Last weekend I was invited by my friend Paola to her family’s vacation home in the mountains along the Italian-Austrian border, along with six other runner friends. It was to be a whole weekend of swimming, running and visiting the various Wellness Centres in the area. She had me as soon as I heard the words “Wellness Centre”.
I’ve always dreamed of going to a posh spas for a week, like Canyon Ranch in Utah or one of the Banyan Tree resorts. But the price tag has always been out of my budget. And even if I could, I’d spend the whole time calculating how many pairs of running shoes I could have bought with the same money!
We madethe three hour drive up to Brunico Friday morning. After a light lunch we headed to the first spa, Cron4.
I started going to saunas and steam baths as an adolescent but it was always a tiny sauna or one-room Turkish baths. Cron4 had six saunas and four infrared heat rooms. The saunas were set at various temperatures from 80° to 100°. One has program called Aufguss where a Aufguss professional whirls towels around the sauna room while increasing the heat by throwing snowballs infused with essential oils into the heat sources. After ten minutes of the Aufguss I had a delirious high.
Outside you could jump into an icy swimming pool. Inside they had steam baths, Kneipp pools and mud mask stations. We stayed for over five hours and lay down in the relax room before leaving for dinner.
The next day we went on a nine mile run down a bike path that ended at another Wellness Center. I won’t expand, just know that it was another day of the same bliss!
Sunday morning we went up to 1800 metres for a walk on the snow. The snow was well packed so no slipping or stepping up to your hip in snow.
After just 48 hours of swims, saunas, steam baths and running I came home totally chillax and stayed that way for days. Last night I went running and after downloading my Garmin I saw my average pace was at a really good clip. I knew that heat therapy would reduce stress, but Dr. Google says that it also stimulates metabolism and muscles too. Shabam!
Entry into the Wellness Center was a mere €24 for the whole day. Now I know I don’t have to spend millions or fly across the world to get a spa fix. For a quickie I even found a center in my own town where I can go for a few hours and sweat it out. Plus, if it helps me to run faster… I’m in!
I love the holidays.
I hate cleaning up the aftermath.
I’m not talking about the empty smudged champagne glasses or the popcorn kernels littering the carpet after watching the twentieth Christmas movie. What I mean is how utterly crapola I feel after too many holiday indulgences and an off-the-rails sleep pattern.
The festive indulging this year was okay. The problem was that our family travels to the south of Italy where we spent ten days and every meal with my husband’s family. We eat healthy fare, but it’s different from the way I’m used to eating and my digestion pays for it.
Getting back on track food wise is as simple as being in my own home and eating on schedule again with food my stomach is familiar with. That actually only took a few days. What took a lot longer was restoring my sleep schedule.
The first sign of trouble was noticing how bad my running felt. I had no energy and really did not feel like going for a run at all. When I did get out the door I could only make it a mile before I had to stop and take a walk break. I knew this didn’t feel right. I knew my bad holiday sleeping habits were the cause.
How bad? We’d get home after dinner at my mother-in-law’s at 11PM, turn on the television and see a Christmas movie on that we had to watch. Had to! I’d fall asleep on the couch at 1AM then wake again at 4AM and crawl off to bed. By New Year’s I was in bed at 2AM and falling asleep at 4, pushing the cycle farther every single day.
But it’s the holidays, right? Are we having fun? Yes, we are… until we go back home, where our regular schedule requires a 6.15AM start. Ugh!
What I love about running is that it always gives the first signals that my body is not aligned in some way. I knew my sleeping was off but didn’t know how bad until I went for an eight mile run and could barely get through it. Running is supposed to be joyful and fun, not a slugfest where I just try and make it to the end.
I tackled my insomnia the way I do with all my running and health issues: as naturally as possible and right-this-minute. I dove in head first and came up with four bullet steps to get back on track:
I have a really hard time getting to bed and then an even more difficult time getting out, but I stuck to this schedule and it seemed to work well.
This was the hardest, especially in the first three nights. Someone suggested that I try taking melatonin and that helped a little bit in falling asleep.
This was hard but had pretty immediate positive effects.
