Eat. Play. Run.

My quest to live in Rome, a bite and a step at a time.


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Romana

IMG_0599

The final weeks of my marathon training went really well. I managed to hit the peak of my training with a 20-mile run, and then enjoyed three weeks of tapering. The mileage gradually decreased each week, while my carbohydrate intake gradually increased. And there are no shortage of carbs here in Rome! Everything felt pretty good, with a few aches and pains here and there, but nothing serious.

Last Thursday, I headed to Palazzo dei Congressi to pick up my race number, as it was the first day of the expo, and it’s best not to wait until the last minute in order to avoid the crowds.

IMG_0583There’s great energy at an expo, and I was swelling with pride, thinking about showing up as a tourist two years ago to pick up my race number. But not this year. As I went down to pick up my race number, greeting the volunteer in Italian, he handed me my race packet, which was stamped with Italian flag. I was a bit confused by that. When I opened my packet and pulled out my race number, it also had an Italian flag on it! I guess the flag doesn’t signify your nationality, but rather your country of residence. I was thrilled. There it is – I’m a resident of Italy, and I get to represent my new country on Sunday.

IMG_0596I took it very easy the final few days, going to bed early, drinking a lot of water, and eating until I was no longer hungry (very fun). On Friday evening I watched the documentary Spirit of the Marathon, which profiles seven runners and their journey to run the 2012 Rome Marathon. I had seen this documentary in San Francisco with my running club right after I returned from running the 2013 Rome Marathon, and I figured it was worth watching again to get myself in the mood. You need to watch the movie trailer here. Seriously. It plays into the story as you continue to read. Trust me on this one.

The day before the marathon I went for a 2-mile run to check on how things were feeling. My feet had some sore spots, which was a bit concerning. I did a lot of stretching and hydrating, did a quick trip to the farmer’s market, and then went to check out the start/finish line. Despite sore feet, I felt ready. I had trained well, completed a lot of long runs, and felt confident I would achieve my goal: “You’re ready to finally break 5 hours in the marathon” I told myself. It was going to happen. I could feel it. My best time was 5:02:29, the last time I ran Rome.

I have two pre-marathon traditions, which I fulfilled on Saturday. First, I always watch Rocky. I know it’s silly, but it just works. And secondly, I call my Dad, my favorite marathoner, for advice. He always says the same thing which makes me laugh: “Start slow and finish slower. And have fun!” I prepared my bag and laid out my clothes before falling asleep.

I knew the race day forecast was rain, but it was downright miserable. After a bowl of oatmeal and some coffee, I got ready and left the apartment at 7:30am to head to the subway, and it was already raining. When I got off at the Circo Massimo stop and walked toward the Coliseum to drop off my bag, it was starting to come down even harder. The bag drop-off area was full of umbrellas and runners wearing plastic bags. I even brought one myself. Here’s a photo before I donned the trash bag.

IMG_0609The start of the race was an unorganized mess. They had us packed in next to the Coliseum and wouldn’t let the runners into the starting area on Via dei Fori Imperiali until the last minute. Once they opened the gates I headed for the porta potties and was relieved to find that the lines were extremely short. Within five minutes I was done and back in my starting corral, with just minutes before the gun went off and I crossed the start line.

I’ve never run a race in the rain, so this was new territory. Cold muscles and body, but also Roman streets are not designed well for wet conditions. I spent the first 5k dodging puddles and trying to keep my feet dry for as long as possible. But Italian runners are not intimidated by weather; everyone’s spirits were really high, and there was a lot of cheering and singing, which really helped. Romans are LOUD! Where do they get that kind of energy at the start of a 26.2 mile race?!

Despite the rain, I was thrilled to be running past so many familiar sights, like Circo Massimo, Pyramide, and my own neighborhood of Garbatella. My heart swelled with pride as we ran over the modern Garbatella bridge and onto Via Ostiense and down through San Paolo. My friend Duane was waiting there at Mile 6, a welcome sight. I threw off my arm warmers and asked him to hold onto them for me. I could have used them for the next hour, but knew I would eventually be too hot to wear them. We headed into Testaccio and onto the Lungotevere towards Centro Storico. I was finally starting to warm up a little bit and the rain had finally stopped.  My pace and breathing were solid and I felt comfortable, although my muscles were already tight from the cold. While I was confidently running my goal pace, those tight muscles told me that the second half was not going to be pretty.

