Interesting read about cooking, relationships, and such.
Eventiably in social conversations, the “what do you do?” question comes up. After the obligatory exchange of work responsibilities, how do you define yourself? What constitutes a runner versus a non-runner? It is amount the number of races run in the past? Is it based on your race pace? Or rather the frequency of runs?
I’ve witnessed a wide variety of responses: humble realists who run but recognize that others are more talented; braggarts – good and they know it; weekend warriors who need an identity; and “chompers” who need all the best gear.
Those who don’t run at all are quick to refute an accusation of running. “No! I hate running”, or “I haven’t run in years”, or “running is so boring”. Non- runners unabashedly own their identity, part-timers defend a misleading identity, and dedicated runners deflect an earned identity. Why?
As someone who has run since the age of seven, there is no disputing my love for running or commitment to the sport. When asked directly if I’m a runner, I still hesitate. Does running define who I am? Have I earned the reputation as a runner? I interprete this question like, are you a Buddhist? While many people subscribe to Buddhist philosophy, they don’t claim to be the 14th Daili Lama.
I’m sitting here listening to a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician. He sprinkles historical references into his set for fluid transitions. The stories explain how songs were written, recorded or performed: The Everly Bros, Stephen Stills, Jimi Hendrix, the Bay in 1976, etc.
I can picture myself in the audience in 1967 when Jimi Hendrix starts playing his new stuff at the Monterrey Pop Festival. Jimi is 45 years gone, yet his music lives on. Listeners both young and old have nostalgic memories connected to his music.
I started thinking (always dangerous), does this carry over to running? Do we have moments such as this? Do we have running legends who inspire us towards greatness or a greater version of ourselves? Can you easily recall a great run from your past? If you share your stories does it impact others?
Is the art of running able to carry expression across time and space akin to music? I remember being inspired by Carl Lewis in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. I can recall the feeling of running my first high school cross country meet. I remember the feeling of invincibility after running a sub-18 5k. I am aware of my personal record races.
I don’t often share running stories with others, nor do I go down memory-lane on a regular basis – I don’t have a favorites playlist of races. While my experiences are important to me, I doubt whether my nostalgia evokes similar emotional reactions in others.
Post-race, runners often enjoy swapping race stories whether personal triumphs or frustrations. But community reflection tends to be short-lived, soon after a race runners transition to talking about the next race (where/when/distance).
Maybe runners tend to look forward, maybe I have a bad memory, maybe I really enjoy music, maybe running is more individualistic.
Random conversation with an eccentric woman earlier today. She has a lifetime of experience in corporate fundraising,and was excited about her “new endeavor” of bringing a New York meatball tradition to Salem, Massachusetts.
Somewhere within this heavy conversation the idea of a 5k race emerged, of course it would be meatball themed. I pictured this to be similar to other food/drink race challenges (doughnuts/beer). Personally, I find traditional road races to be challenging enough without the complication of additional elements. I wonder where other (non-vegetarian) runners fall on this issue: positive, cautious or opposed.
I typically toss and turn the night before a race in nervous anticipation of the unknowns. December 20th was much different, but then so was my entire experience surrounding the Pisa Marathon. I was physically tired from a long day of tourism in Florence, which included climbing over 500 stairs in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore to the viewing deck on top of its dome. I had reservations when purchasing the ticket to gain entry and regrets about fifteen steps into the ascent. The view was breath-taking and awe-inspiring but in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I was going to pay for the sin of 500 stairs tomorrow. December 20th was also different because I didn’t have any expectations coming into the race. This marathon would be different from my previous two experiences running the Boston Marathon (2011 & 2012). I had prepared extensively for Boston in 2011, albeit sloppy and without wisdom. And logged solid miles for Boston, 2012. In stark contrast, I signed up for Pisa on November 12, about 5 weeks ahead of time. At this stage, I had not done any significant training, and had no intention to train before the big day. The purpose of signing up was kick-starting my dream of completing marathons on each of the seven continents (My dream doesn’t necessarily include racing all of these, just completing them).
