I spent my Christmas back in rural Pennsylvania with family. The travel gods were on my side: both flights arrived early, my luggage showed up, and even the train in Rome made it to the airport without issues. I’m from a small, rural Pennsylvania town with little to do, but that’s okay. Being home with family was really all that i wanted for Christmas.
And like most families, we ate a lot. I made spaghetti alle vongole for Christmas Eve, and we had a southern-themed Christmas day dinner, complete with my Dad’s smoked brisket, a ham, mac and cheese, greens, and a pecan salad. I met my future brother in-law and discovered that my cat actually does remember me, and treated me to a lot of cuddle time when he wasn’t parked in front of the fireplace.
A week at home gave me an opportunity to recharge my batteries. I must admit that I left Rome feeling a little lost about what I was doing there, and too fixated on the frustrating parts of life in Italy. Back at home, I got reacquainted with an important aspect of my life:
I did a lot of running.
Now, I’m aware that the title of this blog is Eat, Play, Run, but up to this point I’ve done a lot of eating and playing and very little running. But I developed plantar fasciitis a month after arriving in Italy this summer, and had to take several months off. The culprit: a lot of walking in shoes with little support. But by October, I started going on short runs and joined a local gym in order to use a treadmill to give my feet breaks from running on the streets. When December rolled around, I was running 2-3 times a week. And during Christmas week, I had four really fantastic runs.
The first was with my older sister. We ran for an hour and 45 minutes on deserted back roads in 29-degree weather. Slow and steady and with a companion, the time went by rather quickly. It was my longest run in months and did wonders for my spirit. My older sister has been running for about two years, and has completed two half marathons, with her sights set on running her first full marathon this May. The running bug has hit her, too.
The second was actually a 40-minute treadmill run on Christmas Eve at our local YMCA. I don’t think the run was anything spectacular, but to get my butt to the gym on the Eve of the biggest holiday is an accomplishment in itself, and one I’ll keep in mind on those future days when I don’t want to crawl out of bed and put on my running shoes.
The third run was an hour out on the back roads in my hometown the day after Christmas. While it was a solid run, what made it memorable were the two hunters I encountered at around the halfway point. Deer hunting is big in my area, but I’ve been away for too long, and to round a corner to find a man in camouflage in the middle of the road, holding a shotgun, was definitely culture shock. His buddy, a cigarette-smoking Santa Claus lookalike, were too lazy to actually walk up the hill into the woods to hunt, and decided to stand by the side of the road in the hopes of spotting a deer. When I turned around to run back home, passing them a second time, the rifle-clad hunter said,
“Why don’t you run up that hill and scare the deer out?”
I had a smart-ass answer. Then I remembered who had the gun. I kept my mouth shut, picked up the pace and pretended not to hear.
And lastly, the fourth run, a 2-hour windy run upon returning to Rome. Not bad for someone who just endured an 8 hour red-eye flight.
Unfortunately, I spent the next week with a bad cold, my fourth in four months. So New Year’s was a grand event spent on the couch, watching Season 3 of Homeland and enduring my neighborhood’s need to set off loud explosive devices until about 1am. After four non-work days of recuperation, I made a doctor’s appointment in order to get to the bottom of why I’ve had so many colds. Not only do they put me out of commission for a week, but they greatly impact my running. And I’ve got my sights set on a marathon in a few months. The doctor, who’s stationery lists him as an aeronautics and space physician, agreed that it wasn’t normal, and ordered a large amount of blood tests to determine if perhaps I am developing a new allergy. Three days later, a very young technician with a thick English accent took six vials of blood. All without wearing gloves. Culture shock again.
As I await test results and the next round of colds, I’m drinking echinacea cough syrup and an immune-boosting powder drink (all prescribed by the aerospace doctor). I guess it’s Italy’s version of Tang. Tastes pretty good, but I’m doubtful that it’s providing any benefit.
I’m also back to running. The Rome Marathon is March 22nd, and I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to run it again. I’ve decided to train alone this time. Although I prefer the company and support of other runners, let me explain the running club culture here in Italy.
Certified running clubs are for competitive runners. Your doctor authorizes that you’re fit to run, you pay a yearly fee, and you’re enrolled. When you register for a 10K, half marathon (or mezza maratona) or full maratona, the race website posts a list of “classifications”, or rankings from previous races, with the club listed. And your times earn you points in your own club. Whatever that means. It’s a rather serious affair. Then there’s the fashion. Italian running clubs buy high-tech, expensive gear. Think warmup jackets and matching track pants, not to mention racing singlets and shorts that are color-coordinated with the jacket and track pants. You’ll never find a more beautiful starting line than an Italian marathon. (Disclosure: wearing expensive, matching running gear will not make you any faster). For those of you who are runners and are contemplating a move to Italy, Spain, or some other nearby country, do NOT buy running shoes in Europe; you’ll pay double.
I miss my San Francisco club. We ran twice a week, with long runs on Saturday mornings, followed by bagels and chocolate milk. We also had various happy hours and holiday parties. Our gear consisted of t-shirts and hats, the colors changing frequently, resulting in a lot of mismatched clothing. Post-race celebrations always included a cooler of beer, and doing a long run with a hangover was completely acceptable.
Maybe I’ll join a club someday, but for now I want to focus on training, not on adjusting to Italian running club lifestyle. So for the remaining 10 weeks of training, there will be a lot of early nights, early alarms, after work treadmill runs at the gym, long runs along the Tiber River, and stretching exercises on my living room floor. On Saturday I was out the door by 8:15 and was thrilled to find the sidewalks deserted. I ran through my neighborhood onto Via Marmorata in Testaccio, onto the Lungotevere, where I enjoyed views of the Tiber River and its stunning bridges. Slow and steady, I passed the Castel Sant’Angelo and made a detour onto my old street, Via dei Coronari, one of the most beautiful in Rome. Then back onto the Lungotevere up to Piazza del Popolo and up the hill to the top of the Spanish Steps, with panoramic views of the entire city. It was breathtaking. On the way back, I added on a few more minutes by running around Piazza Navona, and finished my run back in the Garbatella as I passed two male runners who greeted me with “ciao, cara” as I clocked a half marathon.
I’m back. Not just physically, but mentally. Running is giving me the ability to reconnect to this city and to remind me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
To prepare for the marathon, I’ve been looking for an official half marathon to run as a practice race. There are two very good options: the Romeo and Juliet Half Marathon in Verona, and the Napoli Half Marathon, both on February 15th. I really want to visit Verona, but running that race means being in Verona on Valentine’s Day weekend. And while a friend is egging me on because it will provide great blog material, the thought of showing up in one of the most romantic cities in the world, on the the most romantic weekend of the year, by myself, would be social suicide. So I’ll try registering for the half marathon in Napoli, one of my favorite cities in Rome and home to pizza margherita. Carbo loading will be oh so delicious.