At around 11:00 we ran past St. Peter’s Basilica (a highlight) and into Prati. My first neighborhood. I arrived in June 2014 with no job and no idea how this was going to work out. But Prati put me at ease and made me feel at home, so it holds a special place in my heart – not to mention my favorite gelateria (Gelateria dei Gracchi). It was like running a part of my past and I had a good time reliving a lot of memories, reflecting on how far I had come, the ability to make my dream of living in Italy a reality. I passed the halfway point and felt strong. At this pace, I would finish in under 4 hours 50 minutes. So I had built a bit of a cushion for when things got tough in the second half.

There were water stations every 5 kilometers, and I made sure to drink a bit at each one. I had waves of nausea, but just tried to think about other things until they subsided. There were sponging stations too, but I really didn’t need them, thanks to the rain.

At the 18 mile mark, I started to look at my watch more often and look anxiously for kilometer marker signs. This was were my muscles really began to tighten and the pain became a distraction. At the 32km mark (around 20 miles), I checked my watch. My pace was still pretty good, but I was so stiff that I had difficulty running. I was able to make it to the water station at the 35km point, and then the walk breaks began. I knew I was still okay on time, but these last 7km would be the real test. I had a feeling I would be cutting it very close.

Fortunately, I had the honor of running next to Simone, a physically disabled runner who was being pushed in a chair by a group of friends. They all wore shirts that said “Simone 42,195” (the marathon distance in kilometers). Simone was the most enthusiastic runner I’ve ever seen, singing and shouting throughout the race. When we arrived at Piazza Navona at the 37km mark, I was running behind them and the whole place just erupted in cheers for Simone. An amazing moment. He was such an inspiration.

We turned onto Via del Corso and I put on some music to try and distract me from the pain. It didn’t really work, but I was grateful to reach Piazza del Popolo (km 39) in one piece. At that point, I was passing another runner when I realized, “hey, I know that man!”. He was Domenico, one of the runners in the “Spirit of the Marathon” documentary! I couldn’t help myself. This was too good to be true! I slowed down so that he could catch up and in Italian I called out, “Hey, are you Domenico from Spirit of the Marathon?” He enthusiastically replied, “Yes, it’s me!” and gave me a hug. Che fortuna! I stopped at the 40k mark for water and he waited for me. We chatted in Italian a bit in which he told me that he has run EVERY ROME MARATHON. All 21 of them. He is one of 42 senatori, the term the race organizers give to runners who have run every Rome Marathon. And he’s 75. His cousin Mimmo, a pizzaiolo, was also in the documentary. I asked about him and whether he was running today, but he wasn’t. Domenico invited me to come to the pizzeria and asked if I was on Facebook. Ah, technology.

We ran the remaining 2 kilometers together and he really helped keep my mind off of my sore back and legs. He commented on how much his knee hurt, to which I replied, “forza, amico”. Which is like saying, “you can do it, friend”. We passed the sign indicating the last kilometer when he said, “we need to hold hands when we cross the finish line!”, and I agreed. After all, I was running with a celebrity and a Rome Marathon legend – how could I not?! The course on Via Nazionale started to look rather celebratory, and once we approached Piazza Venezia and turned towards, the finish line, Domenico grabbed my hand. I started to laugh, dazed at my luck. I was about to finish the Rome Marathon with one of its greats. And finish we did, with hands clasped, arms raised, the Coliseum in full view and “Roma Roma Roma”, the official song of the AS Roma football team playing over the loudspeaker.

It was like an initiation ceremony. The music, the Coliseum, the finish line, and my new friend and Rome Marathon veteran.

“Kerry, benvenuta a Roma. Sei Romana ora.”

I was now a Roman. I shouted out the words to the song as the volunteer put the medal around my neck. It was this Roman’s time to be loud, too.

