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When a new road is planned in Italy, engineers carefully extract spaghetti from a boiling pot, and fling the pasta at a map. Wherever the noodles stick is where new roads are built. While I cannot be certain of this method of road planning, driving for a week in Italy appears to validate my hypothesis. The Etruscan coast is rugged, and the lush hills of Toscana unflinchingly reject unsightly straight lines. It’s all part of the charm of Italy.
The Italians I met, when not navigating the tangled mass of roads, were friendly, relaxed, and talkative. They seemed to savor each small moment of life. And the Italian runners are fearless. I saw them everywhere: dodging busses on city streets, ignoring traffic through ancient towns, in teams with matching soccer jerseys, old couples, young couples, solitary women at night, solitary men in the morning, some with bright clothing, and others apparently trying to blend in. The baby strollers were reserved for late afternoon, when every mama and papa and grandparent met to stroll the beachfront, and let the bambinos play in the sand.
The most beautiful running trail I’ve ever seen stretched for one mile to the next town—I wish it had been longer. I could have run along the Mediterranean coast forever (at least for 26.2 miles).
Because it was a short run, I set the pace one notch down from full-throttle. And I flew. I felt swift and light; and the run seemed effortless. I passed another jogger (a man), and was sad when I made it to the next town. I turned around and flew back along the path, listening to the sea gently lapping at the shore. I ran full-speed up a flight of wide steps, startling a deliver man, and stood at the bluff overlooking the ocean. It was the best run of my life; and I’m still trying to let the feeling of it seep into my soul.
That was the only run I did on the entire trip. As on most vacations, we were busy from morning until night. However, climbing the 463 steps of the Duomo in Florence has got to count for something. Then there were three hours of hiking through the Etruscan Archeological park at Populonia. But the best workout arose from sheer desperation.
If you are doing your wash at Camp Darby after 19:00, note that the commissary, the PX, the shoppette, the hotel reception desk, the bowling alley (it was Tuesday), and the Bistro will be closed. Furthermore, the vending machines on post enjoy taking your money, but they refuse to serve food after 7 pm. While we waited for our laundry, I watched the kids play at the park, and wondered how they could be so happy when they’d not had a bite to eat in over eight hours.
I had two options: I could go to the bar (the only establishment open), or I could test the physiological benefits of play. Instead of doing tequila shots (just to get the lime and salt, mind you), I opted to join the kids in a game of freeze tag. It was an hour of fun, joy, and tremendous physical exertion.
We made up a story to go along with our hunger. The children were starving orphans. I was the angel sent to guide them to the man who would save them. Once he adopted them, I would turn into a beautiful woman, we would get married, and the man, having washed all our laundry, would feed us dinner.
This story managed to detach the kids from the physical sensation of hunger. Instead of the hunger inciting whininess and bad behavior, it was just a part of the meta-narrative. My six year-old now claims that one of her favorite parts of the trip was being a starving orphan.
I am certain the ability to detach myself from physical discomfort will be of great value in the marathon.
Whether I am navigating hairpin turns, or pumping my last coin into a dormant vending machine, I can endure these things with grace and a positive spirit. Moreover, in true Italian style, I can appreciate every tattered scrap of goodness that waves itself in front of me.
These are things that will help me through the marathon.
Overall feeling: flabby due to a week of authentic Italian gluten-free pizza and pasta, steak, gelatto, and Chianti. But I think by the end of the week I’ll be back up to speed.
Miles: 2 last week in Italy; in Germany, 6 Sunday, 5 Tuesday.
Weather: sunny and in the 50s here in Germany. Italy, perfecto (60s & 70s), some clouds, but plenty of sun.
Terrain: back to avoiding tractors along the rolling hills of Franconia
Wildlife: my deer welcomed me home on Sunday. There are also a lot of rabbits & tractors. I’ve not seen a single person on the roads. Maybe they’re afraid of the volcanic ash?
I am going to Florence to meet David, who is, perhaps, the epitome of Renaissance humanism. Larger than life, he stands confident, and cold, in the Galleria dell’ Accademia: a prime example of what inspired man can create.
While most of us couldn’t whittle a decent walking stick, our lives are works of art: finer than any painting ever nailed to a gallery wall. Though our bodies may not be sculpted quite like David’s, the way we live shapes the lives of others; and therefore, our lives shape the world.
If running a marathon builds something beautiful in your life, then it would be a waste to not do it. If exercise and healthy eating help you to be a better person inside, then don’t hold back. As for me, running helps me to shape exquisite relationships with those I love.
There is a painting in the Louvre that covers an entire wall. “The Wedding Feast at Cana” is so enormous, you have to rub elbows with Mona Lisa to take it all in. When you draw near, you see the minutia: everything from the rich cloth of the bride’s gown, to the tiny dog on the table.
Each of us has been given a portion of the grand mural. No doubt we sometimes have to paint a new layer over our earlier work. But while we live and breathe, there is still time to create a masterpiece.
Miles: Thursday 0.
Overall feeling: I’ve been concerned about going on vacation because frankly, just strolling down the sidewalk in Italy can be dangerous. So, I don’t know if I’ll do much running. But Chapter 13 of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer says it’s okay if you miss a run (or a few). I should be able to jump back into the training schedule.
I’ll just have to wait and see what the terrain is like in Tuscany!