The race was scheduled for 9:00 am start, so I got to the bag drop area around 7:30 to gather my bearings and ease any anxiety going into the race. After dropping my bag, I also wanted to drop the remains of last night’s carb load, so I hit the port-a-johns. The phrase, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all didn’t apply in the case of these bathrooms: No blue water! In fact, the shock wasn’t just about the lack of colored water but also the presence of a very strange aluminum band recessed about 5 inches inside of the toilet. The aluminum band functioned as a low-tech conveyor belt, a foot pedal manually rotated the belt when pressed, making it the proverbial “gas pedal”. I was stunned for about 10 minutes, while trying to come up with rational theories for why and how this contraption came to exist, maybe italians don’t like blue water? maybe these belts are environmentally friendly, maybe this is “new technology” that hasn’t reached the states yet?
I arrived at the starting line 30 minutes ahead of time. I found a gaggle of nervous racers and a DJ! The DJ was there to pump up the crowd, playing all the latest Italian dance hall favorites I assume. The racers started dancing and clapping right along – it looked like they were having a lot of fun, but also like they were expending a lot of energy. As 9:00 approached, the DJ stopped the music and asked the crowd to quiet down. I figured they would play the Italian national anthem, but this was not the case. They had a moment of silence, which was very respectful and seemed heartfelt.
From here the countdown began and off we went, winding through the streets of Pisa making our way out-of-town. The course took us south from the center of the city, across the river and pretty much straight west to the Mediterranean Sea. Looking at the course beforehand, I had the idea that I could probably sustain a 3:30 pace on this course. The weather was perfect, 46 degrees with a slight breeze and no rain. The course had a few rolling hills and a few turns, but nothing overly concerning.
I approached the race with caution, due to my lack of training and painful reminder of my previous marathon attempt (2012 Boston), which resulted in me walking the last eight miles due to an I.T. band flare up. My definition of caution was starting off the race at a 8:30 -8:45 mile pace, if my body responded well, I could speed up otherwise try to maintain this pace.
My cautious approach went out the window after the 1st kilometer – European’s measure distance and speed in kilometers, in this case 42 km. I was loosing contact with the 3:30 pacers and couldn’t let that happen. So with caution to the wind, I starting thinking on the run – which is always dangerous. I increased my pace from 8:30 to 7:45, and felt pretty comfortable. The legs felt light and lungs were breathing easily, which made me feel at ease.
I caught up with the 3:30 group around 4 km and started to settle into the race. I felt comfortable and took a moment to gather myself and notice my surroundings. There were obvious differences than races in the States: balloons, refreshments and motivations. Pacers had helium balloons attached to their shirts with their pace printed on them. It was highly comical to watch the pacers run with multiple balloons swirling behind them, hitting the faces of other runners. I started wondering where this practice came from: where did balloon running derive? who thought this was a good idea? do the Europeans know something we don’t about balloons?
I grabbed a bottle of water a the first water station, and forgot all about the balloons. Water stations were placed every 4 or 5 miles apart on the course, each of the stations contained a variety of items, but no two were the same. In the beginning the stations consisted of full liter bottles of water or cups with two choices of colored fluids. The first I found to be basically lemon/lime Gatorade, this other was warm and tasted similar to Lipton tea. The intentionally warm drink was a curve ball for me, I’d never seen this before. Other stations had various sizes of water bottles and some were only half full, as we got further into the race stations had bananas, slices of oranges, cookies, and chocolates!
Throughout the race there were a couple of phrases that I kept hearing runners yell as encouragement to other runners, “Di!” and the other I can’t remember. “Di” was always repeated like (Di!, Di!, Di!). During the race, I figured it meant “go!” or “run!” but turns out that isn’t the case. What made the most sense to me was the shortened version of di morire, which means motor or engine. So literally I guess the runners were yelling “engine!, engine!, engine!” to each other.
The miles clicked by from 6-12, somewhere with this sequence I had again decided to push my pace to 7:15 in hopes of catching up with the 3:15 group. I was able to catch them around the half marathon marker. At this point I was elated, I felt pretty good and thought I would be able to maintain this pace. As I approached mile 14 I got a bit greedy, why not shoot for 3:10? That idea lasted all of 5 minutes, my foolish ambition had pushed me ahead of the group, as I turned the corner heading east to Pisa, I found a headwind. It was significant enough for me to slow down seeking shelter with the group.
Miles 16 – 21 seemed to crawl by, at this point I knew the last 4-5 miles would be a struggle. My legs started to get heavy and it took more effort to keep the same pace. I hung with the group until mile 24 (I think) and fell back. I was happy with my effort and knew I would finish under 3:20. After a few turns I could see the leaning tower and smiled through the sweat. I did it!