I thought of Simone and his incredible friends, whose joy and love for a person was so great that they pushed him for 42 kilometers in celebration. If only I could find them and thank them. They lifted the spirits of all of us.

Domenico and I grabbed snacks and some tea and talked for a bit. I promised him I would come and have pizza with him and Mimmo, and connect with him on Facebook. I collected my bag, retrieved my iPhone, and asked Domenico for a photo together. He was jubilant. “I can’t believe I finished my 21st Rome Marathon. And I got to finish it with a beautiful girl!” he exclaimed before we parted ways.

IMG_0613Oh, and my time?

IMG_0614Just like my goal of living in Italy, I met my goal of smashing the 5-hour mark. But I’ll be honest: it felt like more of a perk than a highlight. I was too grateful and elated from running alongside Simone and finishing with Domenico, il senatore della Maratona di Roma and my new friend.

Thank you, Rome. I feel so welcome.


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Cuore

IMG_0518I took a group cooking class in Florence when I was traveling around Italy in March of 2013. The class consisted of a mother-daughter duo, a chef from Long Island, and myself. We were all discussing the places in Italy we visited (or in my case, about to visit), and they were all raving about Pompeii. The chef commented, “It was absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately you have to go through Napoli. That place is such a shithole that it’s not worth stopping.”

At that moment, this so-called “chef” lost my respect. Oh, and by the way, he couldn’t roll pasta dough to save his life.

Any person who tells you that Napoli is not worth a visit either has is either a non-foodie, a vanilla tourist, a total moron, or all of the above. Don’t listen to descriptions of dirt, traffic, crime, and Mafia. Napoli is fantastica. Skipping Napoli on a trip to Italy is like coming to San Francisco and bypassing the Mission District. There’s culture, beauty, history, fantastic people, and yes, there is food. Oh, the food. Home of the pizza margherita and some of the best seafood in the country.

In searching for a race to run during marathon training, I was only too happy to sign up for La Mezza Maratona di Napoli (the Napoli Half Marathon) and an excuse to visit the city yet a third time. With all of the drama over obtaining a proper medical certificate, I still wasn’t convinced that everything would work out and that I’d get to run. But regardless of the outcome, I was going to Napoli, and therefore I was guaranteed at least a great meal or two.

I arrived late Saturday morning and hit two of my favorite spots. The first is Attanasio, a bakery near the train station well known for its sfogliatelle, a flaky ricotta-filled pastry. I took a number and paid for my pre-lunch snack. The queue was long, but well worth it. These little babies are filled with rich ricotta and orange peel, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
DSC_0029The second stop was for a pizza margherita and thus my third trip to da Michele, what some consider the best pizzeria in Napoli. I shared a table with three women from Bologna, who ate all of the pizza except the crust, which they claimed was burned. Of course it’s burned – it’s from a wood-fired oven! The crunchy, burned parts of the crust, combined with the sweet tomato sauce and smooth mozzarella are why this is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. Remember: the simplest things are the best things. Not to mention that a pizza this size comes for the bargain price of 4,50 euro (around $5). Perfection on a plate.
DSC_0006IMG_0509I then decided to walk the long walk to the hotel and pick up my race number along the way. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the pick-up spot, my bag was getting pretty heavy, and 2 hours of walking had made me a sweaty mess. By the time I arrived at the hotel, I was tired of dodging scooters and frustrated by the chaotic streets and poor race coordination. I dropped my bag and napped for a half-hour. That did the trick. My second attempt proved successful, as I found the street and saw a crowd milling around outside of a Toyota store. Really? The bib pick-up is at a car dealership?! Yes it was. One table to pick up the race number, another table to pick up the shirt.

I provided my name and was rewarded with a race number. Done. Just like that. No questions about a medical certificate or the “Run Card” that is yet another silly, costly requirement for runners like myself that don’t belong to an Italian club. I left with a race number and shirt and a sense of triumph for successfully navigating another ridiculously bureaucratic part of Italian life.

By the way, this was the race expo: three outside tents. Where was the exposition hall full of race prep supplies, presentations by running experts, and free PowerBar samples? In other words, what kind of a “race” did I sign up for?!
IMG_0517My reward for acquiring my race packet was a passeggiata around the Chiaia district, a macchiato at Caffe Gambrinus (delicious), and views of Mount Vesuvius at sunset.

