This week in my running shoes

What a week! In every sense, eh? But before I start ranting about the world generally, let’s  talk about running, given that this is a running blog.

Following last week’s confession of my total lack of desire to run and my deep-felt desire to WANT to run again, my plan for this week was just to run for fun. I wanted to get in about 20 miles at whatever speed happened, and to stay healthy. Seriously, one week of heath would be a gift right now.

It started well enough with a nice little 6 mile plod round town one dark morning on Tuesday and I was hopeful about the rest of the week. And then the Dude got sick. He’s had a nasty cold and cough for a few days now (I actually think I gave it to him). On Wednesday morning he got notably worse so i took him to the doctor and it turns out he poor child had Walking Pneumonia. From what I could learn online, Walking Pneumonia is a very mild case of the disease – many people have it and don’t even know. I actually wonder if I have had this, as my cough has sounded very much like the Dude’s. It would explain a lot. Anyway, Pneumonia Dude got some antibiotics and was notably better within 12 hours. But given my childcare duties and the torrential rain we’ve had ALL week, I didn’t get to run for the rest of the working week. Instead I spent time on my bike trainer in the living room. It wasn’t too dreadful.

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Sick child, multiple Hotwheels, Margarita, knee, Gilmore Girls on a laptop

One trainer session involved watching a new film called Run Forever about British fell runner Nicky Spinks who ran the double Bob Graham Round. The BGR is a 66 mile loop across 27,000 ft worth of climbing in the beautiful, wild  Lake District in the NW of the UK. Nicky Spinks ran it twice, front to back then back to front. It’s a wonderful film – I really enjoyed it. The scenery is spectacular (I’m dying to run there again when we move back) and Nicky’s story of facing cancer and then turning that fight into running energy is really moving. It’s about 50 minutes long and I’d really recommend it.

At the weekend, I managed to get some running in. I met Jen at 7am in the dark at Lake Chabot for a 6 mile run before she headed off to the Women’s March in Oakland. The run was lovely – the water levels on the lake were visibly much higher than last time we were here. The waterfalls gushed, the streams gurgled. The trails were runnable but muddy – we got delightfully splashed. I thought we saw a bear but no, it was just a dog. But I got to run beautiful green trails with the lovely Jen and my heart was really happy.

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Mud, mud, glorious mud

Later that day, we went hiking. I didn’t go to the Women’s March for several reasons (although I fully admit I now regret not going)  so instead I took my boys hiking at Windy Hill. I’ll blog more about it later in the week but we did 8.5 miles of muddy, green gorgeousness and it was wonderful.

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Live Oak alleyways

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Trail shoes love getting muddy

Then on Sunday, I got out for seven miles in the last hour before the rain started again. I had a podcast on and I wondered if part of the reason I’ve not been into running is that I don’t listen to podcasts or music when I’m running alone in the dark…and I nearly always run alone in the dark at the moment. No matter what, I finished the run 7.6 miles down and I escaped the rain by second.

I feel good about the week. I ran  19.6 miles, I got plenty of trail time.  I cycled, I hiked, I took the Dude bouldering. I stayed healthy. I feel like something may have shifted in my outlook a little. I’ll take that!

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Sparkles and unicorns

I’m generally a cheerful person. By disposition, I’m perky and enthusiastic about most things and I’m nearly always perky and enthusiastic about running. So the past month or two has been a bit of a shock…because I have been very unenthusiastic about running lately. VERY unenthusiastic.

I feel the need to chip in before I say any more and make a disclaimer. I’m aware that this is such a ridiculously first world problem that I’m a little uncomfy even talking about it. I’m not in Syria. My family and I are healthy, housed, happy, fed…I have nothing at all to complain about. But sometimes running bloggers can make it seem as if running is always sparkles and unicorns. Sometimes I do that. But sometimes running is just not fun and it would be disingenuous to pretend that it is.

I haven’t loved running since Healdsburg. I loved training for Healdsburg, I loved the race weekend. But the race itself took some wind out of my sails. I missed my goal, I didn’t race well and I was disappointed. And since then, the running stars haven’t quite aligned.

I’ve been poorly pretty much all the time since then. Nothing serious at ALL, just cold after cough after cold after cough.I’ve had two stinking coughs that have lingered and lingered. I blame my adorable but germ-infested preschoolers. But I’ve not been able to stay healthy for more than a week or two at the most since mid October.  And on those healthy weeks, I’ve had my period so I’ve been swollen, sore and uncomfortable. Because of this, I’ve been unable to string together any weeks of solid training. I’d have a great week and I’d run all the miles and then the next week I’d be wiped out by some preschool germs and I’d be doing 10 slow miles as my weekly total, feeling rough!

