rome marathon

The kids and I left Friday after school on the train. It is a quick ride down now that we have the Frecciargento, the “Silver Arrow”, and my younger son kept thinking we’d get to see the famous soccer players who pretend to be running the train in the commercial for it. He looked up so expectantly when the ticket controller came by.

Rome is easily my favorite Italian city, not that I know it very well, but I wish I did! It is a bustling city and yet it is laid-back, with such big buildings, yet huge, open spaces and so much light, light, light!

Except the day of the marathon, when it rained.

The boys were going to do the 5k family run with their dad while I ran the marathon, but he changed his mind when he got up and looked outside at the weather. So I said goodbye and headed out on my own, and luckily by 8:30 it wasn’t raining quite so hard. I got to the start a little late because I’d thought I could just jog over to the Colosseum and line up, but there were about 15,400 of us, and not enough space for something quite so simple, and when I got there the staff sent me running back and all the way around the tomb of the unknown soldier, almost to the Bocca della Verità and then back towards the Colosseum, oops!

It really is something starting a marathon in the middle of the Forum, and Rome is magical, even on a dark and rainy morning in the middle of March. I was glad I did it, despite the lack of training, despite how incredibly LONG it seemed at times.

When the rain let up, my ex and the boys decided to come see me along the route – and so just around the 13th km, when I was starting to feel a little tired and was wondering why on earth I’d thought it would be all right to attempt a marathon with not even one long run under my belt, I heard a voice I knew shout, “MOMMY!” and I looked up, and there they were! That got me going again.

I saw them again around the 37th, with only five kilometers to go, and by then I knew I’d be fine and finish easily in under 4 hours.

The way the Rome route is set up makes it very easy for your family and friends to see you multiple times in certain sections, and so after I saw them the second time, I wondered if they wouldn’t make it to the finish before I did. The final kilometers were along narrower streets in the center, with cheers the whole way – it was wonderful! At the 39th, there was a hill that knocked a lot of people out, and at the end of the hill was a dark tunnel, which was just depressing to have looming up ahead. Once we got out of that, though, it was almost over, one more kilometer and then we circled Piazza del Popolo, which was probably the most breathtaking moment of the marathon. It had stopped raining and it almost seemed like the sun might come out (it didn’t). I got my final wind right there, and the last km and a half was a breeze.

My ex and the kids said it looked like I was sprinting the last bit uphill towards the finish line, and just after they shouted my name from the bleachers and I waved, the man I was passing gave me a dirty look. HA!

The end was great, but the race was long and hard. I took it pretty easy and still I definitely felt the lack of training. The beginning and the end were exhilarating, but the 22 miles in between were rough. I don’t know if I would do it again without proper preparation; it is not fun.

That said, you forget the pain immediately. As I crossed the finish, I realized I was going to cry a little – it had been such a long race, but I finished so well, and having my kids there for the first time had made it very special. I was choking myself up as I thought about it, and one of the paramedics just after the finish, in a thick Roman accent, asked, “Tutto bene?” and out popped my biggest smile and a loud, “SI’!”

I am really glad I did it. My arm was fine, and my legs were fine immediately afterwards – we had a fun lunch at a great little place in Campo de’ Fiori afterwards and then went sightseeing for the rest of the afternoon, and wandered around in the evening until we found the perfect place for dinner. We spent the following morning at the Colosseum and the Forum. It was a beautiful, sunny day, of course. Then the boys and I headed back home on the train in the afternoon, and my legs were perfectly fine.

Posted in running, Travel | 6 Comments

running again

There is a predictable pattern to this blog and, I suppose, my days: whenever I am not running as much as I’d like to be, I start complaining about other aspects of my life. I am so tired, wah! Work is so hard, parenting is so thankless, wahhh! Nobody loves me, WAHHH! It’s kind of like PMS. Actually, it’s exactly like PMS: I even feel fat and unattractive.

But now that I am back to running, I can stop feeling sorry for myself and write about running again. Click away if that’s not what you came here for, no hard feelings.

