I just came back from a two week trip to Italy. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a dear friend of mine but I never found the time to go. With everything that has happened this year, this little vacation was exactly what I needed. This trip wasn’t meant for sight-seeing as I did the tourist thing the last time I went, but instead, it was just to get away, spend time with my friend, and clear the noise in my head. I got my training in, made new life long friends, and fell in love.
The Hallucination 100 Miler is coming up quickly and after a heavy race schedule early in the year, it’s time to really buckle down and get serious about the training. I’ve been recovering from IT band issues, which stemmed from overuse, weak glutes, poor dorsiflexion (backward flexion or bending of my right foot.), and something else that I can’t remember with my right hip. I’ve been doing physical therapy and improving weekly so I feel that I will be ready to go by the time the 100-miler comes up.
I made arrangements with my friend to find places where I could run while I was there, and she did. I was hoping for more trails, but when you’re not really familiar with trail running and what’s suitable, it’s a little difficult to find what a trail runner is looking for. She lived just a few minutes from Varese Lake where I did most of my running which consisted of mostly paved paths with some sections of gravel. More than 70% was without shade cover, and about 30% near a highway. I got lost several times when I missed the signs directing me to the path and ended up on the side of a highway or in local neighborhoods. Twice I attempted to get a trail run in by hopping on trails that I saw on the lake, and twice I was eaten alive by mosquitoes. I was able to get some hill training in at the mountains as well, which provided some amazing views.
The weather was unbelievably hot and I did my longest run, which was 17.58 miles around the entire lake of Varese in a heat index of 102. Any thought of running Badwater or the Five Deserts Ultramarathons where completely wiped from my brain. While I enjoy warm weather running compared to cold weather running, I no longer have an interest in training in these kinds of temperatures, let alone running a bazillion miles through this God awful heat. I took the training to the local gym twice when I just couldn’t bare the the thought of suffering through another hot humid run.
It didn’t help that I was sunburned from a quick trip to the beach…without sunscreen. Go ahead…lecture me. I’m still red as a lobster in some areas, and my runners tan is 50 shades of pink, red, and pasty white.
Nevertheless, there was training that needed it be done and I had to fit it into my schedule.
My pace was unbelievably slow in Italy. There was not a single run where I felt like I was flying. I’m sure the travel, time change, and heat had a lot to do with it, but still… I was averaging between 11:30 – 12:30 minute miles. My comfortable average pace of a 10:15 was even hard to come by on the treadmill at the gym. Not only was my running pace slow, so was the pace of Italy itself. I always prided myself on being a high energy person who had to live in a fast-paced environment, with a fast-paced job going a million miles a minute. I’ve lived this way for most of my life and I thought that this was how I was wired considering my ADD brain is always going non-stop. I was surprised to find that the laid back pace of Italy was very comfortable and easy to acclimate to. During my stay, the sun rose before 5:30 and set after 9:30. I didn’t get out of bed until 7:30 or 8:00 (way better than my usual 4 a.m. wake up time), dinner didn’t happen until 8:30 or 9:00, and I didn’t go to bed until after 1 a.m. and it wasn’t because I was out at bars or clubbing. Most shops opened from 10:00 to 1:00, closed for lunch, and then opened again from 2:00-ish to 7:00. And most restaurants closed between the 2:00 and 5:00 time frame.
I paced my friend through her daily routine and while I thought my hyper active ADD brain would explode, it didn’t. Instead my noisy little brain decided to quiet some of the noise down and go with the flow, never looking at the clock. I’ve long said that given the circumstances, I would move to Italy after previous vacations, but having experienced life in a little more realistic day to day routine I realized that the anxiety that I feel at home was pretty much gone. Perhaps this pace really is my pace and I’ve been living on high speed out of necessity, running everyone else’s pace that I was associated with instead of running my pace.
I’ve traveled enough to know what it means to “fall in love with the people.” The runners in Northern Italy are not as friendly as I had hoped. When I was running, I would wave, shout out a ‘Ciao,’ perhaps a ‘Boun Giorno’ and got nothing back. People either turned away or stared at me like I was some sort of freak. Maybe I was saying it all wrong. My friend said that folks in general are much more friendlier in the South than those in the North, but I really wasn’t used getting the cold shoulder from other runners, and the energy that I usually draw from other runners was non-existant. I was ecstatic when I did get the occasional nod or a ‘Buon Giorno’ in response, although it only happened a mere three times.
