run italia

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We’re back from a two-week journey through Italy. I ran just five times, a big mileage drop, even during my post marathon recovery phase. At the start of our trip, I reminded myself that a family vacation is not a running vacation, so the lower volume was fine. I partially made it up by walking at least five miles every day and climbing to the top of towers, churches, and monuments. Finding the time- usually before sunrise- to squeeze in some miles took me off the beaten path and gave me a fresh look at Italy.

Our itinerary was not always runner friendly. Sidewalks were rare. Most roads were narrow with a chaotic mix of cars, scooters, and pedestrians. A six-inch shoulder was generous. Running over cobblestones was a treat. It was hot.

Staying loaded with carbs was not a problem! I took advantage of the local cuisine at every stop and might have spent as much effort eating as I did running.

SORRENTO

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Our trip began with a visit to Pompeii. We decided to avoid Naples and stayed in Sorrento, an hour south along the Mediterranean coast. After twenty hours of flying and driving, we arrived at our hotel, and it was clear that running along the main road (narrow, full of cars trucks and buses, no shoulder), was out of the question. Even though it was late, our body clocks were up for a shakeout and Alex and I scouted a road that wound up into the hills. To call it a road was generous; more like a lane that turned into a track, a path, and finally a trail. Since it was dark, we headed back to the hotel and decided to explore the route the next day.

With an afternoon breeze cooling us, we followed the road past lemon and olive groves, tiny villages, and stone houses clinging to the hillsides. Most of the area seemed to be hundreds of years old with hardly any modern additions. After five miles, we headed back and were rewarded with views of Mount Vesuvius north of us and the Isle of Capri to the south.

The next day we took a taxi to Naples to catch a train to Rome. Our driver was wearing the same model Garmin as me and during the ride he told me that he was training for the Florence Marathon later this year. When he dropped us off, instead of saying “ciao,” we saluted each other with a “run strong!”

ROMA

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No sea breezes in Rome. We spent three searing days exploring the city under a cloudless sky. It was warm at night too- beautiful strolling weather but not good for running, especially since I’m used to cool mornings along the Pacific.

I managed to fit in a predawn run along the banks of the Tiber. Not only was it cool enough, but a bike path followed both sides of the river. I headed north past Castello St. Angelo and the Vatican. I crisscrossed the river on bridges that were centuries old, and ran along roads used by the Romans. Since it was so early, I cut back through the city to our hotel and explored the streets and alleys, ending up in Piazza Navona. It was a treat to experience the city so early and so quiet.

FIRENZE

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Our next stop was Florence. Just as hot as Rome but now with humidity. Most days topped off at ninety-five degrees and most nights stayed around eighty. Once again, just before sunrise was the best time to run and I ventured into the early morning streets twice.

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The Duomo dominates the city and was the starting point for my runs. On the first day, I wandered around the old part of town, through narrow alleyways that opened into medieval and renaissance squares. It was impossible to get lost since the top of the dome was visible from most streets.

On the second run, Alex joined me. This time we crossed the Arno river and headed away from the city center. A mile outside, we wound our way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a panoramic view of Florence.

VENEZIA

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I was unable to run in Venice. We only stayed a day and a half. On our first day, the heat wave broke and we were drenched by thunderstorms. Day two was full of sightseeing, then packing and travel home. Even if I had the time, finding a route proved difficult because of the crowds and canals. There were not a lot of open areas and every hundred yards or so was a dead end, canal, or stairway. On our last day, I discovered a running store around the corner from our apartment and the owner (also training for the Florence Marathon), invited me on a 10K group run that evening. I had to turn him down but not before I purchased a Club Venezia running singlet. Next time!

Now that I’m back in the States, I’m starting up my training routine. My flight home did a number on my IT bands and I’ve had to go a little slower than I prefer. I had a happy reunion with my foam roller that should get me back into a groove soon. Running in Italy was a blast even if I left some miles on the table. I do not travel to run but I can appreciate running when I travel.

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A quick trip to the San Francisco Bay Area gave me a chance to keep a new year’s resolution: run when I travel. We spent three days up north and went running every day.

Day one: Lake Merritt, Oakland.

merritt_01After a day of driving and a good night’s rest, I woke early and ran two miles through Oakland to reach Lake Merritt. Fortunately, I remembered to pack my gloves. Temperatures were in the low 40s, a good deal cooler than Southern California. I ran a brisk three mile loop around the lake just as the sun rose. My run ended with a two mile climb that took away the morning chill.

merritt_02Day two: Tiburon.

On the other side of the San Francisco Bay, we spent an afternoon in Tiburon. Ruby and I ran the bike path downtown, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I continued on my own and turned back at Blackie’s Pasture, at the edge of Richardson Bay. I headed home with San Francisco’s skyline in the distance.tibuon_blackies

Day three: West Ridge Trail, Oakland Hills.

What started out as a short run on my last day turned into an adventure. From the trail head I entered a redwood forest and ran steadily uphill. When I reached the ridge, the trees cleared and I started to loop back. I soon found myself surrounded by more trees and losing elevation in the wrong direction. Five miles of wrong turns and doubling back later, I reached a road that was still a few miles from home.

What was supposed to be a four mile run turned into ten. Not what I was expecting but a great way to end my trip.

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Our family traveled to the Pacific Northwest this Summer. I’ve always had trouble fitting in my runs during vacations but this trip was different. My son Alex joined his high school cross country team and has to maintain a weekly mileage count. So we teamed up and explored all of our stops.

Vancouver Harbor: our first run was seven-miler in downtown Vancouver. It was raining but since rain rarely visits LA it felt like a gift. We had an excellent workout. A network of paths surround the bay- leftovers from the 1986 world fair- and we seemed to join all of Vancouver’s runners this morning.

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Stanley Park: the next day we headed along the same path in the opposite direction. Our route took us north along the Seawall and into Stanley Park.

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Soon we were looking out to the Pacific Ocean and spied Victoria Island in the distance. The fresh air energized us and put some extra spring in our steps.

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Vancouver was a perfect city for running although some of the locals cautioned us to test perfection in February…

Seattle: at our next stop we stayed in the Queen Anne neighborhood, a hill just north of downtown with a great view of the skyline:

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Since we were on a hill, there was plenty of elevation change and even a few flights of stairs. As in Vancouver we marveled at the green surrounding us. Our run took us mostly through residential streets plus a cemetery and was a great way to explore the city.

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Portland: our final destination and another great running city. Portland is compact enough that on our first run we crisscrossed the Willamette river, explored downtown, and made it back home in time for breakfast.

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Exploring while running is a great way to understand the character of a place, and Portland’s neighborhoods were very green and a pleasure to run through.

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Adding running to our trip made it one of my favorite vacations ever. As a bonus I was able to train with Alex. It won’t be long before he leaves me gasping if I try to keep up with him. From now on I’ll remember to pack my running shoes when I travel.