, which I particularly liked.
Where the magic happens…the kitchen at Il Maggio
The property had its own spa area, including a Jacuzzi, while outside were lovely gardens, and – this was a nice touch – a small outhouse containing a traditional pizza oven. After a relaxing first day, we headed to the local village for our cookery lesson. We were shown how to make ravioli and other types of pasta (actually, I learned how to make pasta during my stint on MasterChef, but it was great to have a refresher course).
Afterwards, we went to do some food-tasting, and later that evening we went out for dinner. It’s a good job I have a big appetite. The next day I had to remind myself that I was here to get in some last-minute London Marathon training, so I headed into the hills close to our villa. The weather was gorgeous and (believe it or not) I was having such a good time that I ended up covering 15 miles – much more than I had originally intended.
This was my last outing before the Marathon itself and, although it was a harder run than I meant to do, it was great to be able to explore such beautiful countryside.
As an athlete, I was lucky enough to race in Italy several times but this was my first holiday in the country. Wherever I was competing, I rarely had the opportunity to explore a place as much as I would have liked – it was always a case of getting from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the arena, and from the arena to the airport for the journey home.
I spent the majority of my career on the athletics grand prix circuit. During the summer months, that meant flying to Oslo, for example, on the Tuesday, racing on Wednesday, going home on Thursday to collect some fresh clothes and kit and then heading to, say, Zurich on the Saturday for the next meeting.
At first, I really enjoyed all the travelling, but eventually living out of a suitcase, queuing endlessly at airports and staying in characterless hotels took its toll.
Competing at a major event such as the Olympics was a more enjoyable experience because we would be based in a host city for longer, which meant we had time to get to know it a little better.
Soul soother: The beautiful Tuscan city of Siena is within easy reach from Il Maggio
I took part in the Atlanta Games in 1996, where I won a silver medal in the 4x400m relay, and I was also involved in the relay team at the Sydney Olympics four years later.
When I was growing up, we travelled a great deal as a family and spent holidays in America and Australia. I’ve also lived in Canada and Germany, while, during my career, I often used to train in South Africa. I’d love to return there, especially for a safari or to stay in Cape Town.
I’m happy to say I finished the London Marathon in four hours, which I was pleased with. That session in the Tuscan hills obviously did the trick.
Ll Maggio sleeps up to seven people. Seven nights costs from €2,000 (about £1,800) in low season. Price excludes heating. To book, contact Tuscan Views on 020 7855 2998 or visit tuscanviews.eu. CityJet (cityjet.com) flies from London City to Florence. Prices start from £83pp one-way.