On top of that, I’ve been eating too much so I’m several pounds above my happy weight. When you’re 5’1, that’s quite a big deal. So I’ve been feeling fat and ugly on top of unhealthy.

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Moi…

Because of the lack of consistent training and the extra pounds, running has never been comfortable. It’s always hard work and a long slog. I’ve been using RunCoach which I’ve been really enjoying for the structure and the variety of workouts…but I’ve failed to hit all my goal paces. And that, time after time, is depressing.

It came to a crunch last week. My most recent cough and cold wiped me out for three days, it was brutal and I did no running at all. On Thursday, I headed out for an hour.  I had been running for about three minutes when I just ground to a halt and stood there on the Bay Trail. I literally just stood there for three or four minutes, debating internally what to do. I didn’t want to run. I wanted to go and sit on the sofa.   I pulled myself together and started running again…and then just stopped again. NO desire to run. In the end, I ran three miles and I’m ridiculously proud of those miles because every inch was mind over matter.

I got home and discussed this with my running ladies. Jen suggested I take a break from running for a while, which is great advice. But as I reflected on it further, I realized I don’t want to take a break from running…I want to LOVE running again. I love riding my bike but no other form of exercise thrills me like running and no other exercise fits into my life as easily as running. I just want to love it again.

Me trails headlands

So I’m on a mission to fall in love with running again. And these are the things I’ve implemented to make that happen.

  1. Remove all the pressure.

The first thing I did was put my RunCoach membership on hold. I’ve been impressed so far  and I want to use it to train hard but I’m not consistently healthy enough to do that. So I froze my membership. Immediately I felt relieved, like the pressure was off. I love goal paces and goal workouts but that’s not helping me at the moment.

I have also have scrapped any expectation for the Kaiser 5k. A PR is hugely unlikely now. So I’ll concentrate on getting healthy and getting three weeks of consistent running under my belt and then I’ll race it as hard as I can on the day and be grateful for the fun.

Get healthy

This week, I spent a small fortune on vitamins. A good multivitamin, some iron tablets and omega tablets. I find the whole vitamin thing confusing but clearly my immune system isn’t the best right now and I want to build it up.

I’ve addressed my diet, cut out some (not all) of the cake and  I’ve started losing those Christmas pounds. Two pounds down.

Chase endorphins 

The trails are the easiest way to add joy to running and I’ve managed to run trails twice in the past two weeks. The first time, I ran Edgewood one afternoon and then this past Saturday I dragged Lisa and Eden to Wunderlich for some dawn running. The trails were wet both times from the recent storms. Trees were down, the trails had rivulets of water running down them, there was plentiful mud. Both times, the hills humbled me and reminded me of the extra weight, the lack of training, the germiness…but the endorphins made it totally worthwhile. I have a goal of 250 miles on trails this year and it’s lovely working towards it!

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Wunderlich wunderland

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Lisa and Eden on the blessed downhill

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Edgewood looking lovely

So that’s where I am right now. I’m hoping to string together three or four weeks of solid easy running, 25-odd miles a week, no speed work and hopefully four weeks of better health. Not much to ask, eh?

Running isn’t always sparkles and unicorns…but hopefully I can find a little glitter again.

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Big news!

No, not pregnant.

 

pregnant cycling 37 weeks

 

We’re moving back to the UK in the summer.

I know!

We came out to California 6 1/2 years ago. I didn’t want to come. We had just had a baby. I wanted to buy a house near my mum, put up pictures on the walls and snuggle my baby.  But we got this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move here and so I agreed to come for one year (maybe two). We said goodbye to everyone we loved, got on a plane and landed in the Bay Area.

Golden Gate Bridge Warming Hut SF

Suffice to say that we loved it. One year stretched into two. Then three. We renewed our visas for a bit longer. We renewed them again a few years later. But come this summer, we’ve been on our visas for seven years and we can’t renew them any more. We have to choose between getting a green card and moving back to the UK.

If we get a green card, we may as well buy a house and if we buy a house, we will never leave.  And in the meantime, our families go on without us on the other side of the world. Our parents get older. They’re still all ridiculously healthy, for which we are grateful, but realistically they won’t be forever. And  we want to spend as much time with them as we can whilst we still have them. We’ve lived in dread of ‘that phone call’ since we moved here and whilst I am eternally grateful that we haven’t yet had it, we never want to choose between looking after our families and living in California.