IMG_0516As it was Valentine’s Day, lots of couples were out for a stroll as well. Being single, I had some hesitation about coming solo to Napoli on the most romantic day of the year. I dreaded the thought of sitting alone at dinner, receiving concerning looks from other patrons and restaurant staff as they thought, “Che pecatto. What a shame that woman is alone.”

Instead, I found the evening rather enjoyable. Lit-up hearts were strung across streets. I watched bike messengers deliver flowers. Balloons decorated restaurant entryways. I had dinner at a trattoria with friendly staff who didn’t seem to care that I was alone. I carbo-loaded with an octopus salad, a light spaghetti al pomodoro and grilled calamari, returned to the hotel and fell asleep watching “When Harry Met Sally”, dubbed in Italian.

IMG_0524As usual, I slept poorly. I always do the night before a race. I had practically walked a half marathon the day before so I made sure to stretch before leaving the hotel around 6:30am. I walked about five minutes to the shuttle pick-up spot. Rain was in the forecast and there was a light drizzle. I wore my long-sleeved New York City Marathon shirt from 2007 in the hopes that it would help me engage in conversation with other runners, and it did. I quickly became friends with Laura and Luigina, who were from Northern Italy and were running the full marathon in preparation for Rome next month. Luigina ran New York the same year I did.

When the shuttle bus arrived (late, of course), a swarm of runners pushed and shoved to board. Fortunately four more buses pulled up shortly afterwards, and Laura kept me entertained with stories of her travels to the United States despite her limited English.

The start of the race is in the town of Pozzuoli, the birthplace of Sofia Loren. The wind had started to pick up and as we stepped off the bus, I looked around for the portable toilets.

Nothing.

Are you serious?

Andiamo,”  Laura suggested, as we made our way to a cafe to use the bathroom.

What a scene. The place was packed with loud runners, all decked out in a colorful sea of fashionable gear. Most were drinking coffee, and the rest of us took our place in line. While the bathroom had toilet paper, a word of advice: when running a race in Italy, put tissues in your race bag. You just might need them. Don’t expect porta-potties!

Then the rain hit. A blowing, cold rain, but fortunately not a downpour. We dropped off our bags and took some shelter near the starting line. I had a head wrap to protect my ears from the cold, along with arm warmers, but I was shivering in my shorts.

And I was apprehensive.

I’ll get lost.

I’ll come in last.

I’ll bet there won’t be any water stations. I should have brought my own water.

What if I can’t finish? Will I know enough Italian to make it back to the hotel?

Then I looked around. The starting line was taking shape. People were jumping up and down to stay warm. One runner had a plastic bag covering his head. The announcer was enthusiastically shouting a bunch of stuff I couldn’t understand.

Then I started to laugh. This was awesome. People in bathrobes leaned out of apartment doors and windows, waving and taking pictures. Laura, Luigina and I wished each other luck and promised to have dinner together in Rome next month before the race. My GPS watch managed to find a signal just as the crowd began to move, and seconds later I was running over the starting line.

My goal for the race was to treat it like a practice run for the Rome Marathon. And for Rome, my goal is to run a sub- 5 hour race, which would be a first. So for the Napoli Half, I planned to average an 11 minute-mile pace, which would have me finishing at a bit over 2 hours, 24 minutes.

As usual, I started out too fast, but I was nervous about being so slow that the pack would disappear ahead and leave me stranded, increasing my chances of getting lost. The course maps were placed on the website just three days ago, and they are a poor series of Google satellite images. However, I memorized the kilometer points that contained turns. To my relief, I saw that the course and all of the turns were etched on the street in chalk. That helped me relax a bit.

The first seven kilometers consisted of two laps around Lake Lucrino and through the main street of Pozzuoli. Then the course turned onlo a straight road right next to the bay. At that point, the pack had thinned considerably, but I could still see a handful of runners in front of me. The view was breathtaking, and I found myself smiling at my fortune of getting to run in this incredibly beautiful place.