My Aunt Patti asked me about upcoming races and running in the comments to another post, so here we go (Hi, Aunt Patti! I am so sorry about your toe.)

First things first: I had a check-up today at the hospital, including x-rays. The break has healed under the plate and the bone has hardened. Most of the pain is gone but I still cannot move my arm very well. Today the doctor asked me to raise both my arms and I held them as high as I could. I was hoping for a “Good” but instead got a clearing of the throat and “Continue with the physical therapy.” He made no mention of the physical therapist’s tape on my shoulder to relieve some of the stress of running and I certainly wasn’t about to bring it up.

I have been gradually ramping up my runs. Ok, so maybe it hasn’t been so gradual. Regardless, I am still nowhere near where I was the day before I fell and broke my arm. My training was just about to start peaking then! I felt fantastic! Not so much now.

On the bright side, my first week back, i.e. last week, I managed about 35 miles and this week I will hit at least 40, which is about my usual. Today I ran 10 miles without any pain (or Ibruprofen!) and Sunday morning I will attempt a half marathon that I had signed up for in January.

Originally I’d had high hopes for this race, but they have been significantly downsized to aspiring to a fairly painless finish in as far under two hours as possible. It is kind of a test.

If it goes well, I’ll run the Rome marathon. If it doesn’t, who am I kidding?, we all know I’ll run the Rome marathon anyway.

Posted in running | 2 Comments

divorce weary

Not long after I got home from the hospital my lawyer’s secretary called me. I wasn’t sure why; things that are so obvious to Italians are sometimes not clear to me at all. Dutifully, I went to the appointment and as she ushered me into her office, she explained I was there to read and sign the final divorce agreement.

I read it over, and there weren’t too many surprises. I probably could have picked nits but I was tired and ready for it to be over. February had worn me down, and so had the winter months of infrequent, dull negotiations in which we trudged to a point where everyone had given up enough that an agreement could be reached. Besides, after my ex had been so helpful and generous while I was in the hospital, it seemed pretty tacky to drag the painful process out over something as trivial as what time he needs to have the kids home on a Sunday night and how often they are to talk with him on Skype.

My lawyer always says we are the easiest couple she has seen, which makes me wonder. If an easy divorce is this wearying, what must a difficult one be like?

Or does she say the same thing to everyone?

No matter, I signed. I was glad to be done, although we won’t officially be divorced until closer to the end of the year. It takes so long here: after three years of legal separation we became eligible to file for divorce. It is now close to four years since we split and we have a few more months to wait until a hearing is held, when a judge will ask us if we agree to the terms of the agreement, we say yes and go home and wait for the ruling, which should come no earlier than September.

In her office, my lawyer checked that I had initialled each page of the agreement, then she put it in a thick manilla folder on which someone had written our last names, mine and his, together, but separated by two backslashes //. I felt a little heavy in the chest when she closed the folder. Oh. So that’s it.

It is good that the process took so long. I think I might have had doubts or regrets about some of my choices if it hadn’t been so slow and tedious to get to where we are now. I had plenty of time to think things over, turn them this way and that, wonder, then feel the reality of the choice and see how it played out in my life, how it affected the boys, and then wait a little longer, just to be sure.

A friend of mine who does not have children told me she thought I was making a big mistake by having him around so often for holidays and other importants events for the kids. “You’re NOT a family!” she said. “You’re only confusing your children!”

I couldn’t see why she was so upset: my kids seem fine. Confused about what, anyway? She seemed more confused than we are.

Often the expectation is that what comes after love is hate, and that if a couple splits it is because they can’t stand each other anymore. But isn’t life more nuanced than that? Aren’t human beings more complex? It has been my experience that the end of a marriage is long and wearying, and divorce, if you have children, is not the end of your relationship. Until death do you part? HA! They should save that for the birth of your first child.

We are a family – not the one we’d had in mind when we met and fell in love, but a family nonetheless. I’d even argue that in some ways our separation has made us better parents. Whereas before, we saw the boys as these marvelous creatures we had made, now we see ourselves as the deeply flawed parents they inherited, which only makes us try harder to get it right. Neither of us is eager to mess up parenthood the way we did marriage.