Also…we miss them!

Airport adrenaline

One of my favourite photos ever!

So we’re moving home.

Whilst there is a LOT we are looking forward to about moving back, I can’t deny that we are also heartbroken to be leaving. We love it here. We love almost everything about California. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about it. I’ve already started crying in church about leaving the loveliest church I’ve ever been to. You can only imagine how weepy I’m going to be all 2017. But we all feel very peaceful about this decision. It’s the right one and we are ready. My parents being here over Christmas made it all much more real and also much more exciting.

In terms of ACTUAL plans…they’re a bit vague. The overall plan is to move down south to where I grew up, in a large village on Salisbury Plain. We are thinking about building a house in my parents’ garden but we’ve also seen a house for sale that we really like. We have applied for a place for the Dude at the primary school (elementary school) that I went to. That felt a bit weird.

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My future regular running route!

We have more questions than answers still, but this much is fairly set. Come the start of June, we’ll ship my beloved cat back to the UK to stay with his grandparents and we’ll be doing a road trip around the US for a month or so. In August, we’ll get on a plane and head back to that small, green, grey-skied island inhabited with grumpy people with hearts of gold and we’ll be settling back into life near our families.

Deep breaths, people. Deep breaths.

 

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My best books of 2016

In 2016, I read 31 books but there were very few that rocked my world!! Lots were okay, three I gave up on (Zola…yawn) but a few were truly wonderful! These were my best books of 2016 and ones I would really recommend you check out from the library.

When breath becomes air – Paul Kalanithi

I read this book on our cruise in April. It was much hyped in the media and I knew the outcome before I read it, but this book lived up to the hype. The  memoir of a young oncologist who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, it’s a very thoughtful, beautifully written reflection on death. It’s not a light read (I sobbed and sobbed) but it’s genuinely beautiful and his final paragraph is one of the most heart-breaking, poignant, breathtaking paragraphs I’ve ever read. Definitely recommended.

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The Little House on the Prairie series

I started reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books with the Dude this year. He loves them and we’re working our way throughout the 9 books in the series. They are great books, bringing to life the hardships, challenges and ingenuity of the pioneers who populated the west. The early books are very much ‘kids’ books, but the latter books are much more sophisticated. ‘The Long Winter‘ for example is almost stressful as the family come close on several occasions to starvation.

There are some very uncomfortable passages about attitudes towards Native Americans but they’re a good spring board for conversations with small people. It’s been great reading these books over the year. We have a few more in the series to read and I am genuinely looking forward to reading them.

I read a number of other kids’ books this year including Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’ for the first time and although it terrified the Dude and I had to stop reading it to him, I thought it was fantastic!

Home – Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson is one of my very favourite writers. I did NOT like Homecoming, but Gilead was wonderful and this year I read Home. It’s a slow read, I took about a month to read it because I wanted to wallow in it, I wanted to cherish every sentence. It is incredibly beautiful and moving, it’s a real treasure. Definitely my favourite book of 2016.

I also read Robinson’s Lila this year and I also enjoyed it very much but it didn’t measure up to Home.

book reading cabin

Harry Potter and the Philospher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling

I think I am the very last Brit in the world to read Harry Potter but last month, I gave it a shot. Clearly I loved it. LOVED it. Cannot wait to read the next one. But most of you knew that already!

I’d genuinely love to know your best few books of 2017. I need inspiration. Comments below, please!

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2016 on the run

Somehow 2016 is over. Which is probably a good thing because it was pretty grim overall. But running wasn’t grim!  So this is my review of the year from a running perspective!

I’ve used the old faithful format that I’ve used before – 20122013, 2014, 2015.

Best Race Experience

No competition here – it was the Post Oak Lodge 25k in Oklahoma in February. It was a weekend away with my Crazy Cat Ladies, 15 miles of pretty trails and an age-group placing! It was a whisky shot at mile 7, potential food poisoning when I ate gulf shrimp in a state in the middle of the country, singing ‘Oklahoma’ loudly as I flew downhill and getting to know Jess’s new town. It was awesome.

crazy kate jen jess OK me

The Healdsburg weekend was pretty awesome too, but the race was a personal let-down so Oklahoma pips it to the post.