But Italian runners aside, I did fall in love with the people. I was introduced to my friend’s friends and we hit it off right away. There were no awkward moments of getting-to-know-you or trying-to-figure-you-out, instead, we were instant friends. The love and energy that my new friends had were familiar and I adored them. I felt instantly at home with every one and knew that we were kindred spirits. How could they not be? I find that we all attract the same kind of people, so of course my friend’s friends would be of like mind and spirit.
I befriended a boutique owner who was originally from NY and insisted on dressing me up every time I visited her store, and a lady from Taiwan whom I was able to share conversations with in our native Taiwanese. I met a man from Ireland who was involved with cancer research and talked about his true love that he lost just 8 months prior to cancer. I met race car drivers and hung out with the pit crew during a big weekend car race while I was there. I hung out with my dear friend and talked about life and love in general. There was not a person that I met who I did not have an instant connection to. It was as if I had lived there for years and I was just coming home from a long holiday.
Eat, Pray, Love
The big joke with my friends at home was that I was going to Italy to “Eat, Pray, Love.” Well, I got the eating part right. The food was amazing and their gelato’s decadent. I loved the freshness and the lightness of the food. I actually ate something I thought I would never eat, horse. I had no idea! I thought it was beef! I admit…it was tasty and a few days later I “accidentally” ordered it again.
I didn’t pray much, but I did visit the Santo Monte di Varese and Duomo in Milan – does that count?
And then there’s love. <sigh> What better way to throw myself back out into the dating world than by going to Italy and finding love. Honestly, I wasn’t really looking for it, but my friends were looking for me. I almost went home without being kissed by an Italian man – almost. My newly befriended boutique owner was on a mission to make sure I did not leave Italy without a kiss.
She kept taking me up to this very attractive bartender at the restaurant where we were for shots and conversation, and I kept going back to our table. The bartender eventually came out to our table and sweet talked me into getting out on the dance floor. Trust me, it took a lot of sweat talking and a lot of egging on from all of my friends. And while I wasn’t comfortable getting out there sober, I did it anyway. Live life, right? And when I did, I was happy I was there.
He said was going to teach me some slow salsa-like dancing and that all I needed to do was to follow his lead. Oh boy. So I tried to follow his lead and I did my best not to step on his feet. He held me close and whispered in my ear what to do next. I laughed out loud and got it wrong every time. He was hot, he was very charming, and he was definitely what I needed at that moment. After completely making a fool of myself on the dance floor, I thanked him and went back to my table to hide.
It was getting close to 3 a.m. and I needed to be at the airport by 8:00. My bags were only half packed and I was starting to feel tired. As I said my good-byes, he came over to say his good-bye. Instead of the typical three kisses from cheek to cheek that the Italians do to greet or say good bye to someone, he stole a kiss from my lips instead. I was caught a little off guard and figured my friend put him up to it, but I went with it anyway. I figured I would never see this guy again, heck, I don’t even know his name, but kissing him was like kissing Italy, and I fell in love. Not with this guy, but with Italy – the country that stole my heart. What better way to end the trip than to seal it with a passionate kiss of a very beautiful Italian stranger.
As I sat on the plane on my way home, I couldn’t help but wonder more deeply about my future and what my next chapter is going to be like. In the beginning of this blog, I wrote that I had fallen in love, and I did. I had fallen in love with Italy. I felt more at home and at ease with the laid back pace of Italy and I love how they live life. Living is actually much more important than work and it’s a concept I wish we would allow ourselves to grasp here.
I used to think I had everything figured out. I had a plan, but that plan is no longer valid. I knew that my future was a blank canvas, but I didn’t realize that I could color that canvas with so many colors. I have serious thoughts of moving to Italy and I’ve already looked into some logistics. If I can make it work, I would be starting an entirely new life with a totally different set of colors than I thought I had. But if I can’t make it work, that’s okay too. I’ll just paint my canvas differently. And whatever my canvas looks like in the end or how my next chapter will be written, I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be beautiful.