And talk about comedy.

There were water stations every three miles, consisting of volunteers holding out plastic bottles. What a waste! I grabbed a bottle at each station, took three or four sips, then tossed it to the side of the road, where it smashed into the other full bottles, sending water flying everywhere. There were also sponging stations, which I didn’t use (it wasn’t hot enough). But I enjoyed seeing the various colors of cute sponges discarded all over the road, resembling my nephew’s legos.

I also had the pleasure of being drafted by another runner. For NINE MILES. At first I thought, “why is this dude following so close behind me, and why doesn’t he pass?!” Then I thought, “is he drafting me?” It didn’t seem possible. After all, who drafts someone running an 11-minute mile?! There surely can’t be any benefit from drafting someone who is running that slowly!

So I tested him. I moved diagonally from one side of the road to the other. He followed. At one point I slowed down almost to a stop, and he did as well, asking me, “are you okay?” His English was rather poor, but enough for me to learn that he was from China. We exchanged a few words before I got back on pace, and he got back to following on my tail. Unreal.

Finally at Mile 9, I decided enough is enough (I know, I’m rather tolerant!). I turned around, looked at him and said, “please, go in front of me.”

He said, “oh no, that’s okay.”

“No,” I told him. “You cannot follow me like this. It’s not okay. You need to run ahead, please.”

He explained that his knee was not in great shape, a total confession to drafting. I told him I was sorry, but he needed to run ahead. We exchanged a few friendly words, wished each other luck, and he moved on. I was proud of how I handled the situation, and didn’t envy him; he was running the full marathon on a bad knee. In other words, a painful not-so-smart choice.

I fumbled a turn-around, but corrected it within seconds and was back on track, now running with marathoners who were at their Mile 16, while I was at about Mile 10 of the Half. It was at this point that I realized something: I had taken no walk breaks, not even for water. I always find myself taking walk breaks at several points during a race, but this was uncharted territory for me. I had also been running a bit faster than 11-minute mile pace. This was exciting!

The route turned onto a main street that seemed to go on for miles and was an extremely slight incline. It felt like it went on forever. I took a last water stop at around Mile 11 and plodded along, reminding myself that what comes up…….

….and then I saw the tunnel at Mile 12, a long downhill. Awesome! My watch lost its GPS signal as I ran down through the tunnel for several minutes. As I came back into daylight, a volunteer yelled out “sinistra!”, indicating an upcoming left turn. Then a roundabout and onto the Lungomare that runs right along the water. My legs were so tight and sore from too much walking the day before.

But walking was the last thing on my mind. The finisher’s chute was in view, and I slowly but steadily sped up, checking my watch in disbelief, glancing at the clock as I crossed the line.

2:20:42.

A personal best by 3 1/2 minutes. Average pace: 10:45. And more than on track to run a sub 5-hour marathon next month in Rome.
IMG_0526A hot shower, followed by a delicious cappuccino. Then onto da Dora, where I devoured a three-plate appetizer and a bowl of seafood linguine. The fried calamari were the best I’ve ever had, the wait staff extremely friendly and talkative. The waiter worked for five months in Antarctica, where he told me he entertained himself by memorizing the US state capitals, thanks to a map hanging on the restaurant wall. We would quiz each other when he brought out each course.

“Washington,” he stated.

“Uh, aspetta. Olympia,” I replied.

Brava,” he said, surprised.

“Maine,” I stated.

“Augusta,” he answered immediately.

Impressive.

The hotel ordered me a cab, and in Italian the driver and I discussed my weekend in Napoli and my impressions of the city. I told him how I didn’t understand why the Bolognese women preferred a pizzeria where they could select their own toppings, when they could have a light, flavorful pizza margherita from da Michele.

“The simplest things are the best things,” I explained. “That’s why I like Napoli.”

“Ah, you are Neapolitan,” he replied. “When you come back, here’s my card. You and your husband and I will go eat pizza. I enjoy being with people who like to eat good food.”

Che cuore.

What heart.