I still go to bed at 10.30PM but I sleep longer, if I feel like it. I always feel like it!
From start to cured my homemade anti-insomnia plan took seven days. The best part is I’m running again, joyfully and effortlessly. Which proves once again that good health is multifaceted, but sleep is really the base to it all.
Now get to bed!
In Part I we established that Spandex was not yet in vogue in the 90s. Today we move into the 21st century!
2004 – In this Olympic year, my husband Piero was head of the Italian Olympic Marathon Team for Athens. We spent most of our summer in St.Moritz, Switzerland and Predazzo, Italy. Evan was learning to walk and used the track along with Daniele Caimmi and Stefano Baldini. Baldini would win the gold marathon in Athens that year. I, on the other hand, stuck to shorter distances enjoying new trails and tracks to train on.
2005 – Finally, Spandex! I got a call to travel to Thailand and write an article about the Thailand Temple Marathon. I started training right away. It was my first time to Thailand and it felt great to be traveling again. Once home I felt in great shape and went on to complete three more marathons that year.
2006 – I was invited to the More Marathon in New York, a women’s only race consisting of four laps of Central Park. I brought my friend Linda and we had the most amazing Sunday running in New York. I’d worked with Kathrine Switzer for Avon Running in Milan in 2000 and it was fantastic to have her waiting at the finish line. The photo above was taken at the party at Tavern on the Green. Kathrine’s on my right and Mary Wittenberg, then President and CEO of the New York Road Runners club. Such inspiring ladies!
2007 – This is a really bad photo but I love it because today, eight years later, every one of those ladies is still a good friend. We’re at the Roma-Ostia half marathon.
2008 – Back in New York for the marathon, this time running with my very good friend Giorgio. We met through running and though he’d run just as many marathons as me (I was at #27) he’d never been to New York. It was the best of times and we ran it together again in 2009.
2009 – My first book Correre al femminile was published, a running book for women. It was also the year I ran one of the most gorgeous, scenic marathons ever, the Amalfi Coast Marathon. We were either running uphill or downhill, there was not an inch of flat road. If you ever get a chance, run this race! You won’t regret it.
2010 – I wanted to do something special to celebrate turning 50. Another marathon? Naw…How about swimming the Messina Straits in Sicily? It’s approximately 3,200 metres and I was scared as s*** to do it, but that was sort of the point. It was one of the richest experiences of my life and made me believe that maybe I could give longer triathlons shot.
2011 – There I was 51 years old and thinking, “You’re not getting any younger, get a move on doing this Ironman business!”. I was about to sign up for a half Ironman in Switzerland when I saw they would be having the inaugural 70.3 in Italy. I signed up in October, procrastinated the preparation and left myself in April with only eight weeks to get it together. I came in 2nd in my age group and was hooked forever.
2012 was a strange year. I didn’t feel quite right physically but kept pushing. I raced Ironman 70.3 Aix en Provence, with one of the most incredible bike courses ever. Here I came in third place in my age group on a super hard course.
2013 – After many tests I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, also known as Hashimoto’s Disease. I’d really wanted to do a full Ironman but knew I couldn’t until my health was under control. I cleaned up my diet (even more) and started taking medication. I finally started to feel like myself again towarda the end of the summer. I raced Ironman 70.3 Zell am See in Austria with a PR. I knew that it was now or never for the full distance.
2014 – My plan for Ironman Zurich was that it would be a crowning on my decade of triathlon activities. I’d do one and be done with it. During training I’d asked my husband, do you think I’ll make it to the end?”. His answer was always yes, no problem. Then a week before the event his answer was different: “The biggest problem is going to be that you’ll love it.”
He was right, of course. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it hurt. But it’s an incredible experience that truly stays with you forever. I couldn’t wait to do another!
2015 – I thought I’d wait two years before racing another Ironman, but then Ironman Barcelona was announced for October 4, my birthday. How could I say no to that?! After my accident I lost a bit of training. But before that I was in the best shape, having placed third place in my age group at Ironman Italy 70.3 on a super hot day.
