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Running in Italy

Robert Rainey

Why would anyone go all the way to Italy to run? I know the idea is the furthest thing from the average travelers mind. But think of the benefits! How about a quick tour to get a better idea of the layout of a town? Running through the streets is a great way to explore, especially early in the morning. The average runner burns 100 calories/mile. Think of all the extra pasta and gelato you can eat without gaining weight!

What is my favorite reason to schedule running into my vacation plan? Meeting Italian runners.

Here are some examples and stories of races I have run which should help you with your planning.

Venice Marathon

The Venice marathon is in Late October. It starts in Stra in the Veneto and follows the Brenta River to the bridge that crosses to the islands of Venice. It then follows the Zattere and crosses the Grand Canal on a barge that is there only on race day. Then the route turns right and travels down the Grand Canal past the piazza San Marco to the finish at Riva dei Sette Martiri.

We met a group of French runners and a few Americans on the bus to the Barilla factory, where the pasta party was taking place the night before the race. We were making jokes about my bad French, the hassle to get to the party and why my wife and I decided to run a marathon on our honeymoon.

The next day as the race was starting I was sipping a cappuccino -- oops, the race was starting, so I jumped the fence and began to run.

The race is very well organized and has over 10,000 participants. It is the best urban marathon I have entered when you consider the fabulous scenery and excellent support.

Local Races

Sometimes local races are even more fun, that way you may be the only foreigners. The best way to find local races is looking at the newsstands. Look for Italian running magazines and local event papers. We found a 15k run outside of Milan that way. We took a train to the race, which was 45 minutes outside of Milan.

We didn't know anything about how to get to the actual race starting area. I told my wife "follow the people with running shoes". After a few minutes of walking we noticed some people selling cards with string's attached, I thought they we soliciting for charity. It turns out the cards were for race entry (about $3) and they were worn around your neck. Most Italian races do not give out t-shirts unless it is a big marathon. Finishing the race you never know what the "prize" will be. In this case it was a carton of milk and a kilo of Rice, another time it was a potted plant!

Bologna-Zocca 50k Race

Bologna-Zocca is a 50k that starts in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna and travels south to the foothills of the Apennines in Zocca. There are also 20k and 32k intermediate finishes.

When we did this race, we met some Italian runners including the female winner of the Passatore (Florence to Faenza ,100k in May) at the race hotel in Zocca. They were really nice and gave us some information about the race. My wife didn't feel well, so I got up at 5am myself, had some coffee and got the bus to Bologna, leaving her in Zocca. I had time for more coffee and to take photos before the race started. I always carry a disposable camera with my water bottle.

Passatore

My current trip (May 2004) is to run the Passatore, a 100k race which starts on May 28th in the afternoon, at the Piazza Signoria in Florence. It travels on the 302 highway to Faenza.

Am I going to run other times on this trip? I have plans to run with two locals whom I "met" through a Slow Travel member. We are doing an hour run maybe up around Piazza Michelangelo, probably the Tuesday before my race.

Run the Planet to meet other runners

Run the Planet is a website for runners to connect with each other. It is a great way to hook up with local runners. You can email the Italian Run the Planet and put in a visitors request. Generally two or three runners will respond, and they may meet you for a run or suggest races in their area.

On one trip, through a Run the Planet contact, I met Massimo in Bologna, where we had lunch and he gave us the grand tour. He showed us the building on the piazza with the glass floor where they are excavating the ancient streets 20 feet below (can't remember the name), and he pointed out some of the towers as we walked through Bologna. I never realized that the higher the tower the more powerful the family.

We met Patrizia Zanella through a "friendly contact" on the Run the Planet site. She lives on San Erasmo Island in the Venetian lagoon. How many tourists even know that this island exists? Much less that it is the place where many of the vegetables are grown for Venice. As we ran a 6 mile circuit of the island, I heard what I was sure were shotgun blasts. Later as we were finishing our run, I recognized a dog as being an Italian hunting breed and that's when I realized it was Patrizia's neighbor hunting just outside his property.

We met Marco on another trip. He picked us up from Piazza Roma in Venice, drove us to a race (half marathon), helped us register and we ended up visiting with friends for some wine on the way home.

I am convinced that Italian runners are the friendliest in the world. These people had never met me and all we had exchanged were a few brief emails.

How to Find Places to Run

Where to run? How do you meet foreign runners? One resource is your hotel employees. Ask them where people run. Get a map and carry it in your shorts in a plastic bag. It's fun to see so many new sites while you tour the town.

Run the Planet has runs listed for each city, and most of the major towns in Italy are covered. Many have friendly contact pages, where you can email locals with questions or to hook up for a race or training run. This usually turns into some sort of social event like they offer to make you lunch. Of course it would be rude to refuse! I am posted on Run the Planet as a friendly contact for Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

On the Internet look up race schedules in Runners World, Trail Runner, Running or other publications. Then plan a trip around it. How about a Honeymoon/Venice marathon combo like we did?

A service through the Italian Run the Planet is the Dead Runners Society. Visitors can email Italian runners a "visitors request" and local runners get the message and will email you back. There also is a worldwide runner's connection page on Run the Planet.

The Hash House Harriers is a "drinking club with a running problem". It started in 1932 in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia and is now worldwide. There are Rome, Etna, Milan, Vinceza and Aviano "Hash House Harriers". Most people are ex-pats, but there are some Italians. There is usually beer or wine stops on the run, as well as food and wine in a party afterwards.

In summary, Italy is a great place to run, race or just have a great time!

Resources

www.runtheplanet.com: Run the Planet
www.venicemarathon.it: Venice Marthon
www.Rh3.it: Rome Hash House Harriers
www.etnaHash.com: Etna Hash House Harriers
www.fahrenheit451.it/milanhhh/: Milan Hash House Harriers
www.Adriatic-H3.org: Adriatic Hash House Harriers


Robert Rainey lives and works in Los Angeles. www.backpain-la.com

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