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Certificato

Medical Certificate for Running 2015I’m on Week #11 (out of 16) of my training for the Rome Marathon, and everything seems to be going well. I’m relatively healthy, despite a few blisters and sore muscles, and completed an 18-mile run on Sunday. I’m heading to Napoli today to run a half marathon tomorrow in preparation, to see if I can run marathon pace for half the distance.

Marathon training is hard, both physically and mentally. But as I’ve recently discovered, as a foreigner living in Rome, training is not the most challenging part of running a marathon in Italy.

The most challenging part?

Getting permission to run it.

In the United States, registering for a race is a rather mature, adult-like process. You go to the race website. You click a “register” button. You fill out the information. You check a box that confirms that you read the waiver, stating that you’re fit to run. You pay the entry fee. You click “submit”.

And done.

In Italy? The mindset is, “who are you to think you’re fit to run?! You need to see an expert! THEY will decide if you’re capable of running and finishing a race!”

As a result, participating in races doesn’t feel as democratized as it does in the US. The fun of running a race is seeing people of all motivations and levels working hard to overcome and achieve something challenging. In Italy, you have to belong to a club to run races, so it feels rather elitist. Not to mention fashionable. Members of clubs wear matching gear. I’ve never seen a group of people so color coordinated.

Now, in order to belong to a club, you need a certificate stating that you are medically capable of participating in these types of competitive activities – a certificato dello sport. And if you are a staniere or foreigner like myself who doesn’t belong to a club, You need to get the certificate anyway.

I contacted the medical office at work, who gave me referrals for three sports doctors who spoke English and were certified to provide these so-called certificates. The first one that I called was not actually located in Rome, but in nearby Ostia. That won’t do. The second one didn’t have appointments until mid-February, and considering that I needed the certificate to run the Napoli Half Marathon as well as the Rome Marathon, that just seemed to be too close to the race date. The third and final office could get me in for an appointment the last week of January. Perfetto.

“It’s 100 euro for the examination,” the receptionist informed me in Italian. “But you’ll need two appointments. One for the test, and the other to meet with the doctor. Bring your exercise clothes with you.”

I thought I caught a sentence in there about bringing a urine sample, but chose to ignore it. I probably misunderstood anyway.

This office is quite far from work, so I left early, took the train, transferred to the subway, changed subway lines, boarded a local train, and still managed to arrive ten minutes early, with exercise clothes in tow. I managed to respond in Italian to all of the questions the receptionist asked me and was quite proud of myself for understanding.

“Did you bring a urine sample?”

Wow, so I DID understand that on the phone! But seriously, who travels around Rome carrying a urine sample?!

“That’s okay, you can do it here. The bathroom is at the end of the hall on your right.”

Once complete, she gave me a number and I headed to the waiting room to wait to be called. Getting any kind of service in Italy always seems to start with taking a number. Can’t you just call my name? You have to call a number on the piece of paper anyway, so why waste the paper?! Strange.

Ten minutes later, I entered a room and was greeted by two women in white lab coats, one standing at a complicated-looking machine and the other behind a desk. She checked my information and asked if I had brought along a different pair of shoes. I motioned to the running shoes in my bag. Neither of them spoke English.

“Okay,” she said. “You can change.”

“Here?” I asked.

“Si,” she responded. Neither made a motion to leave the room.

I took off my shirt and proceeded to take off my skirt and tights.

“No, just the shirt. And your bra,” she said.

“Cosa?” (What?!)

“And change your shoes.”

Once complete, she began applying these sticky electrodes all over my chest, motioned for me to lift up my arms, and slipped a piece of netting over my torso. She then motioned for me to get on the exercise bike that was hooked up to the machine.

This was ridiculous. I was naked from the waist up, wrapped in a net, wearing a skirt, tights and running shoes. I began to pedal.

“Maybe you should pull your skirt up a bit,” the one woman gestured.

Sure, that’s logical.

This all had the makings of a really bad lesbian porn for athletic viewers. I was convinced there was a video camera set up somewhere.

After a few minutes, the machine would beep, and one of the women would take my blood pressure and read it to the other one monitoring the machine, now full of seismic scribbles. My goal was to keep the rpms between 70-75, and the longer I rode, the more the resistance increased. This went on for about 11 minutes, and I had worked up quite a sweat. The netting was starting to become uncomfortable, as were the tights.