I’ll never forget 2015. It changed me mentally. It showed me who I really was, and I kinda like that woman. She’s not super fast or particularly talented but she never ever backs down and carries things through to the end.
Last week when I published Part I a few people wrote, “Can’t wait to read Part II!”. But my good friend Serena commented, “I’m waiting for Part III…”
Part III is what excites me the most. Onward!
Happy New Year’s everyone! While thinking back on how great last year turned out to be, accidents and all, I realised I’d forgotten an important milestone: in 2015 I celebrated 25 years of running! Twenty five years!
My immediate thought was, I should write about that. I kept procrastinating though because, well, I couldn’t quite decide what to say. Was it a celebration? An accomplishment? Then again, how many runners make it to the twenty-five year mark before getting bored or changing sports or stopping after they’ve checked off their imaginary boxes?
So as not to bore everyone I decided on a photo collage, picking a highlight for each year. After an entire day reminiscing and wading through thousands of analogue and digital pics, here are my picks!
1990 – I started running and immediately chose my goal: New York City Marathon. I bought Jeff Galloway’s marathon book and followed it until he insisted on 20+ mile runs (week 20?) because even then I sensed that was crazy. My finish time includes a twenty minute wait on the Verrazano Bridge without chip technology.
1991 – After that first marathon I was hooked and started converting my friends. I returned to New York with my Italian pals Maurizio and Francesca. I bettered my time by nearly an hour and we ran as a trio for many more years.
1992 – 1993 was spent pregnant and enjoying my beautiful daughter. I safely ran all through my pregnancy, completing a 10K the day before giving birth. I vowed to run another marathon by her first birthday.
1994 – I chose the Turin Marathon because it was known as a fast course. I think it was… I don’t remember much else except that it was great to be running a marathon again. I was still breastfeeding at this stage, busting the Italian myth that running and nursing excluded one another.
1995 – It was the tenth anniversary for Venice Marathon and they had a great crowd of runners to celebrate. It was beautiful. In 1999 I started working with the marathon organisation and know this course by heart!
1996 – Carpi Marathon, Italy. I don’t have good memories of this race. I went by myself and the course was not particularly interesting or entertaining. How ironic is it that we now live five miles from here?
1997 is the year I discovered Triathlons! I loved swimming, biking and of course, running. I stuck with sprints and Olympic distances for many many years because training any longer would have taken too much time away from my family.
1998 was the year I ran my personal best in the marathon twice. In the spring I ran marathon #13 in Paris in 3:51:46. In the fall I returned to New York for #14 in 3:52:32. These are the official net times since the electronic chip had still not been introduced. In both Paris and New York I ran a “real” time about five minutes faster but back in the old days we could only boast about our clocked time. Sigh.
1999 – I’d been writing a column for the Italian magazine Correre when I got an invitation from Thom Gilligan at Marathon Tours and Travel to write an article on the Antarctic Marathon. I flew to Ushuaia, Argentina and then boarded a ship with a few hundred other crazies to cross Drake’s Passage and run on the other side.
It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity. Years later Bart Yasso from Runner’s World wrote a chapter about our voyage in his book, My Life On The Run. Apparently they’d placed bets on who would get seasick first over Drake’s Passage. Guess who it was?
2000 – Milan Marathon, December. It was cold, almost snowing, and the Milanese were unhappy with runners disrupting their Sunday. Nonetheless, I remember loving the cold air and Christmas atmosphere.
2001 is the year I started give back to running by helping other women. I started running clinics in cities all over Italy and was able to involve thousands of women in the project. This was the best of times, really and truly…
2002 – I organize more running clinics and start a running club. Here we are at Race for the Cure in Rome, one of the first charity races to open in Italy. Organizing running clinics was great for me because I could run in every city I visited.
2003 – I spent most of 2003 pregnant with my second child, Evan. I ran up until the fourth month but then had to cut back to just walking. I again walked 10km the day before giving birth to him. I was not only back to running right after he was born but also back to work. These photos are taken at Venicemarathon where I’d organized the pacers and trained a group of novices on their first marathon attempt. Evan was only a month old here. Hard to believe how much he’s grown since!
Stay tuned for Part II!
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