That said, I am sick of this divorce. I am sick of thinking about it and I am sick of it being there in my life, like a big unpleasant lump I turn around and bump into. But then, I also kind of dread September when it will all be over. Because: and then what?

Posted in Separation anxiety | 9 Comments

another injury

Well. I broke my arm a few weeks ago. I rarely use my car for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the underground garage where I park it is a pain to get in and out of, on foot and in the car. Most of the scratches and dents on my car are from the first few months we lived here, when I had yet to learn how to navigate around the maze of countless concrete columns in what appears to be either a seemingly random arrangement or some engineer’s cruel joke. And now the garage has left its mark on me! There is a terrifying metal ramp that leads to the garage with a gate and a lock at the end of it, and I have slipped a few times on the metal ramp, but this time it was raining/snowing and my feet slipped out from under me much faster than any time before. I took a pretty bad fall, and was surprised at how much my arm hurt when I tried to get up.

I managed to pull myself together, open the damn gate and park the car amid the columns, without a scratch and using only one hand to shift, maneuver, shift, maneuver, ad nauseum. I got up to my apartment and sat down on the couch, deciding to let myself catch my breath before attempting to remove my coat.

Before long I realized there was no way I was going to get my coat off on my own and something was very wrong with my arm. Dislocated shoulder maybe? I called a taxi and went to the emergency room.

Italy’s least gallant taxi driver drove me to the ER, hitting every bump in the road along the way and didn’t offer to open the car door for me. The line wasn’t too long and I took my place at the end of it. As long as I held my arm firmly against my body and didn’t move, and no one touched me, it was fine. Not even five minutes had gone by when a nurse stepped out of the door next to the front desk, took one look at me, and waved me over. “Come in here,” he said, and I followed him in. “Did you break your arm?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

And I started to cry, because holy shit, it did hurt and didn’t seem to be getting any better.

“Elbow or shoulder?” he asked.

“Just below my shoulder.”

“Let’s take your coat off.”

“Please, no. Just cut it off me.”

“Broken humerus!” he shouted then to someone behind me, and they came over to help get my coat and shirt off, and then they had me sit down and asked me some questions and off I was taken in a high-backed wheelchair for x-rays, then to Orthopedics, where a quirky doctor told me I’d probably need surgery, but first a CAT scan.

“When do you want to do the surgery?” I asked, because I need to pick my kids up from school.

“No, no,” he said, and laughed. “I don’t think you understand. We can’t let you leave. You are going to be admitted. You need surgery right away.”

Another nurse put a brace on me – oh sweet relief! – and wheeled me away for a CAT scan, then back to the doctor who confirmed that I’d be getting a titanium plate in my arm as soon as they could get me on the surgery list.

I called friends to pick my kids up from school, my ex to see if he could come and watch them for a few days, and my clients to tell them SORRY!

The doctors and nurses at the hospital were absolutely wonderful. My friends and my ex were so incredibly helpful. Although I am not one for imposed “rest” and this whole thing has been a big pain in many different ways, at the same time I feel so lucky to live in a country with universal healthcare and in a town where I have made so many wonderful, kind and generous friends. My ex was a huge help. He took a ton of time off from work to stay with the kids at my place and come see me at the hospital, and another good friend took care of the boys at her house for a few days when he had to go back to work. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

Today I get my staples out and find out what kind of rehabilitation I am going to need. Needless to say, swimming is out of the question for awhile, but I am hoping they will give me the go ahead to start running again, very carefully. After nearly three weeks of sitting around eating cookies, my only exercise consisting of long walks in the nearby hills with my arm in a brace, I am starting to disgust myself. It’s time to get back in shape! The Rome marathon is less than a month away!!

Posted in like anyone cares | 13 Comments

so many posts, so little time

There is a running list in my mind of stories and thoughts and plans I’d like to post about and never enough time to do it right. And if I am going to do something, I’d like it done right.

This month will be out the door before I catch my breath. That’s kind of how I like to roll anyway, so it’s probably for the best.