“Are we almost finished?” I panted.

“Okay, you can slow down now.”

They continued to monitor and take my blood pressure until my heartbeat returned to normal.

“So, am I good?” I asked.

“Yes. Very strong,” they assured me.

I climbed off of the bike and the blood pressure woman removed the net with one rip, passed me a wad of paper towels, and as I put on a shirt they informed me that they would give the results to the doctor, who would go over them with me tomorrow.

I left, figuring the most humiliating part was over.

Wrong.

When I returned the next day, I had a 50-minute wait before entering a room and was greeted by Dr. Sergio Lupo, who began asking me a bunch of questions in Italian.

“Scusi, para inglese?” I asked.

“Oh no, sorry,” he replied.

“It’s okay. We’ll manage.” I said with a smile.

Half of the questions were about my relatives and their health problems. I understood half of them and answered “no” to all of them. The rest were about me and seemed completely irrelevant to my ability to run 26.2 miles.

“Okay, take off your shirt.”

Here we go again.

“And your pants.”

Well, at least I wasn’t wearing tights today.

Test #1 involved exhaling into a tube as hard as I could for seven times. I’m not sure why it was necessary to stand in my bra and underwear for this.

Then Dr. Lupo told me something that I didn’t understand. He pointed to my bra. “What do you call this in English?” he asked.

“Bra,” I replied.

“Take it off. Oh, like wonderbra!” he laughed, as if he had just invented the best joke in the world.

He stuck more electrodes on my chest (wasn’t once enough?!) and had me lie down, at which point he stuck these clamp-like things on my legs and arms. I had a vision of the door opening and nurse wheeling in an Italian Frankenstein so that they could transfer my brain to his. Yesterday’s porn was becoming today’s horror movie.

Once he registered my heart rate, he escorted me over to a step. “Okay, up down, up down. Three minutes. Okay?”

So there I was, stepping up and down on a step, in my underwear, working up a sweat. The step just happened to be positioned directly under a heating vent for extra effect. The worst part was not my saggy underwear, but the fact that this was actually kind of hard. Dr. Lupo snapped his fingers like a metronome, encouraging me to pick up the pace. Just when I wasn’t sure I could keep going, he had me lie back down, put all of the clamps and electrodes back on, and checked my active heart rate.

“Okay, basta.” Finished.

As I dressed, he presented me with my heard-earned, humiliation-inducing sports certificate. I double-checked with him that this was for running marathons, and motioned to the unique forms that the Napoli and Rome Marathons had requested I complete.

“No, no, you don’t need those. This is the certificate.”

On Thursday, the Napoli race committee emailed to inform me that my certificate was wrong. I need a certificate not for sports activities, but for competitive sports activities – attività agonistica. The receptionist told me that I was more than welcome to come back to the office and talk to the doctor so that we could get this resolved. So yes, another afternoon out of work, on trains and subways, to see Dr. Lupo to deal with this damn certificate. While traveling to the office, I checked my Napoli half marathon registration status online, only to find that I had been upgraded from a red “x” to a green checkmark, indicating that my registration was complete. Yet one of their staff emailed me twice that day, informing me that the certificate was not acceptable. Nothing like mixed messages. But this is Italy, after all.

Dr. Lupo was not pleased to see me and barked a bunch of info at how it wasn’t my fault, but that these race organizers don’t understand how anything works, that the certificate is for marathons, etc. I pointed to the unique race forms again and suggested that we fill them out, but he refused. “That’s not how it works,” he insisted. He muttured a few other comments and typed away at his computer, saying, “We will resolve this.” He presented me with a new certificate.

Kerry Philp - Medical Certificate for Competitive SportBest of all, no clothing was removed in acquiring this certificate. A major win.

I emailed the certificate to the race committee. And it should come as no surprise that they have yet to respond.

Will they let me run? Or will I be sitting on the sidelines eating pizza Napoletana? Tune in to next week’s blog post to read the exciting outcome.

Andiamo a Napoli!


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Pausa

IMG_0433I 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.