After nineteen days abroad and three races down, we’ve finally settled down a little bit. The past week we’ve been in a small town in central Italy called Spoleto. Nick races next in Monaco on Friday so we needed to find a place where he could train in between races. To be honest, we didn’t have high expectations for Spoleto as a perfect training base, but thought we’d certainly find warm weather and a few dirt roads to run on. We decided to come here mainly because my sister, her husband, and son were going to be here. There’s a music festival each summer in Spoleto and my sister, Mariah, who is a PhD student in collaborative piano, is studying here for 6 weeks.
In our experience, Nick and I have found that during the long European racing season, one of the best ways to prevent travel fatigue and a running season gone “stale” is to forget about running and racing outside of practice time. We’re exploring the city, spending time with family, and enjoying the local cuisine. But, even though we’re doing our best to take our minds off of running, the unforeseen blessing to it all has been that the training environment has been amazing. The trails we’ve discovered have been far greater than expected—complete with a nearby mountain stream that is the perfect temperature for ice tubbing! The weather has been perfect for helping us start our warm weather acclimatization for Daegu. The running community we’ve connected with has been incredibly helpful and so welcoming to us. Nick has had people to run with, people to help him through workouts, massage therapists, etc.… We’ve been able to receive all the good benefits of training without the negative effects of isolation and boredom.
A few days after we arrived, Nick and I took a drive around the city to see if we could find the track he had spotted on Google Maps. We eventually came to one, which, oddly enough, seemed to also be doubling as a day care facility. Weaving around the children we found a young girl who seemed to know a little bit of English and could translate for us to the man sitting behind the desk. He said we were welcome to use the track and explained the hours to us. We tried to ask him about where the local runners trained, but we weren’t able to figure out much. As we left, Nick spotted a picture of some local runners and pointed to it, saying “can you have them call me?” We left a paper with our phone and email, not entirely sure if anything we said had been understood.
A few hours later our cell phone rang. “Nicholas?” a man’s voice asked. I handed the phone to Nick and after a few minutes chatting, Nick went downstairs to meet him at the nearby news stand. The man who had called was Piergiorgio, the local running coach, and fourth generation owner of the city’s biggest newsstand. After one run with Piergiorgio, Nick came home and told me, “I think he’s the most popular man in Spoleto! He knows everyone!” Piergiorgio speaks good English and has run the New York Marathon many times. He’s run a 2:22 Marathon in his career and trains a handful of runners here in Spoleto. Since meeting him, Nick has run with a group of people almost every day. They’ve shown him the local running spots and even helped him through a tough workout last Friday. Because of their help, Nick was able to run one of his best workouts ever, finishing it off with a 1000m in 2:22! Being connected to locals makes us feel like we are really experiencing true Italy and are not just tourists locked in a hotel. We don’t understand Italian and only a few people speak English so there are definitely some communication barriers but that hasn’t prevented us from feeling very welcomed here. Tomorrow Nick is running with a group in the morning, being taken by Piergeorgio to a massage in the afternoon, and at night we’ve been invited to a dinner party with a bunch of local runners in a nearby town. Now, that’s true Italian hospitality!