Today, I have time for this: a picture my ex sent to me that our son took at dinner last night. I might be able to take my boys out of Italy but no one will ever take Italy out of my boys.


Posted in picture taking, The boys | 2 Comments

happy new year

james civetta

We were up in the mountains skiing for the start of the new year, but first it was my turn to have Christmas with the boys, and Nine had asked for a quiet Christmas at home and could we invite his dad, so that’s what we did.

Christmas Eve is my chance to celebrate with my family’s American traditions, baking cookies for Santa Claus, preparing the easy, yet festive dinner of beef fondue while holiday music plays in the background and Christmas lights blink on the tree, all while relaxing thanks to Santa and the threat of no gifts keeping the kids from tearing the house apart. My ex brought a panettone from Milan so I didn’t even have to make dessert.

On Christmas Day we opened presents and did the mandatory four-hour long Italian lunch with relatives and in-laws of in-laws (of in-laws), then a movie. On Saint Stephen’s Day, the 26th, we went up to the mountain town where we used to live to see other Italian relatives and a bunch of old friends for the day.

It was a fairly quiet, satisfying Christmas, and if every Christmas could be just like that, I’d have no complaints.

The best part though was the 27th when we drove farther north to the Dolomites for a week of skiing, la settimana bianca, is what they call it here, and it is quickly becoming our New Year tradition. If we could spend every new year skiing, I’d have no complaints.

There has been very little snow so far this season, but we were lucky. It started snowing around lunchtime and didn’t stop until late into the night, then got cold for a few days. On top of that, the artificial snow wasn’t too bad for skiing, and now that the boys are much more confident on the slopes, we were able to ski a lot, every day, and everyone enjoyed it. There were no tears! Except maybe once! It helped that their dad was there and most days we had lunch with another family with two young boys and then skiied with them in the afternoon.

Thursday was my favorite day: we were out on the slopes around nine and skiied for an hour before the boys’ ski class began. It was a beautiful, sunny day, although a little too warm for the snow, and the new year crowds hadn’t completely taken over yet. Their dad and I skiied skiied skiied until it was time to pick up the boys, and then we had lunch with our friends outside a rifugio at the top of the mountain, overlooking the mountaintops all around.

Six was tired after a few more runs and asked to go in; I stayed out with Nine and we skiied until the lifts closed at four. I asked Nine if he wanted to ski all the way down into town on the challenging slope that had just opened that day, and he said he was up for it. The slope was steeper than I remembered and strewn with fallen bodies. I started to regret bringing him down it when, just before a particularly sharp, narrow turn, I stopped to wait for him and realized the woman near me was crying while her husband whispered words of encouragement. But there came Nine, cool as can be, practicing his turns around the bodies in the snow.

“Hi Mommy,” he said.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, and skiied off again in that methodical way of his.

When we got to the bottom I bought him a cream-filled donut fresh from the oven at the pastry shop on the way up to our little apartment in town.

Posted in something beautiful, The boys, Travel | 2 Comments

last marathon of the year

I managed to squeeze one last race in before the year was over. The Pisa marathon!

I drove down on Saturday with a small group of friends from my running club and oh, Tuscany is so lovely that it almost seems a shame to live in Italy and not live there.

I had signed up for the race in October, before the tendinitis flare-up caused me to miss nearly three weeks of training, so I went down not really knowing what to expect. But I felt good and confident that I could finish in under three and a half hours.

The first part of the race was in the center of Pisa, then we crossed the Arno and ran out into the fog, towards the sea. The first ten kilometers were over before I knew it; I’d forgotten how quickly the first 25 km of a marathon go by! Every time you look up, you’re about to put another distance marker behind you.

We came to the seaside town of Tirrenia and I’d nailed the first half of the marathon in perfect time for a 3 hour and twenty minute finish and my legs still felt fine. I was feeling tentatively confident. Keep this up and you’ve got it made! I sang inside my head. There was a nice flat stretch along the sea where young families and old Tuscan men watched us race by, and a handful called out to me, “Brava bimba, vai” in thick Tuscan accents. Good little girl, go. My confidence grew.

