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The problem with running on a summer evening is that because sweat runs down your back like the Mighty Mississip, there’s nothing left with which to spit out bugs.

This is why I run in the morning, while the bugs are still sleeping.

I have been released from the depths of dingy hotel workout rooms and am back pounding the pavement of the lovely country roads of Franconia. My schedule became more tangled than the kids’ kite strings during vacation, and it is proving a challenge to straighten it out.

To answer last week’s questions:

1) One does not train while on a cruise of the Rhine River. Instead, you sit and drink coffee for three hours while listening to Brazilian tourists sing drinking songs. Judging by their stout bodies, these men had years of experience in the drinking of beer.

2) The climbs up to the castles in the sweltering heat were workouts in themselves. Simply arriving at the top without dehydrating was an accomplishment. I didn’t even think about doing hill repeats.

3) After a day of tromping around castles, I sought out the hotel workout room. The place was deserted, so I was able to choose whichever TV channel I wanted: SpongeBob in German or tennis. The match was less than spectacular.

4) Perhaps I was “supposed to” run 15 miles the day we drove back. However, I have discovered “supposed to” is a relative phrase. In reality, I am supposed to balance having a real life with marathon training. I postponed my long run until the day the guests were safely on the train to the airport. I couldn’t do 15 without injuring myself, so I did 11 instead. And honestly, I was quite proud of the 11.

Vacation has been a lesson in flexibility. The trick is to determine how much flexibility I can have without compromising performance. The test of my flexible vacation schedule will come on Sunday, when I run my half-marathon.

I’ll bring extra water, so I can perfect the fine art of bug spitting.

Stats:

Miles: Tuesday 11, Wednesday 4, Thursday 6

Aches & Pains: My right knee was just killing me after the long run. I’ve dedicated more time to stretching, which has helped a lot. On a positive note, I was able to climb up the castle paths with relative ease. It felt great to not gasp for breath or fear a heart attack on the climbs.

Weather: Intermittent summer. Sunny & in the 70s low 80s on some days. Cloudy & in the 50s & 60s other days.

Wildlife: lots of deer, rabbits, bugs, and farmers’ wives hoeing the fields.

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When a new road is planned in Italy, engineers carefully extract spaghetti from a boiling pot, and fling the pasta at a map. Wherever the noodles stick is where new roads are built. While I cannot be certain of this method of road planning, driving for a week in Italy appears to validate my hypothesis. The Etruscan coast is rugged, and the lush hills of Toscana unflinchingly reject unsightly straight lines. It’s all part of the charm of Italy.

The Italians I met, when not navigating the tangled mass of roads, were friendly, relaxed, and talkative. They seemed to savor each small moment of life. And the Italian runners are fearless. I saw them everywhere: dodging busses on city streets, ignoring traffic through ancient towns, in teams with matching soccer jerseys, old couples, young couples, solitary women at night, solitary men in the morning, some with bright clothing, and others apparently trying to blend in. The baby strollers were reserved for late afternoon, when every mama and papa and grandparent met to stroll the beachfront, and let the bambinos play in the sand.

The most beautiful running trail I’ve ever seen stretched for one mile to the next town—I wish it had been longer. I could have run along the Mediterranean coast forever (at least for 26.2 miles).  

Because it was a short run, I set the pace one notch down from full-throttle. And I flew. I felt swift and light; and the run seemed effortless. I passed another jogger (a man), and was sad when I made it to the next town. I turned around and flew back along the path, listening to the sea gently lapping at the shore. I ran full-speed up a flight of wide steps, startling a deliver man, and stood at the bluff overlooking the ocean. It was the best run of my life; and I’m still trying to let the feeling of it seep into my soul.

That was the only run I did on the entire trip. As on most vacations, we were busy from morning until night. However, climbing the 463 steps of the Duomo in Florence has got to count for something. Then there were three hours of hiking through the Etruscan Archeological park at Populonia. But the best workout arose from sheer desperation.

If you are doing your wash at Camp Darby after 19:00, note that the commissary, the PX, the shoppette, the hotel reception desk, the bowling alley (it was Tuesday), and the Bistro will be closed. Furthermore, the vending machines on post enjoy taking your money, but they refuse to serve food after 7 pm. While we waited for our laundry, I watched the kids play at the park, and wondered how they could be so happy when they’d not had a bite to eat in over eight hours.

I had two options: I could go to the bar (the only establishment open), or I could test the physiological benefits of play. Instead of doing tequila shots (just to get the lime and salt, mind you), I opted to join the kids in a game of freeze tag. It was an hour of fun, joy, and tremendous physical exertion.

We made up a story to go along with our hunger. The children were starving orphans. I was the angel sent to guide them to the man who would save them. Once he adopted them, I would turn into a beautiful woman, we would get married, and the man, having washed all our laundry, would feed us dinner.

This story managed to detach the kids from the physical sensation of hunger. Instead of the hunger inciting whininess and bad behavior, it was just a part of the meta-narrative. My six year-old now claims that one of her favorite parts of the trip was being a starving orphan.

I am certain the ability to detach myself from physical discomfort will be of  great value in the marathon.

Whether I am navigating hairpin turns, or pumping my last coin into a dormant vending machine, I can endure these things with grace and a positive spirit. Moreover, in true Italian style, I can appreciate every tattered scrap of goodness that waves itself in front of me.

 These are things that will help me through the marathon.

 Stats:

Overall feeling: flabby due to a week of authentic Italian gluten-free pizza and pasta, steak, gelatto, and Chianti. But I think by the end of the week I’ll be back up to speed.

Miles: 2 last week in Italy; in Germany, 6 Sunday, 5 Tuesday.

Weather: sunny and in the 50s here in Germany. Italy, perfecto (60s & 70s), some clouds, but plenty of sun.

Terrain: back to avoiding tractors along the rolling hills of Franconia

Wildlife: my deer welcomed me home on Sunday. There are also a lot of rabbits & tractors. I’ve not seen a single person on the roads. Maybe they’re afraid of the volcanic ash?