Before we turned back inland, I was well into my calculations: if I hit the 30 km marker at around 2 hours and 25 minutes, then 38 km at 3 hours, I’ll have this thing in the bag. Damn! If I can hit 38 km in 3 hours! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first let’s get to 30 km at this pace. Just keep this pace. At this pace I’ll hit 30 km at close to 2 hours and 20 minutes, maybe 22. And on and on and on.

But by the 27th km, I was starting to feel tired, and I still had 15 more to go!

By the 35th my legs were heavy and the internal dialogue had changed to I can do this. I can do this. Maybe I can do this. Why am I doing this? I wasn’t sure what my time would be because my thinking by then was too fuzzy to recalculate a projected time based on the new, much slower pace. But I was lucid enough to suspect that 3h20m was not going to happen, and now we were now running at a very slight incline with an unrelenting wind blowing in our faces, and would be all the way back to Pisa.

It was there, somewhere between the 35th and the 38th km, that I gave up. In Italian, you don’t say “give up”, you say, “let go”, and that is what I did. I let go of 3 hours and 20 minutes. Now I knew what my brother was talking about during the San Francisco marathon when he said his hamstrings hurt. And damn, I’d forgotten how heavy your legs feel near the end of a marathon. I groaned a little when I looked at my watch: I had slowed down to 5’10 per km. THE SHAME!

Then came the final blow: I promised myself I could walk as I drank the Poweraid at the 40th km aid station.

But you have to make it to the aid station running. AT THIS PACE!

The aid stations were well staffed by tons of wonderful volunteers who offered so much encouragement, more than any previous race I’ve run, and when I reached the last one at the 40th and sipped my Dixie cup of Poweraid, I was so out of it that I had to ask the volunteers which way to go, although I realized that it was clearly marked as soon as they said, “Oh, honey, just keep going straight, it’s right in front of you”.

Off I went, with only two more kilometers plus 195 meters to go. We reentered the center of Pisa and were running along the Arno again. I entertained fond memories of the Turin marathon and how strongly I’d finished and how excited I’d been to look at my watch and realize how well I was doing two kilometers from the finish. Ah, yes, that had been a good finish. Yesterday in Pisa, when I looked at my watch, I couldn’t even make sense of the numbers I saw.

There is a point when I am running and am very tired and I feel with complete certainty that it would take more effort to stop than it takes to continue running, and no matter how tired and how heavy they are, it is as if my legs are moving only in momentum, and to stop that momentum, it would require more force than just letting the momentum continue on its own. That is where I was by the end of the Pisa marathon. And because the crazy person had taken over, I was sure it had all gone to shit. If only I had completed all my training – if only I had done all the long runs! – my legs would be better at this right now.

It was a sad finish. I couldn’t even see it coming up; all I could see was the marker for the 42nd km, and the top of the Leaning Tower around the corner above some artfully decrepit buildings. A friend from my group who’d run the half marathon was standing on the corner waiting for me, and when I saw him I shouted “How much more?” because the crazy person in my head had me convinced that they were going to make us run a lap around the tower and cathedral and that damn baptistry, which is HUGE!, before they let us go through the finish.

But it wasn’t like that at all. I ran around the corner, and that was it, the finish was right there, and it was over, I was done.

That’s it? That’s all?

It was a beautiful day in Pisa. The fog had burned off over the city, and I hadn’t even noticed. The sky was a brilliant blue, and everyone was cheering. It took me a few minutes for my time to register. I’d forgotten to stop my watch and the finish had come up so quickly that I’d barely glanced at the official clock.

By the time my friend found me, I felt fine and the delusions were gone. I was already feeling the post-race high.

3 hours, 24 minutes, 48 seconds. Less than a minute from my fastest time.

When I texted my trainer, he wrote me right back: “Congratulations! And think if we’d been able to train properly!”

HA! As if the crazy person in my head hadn’t already been planning the next one, projecting her potential time.

A day later I still feel that high. There is nothing like a marathon, nothing like it at all.

Posted in running, Travel | 5 Comments