Always happy when I'm with these gals Photo: Jen

Always happy when I’m with these gals
Photo: Jen

Both these weekends and races came top because of these girls. I am so incredibly grateful to the weird world of blogging for introducing me to these ladies.

Most Inspiring Runner

I think it has to be Erin! This girl has two kids, gets up to run at 4am most mornings and has crushed every single race this year with a massive smile on her face. She also writes a great blog, is incredibly encouraging of other runners and has great hair. I have been genuinely inspired by her attitude, her dedication and her smileyness over 2016. At some point, I really hope I get to meet her.

My Best Run

I think it has to be a run I had back home in Wiltshire in the summer. I ran the trails (aka footpaths) around my home and it was bliss. A sunny day, gorgeous paths to run, stiles to cross, thatched cottages to pass, fields of wheat to run through and my lovely parents to return to. I was so happy throughout!

wiltshire stile

A close second is a lovely run I had in Armstrong Woods, a redwood forest in Guerneville which I got to run in July when I was up there to support Ironballz at his Ironman. It was a super-hot day but the forest was cool and gorgeous and I had the most amazing smoothie at the end.

redwoods armstrong guerneville

Best New Gear

I didn’t buy any cool new gear this year. My new shoes weren’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, so no boughten stuff thrilled me. But two new things DID rock my world.

This year, I started running with my friend Lisa every week. My lovely Jen lives 10 miles away so we don’t get together as often as I’d like. But this girl from church and I started running together and it’s been such a delight. There are very few people I’d get up at 5.30 for to run in the dark and the rain, but for Lisa? Any time. So I think my Best New Running Gear is my dear running buddy Lisa!

me track lisa happy

The other big change in my running this year was running on the track. I never thought that running fast in circles would thrill me but it does. Seriously! From summer evenings whilst the high school football team do drills in the middle to cold winter mornings as the sun comes up and our breath steams, it has been SO much fun.

track me

Best Running Advice

I can’t think of anything that stands out this year. It’s been a a year of much reflection. Some PRs early in the year gave way to another missed half-marathon PR and that ongoing wondering about whether or not my ‘fast’ years are behind me. I can feel that turning to the trails 100% (for racing purposes) is coming up soon and whilst that makes me happy, I’m not quite ready to hang up my racing shoes quite yet so it’s a strange time in my life.

Interestingly, the best bit of advice I got this year came from one of the short films I watched at Trails in Motion a few weeks ago…and it’s not about running.  In Be Bold, (which you should watch) the heroine says said ‘If you can prioritise what your soul really needs, everything can change‘. Personally, this struck me from a faith perspective.  My faith is really important to me but it’s very easy to squeeze reading my Bible and praying out of my busy days, and I have this nagging feeling that I need to prioritise what my soul really needs.

Most Exciting Running Moment

It was definitely spectating Western States!!! From getting up horrifically early to watch those brave runners set off from Squaw to cheering Andrew Miller over the finish line, it was a fan-girl dream come true!

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Standing (nonchalantly) next to Kaci Lickteig the next morning was totally surreal. I am SO glad we did this.

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Short girls FTW

In summary…

It’s been a really odd year for my running I don’t feel like I achieved much this year, I feel a little ‘blah’ about the whole year as regards running, but it doesn’t even bother me that much. There were some great things that happened. I loved my 5k PR and my 10k squeak of a PR. I loved running trails with friends.I ran about 1,100 miles overall. I cycled round Lake Tahoe. I hiked in some spectacular new places. I finished the year healthy and fit (ish). I can’t ask any more.

Thanks 2016. You were pretty awful as regards the world, generally, but you were kind to me.

Bring on 2017.

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Review: The Endurance Diet by Matt Fitzgerald

A few weeks ago, I was offered a galley copy of Matt Fitzgerald’s new book The Endurance Diet to review and I jumped at the chance. It’s available for sale as of today (Dec 27th) so I was really excited to get an early sneak-peek.

I’ve read three of his books. I really liked Racing Weight although I continue to eat cake, thus sabotaging my efforts to hit my own racing weight. I enjoyed 80/20 running and gave the training plan a shot, coming close to a PR – my thoughts on the process are here. I started the hugely popular How Bad Do You Want It? and clearly I didn’t want it very badly because I thought the book was super-dull although everyone else loved it. So I hope that I’m qualified to be a fair reviewer of his latest publication!

endurance diet matt fitzgerald book

The Endurance Diet springs from one of my favourite parts of Racing Weight – the collection of top athletes’ daily eating plans tucked away at the back. I found this fascinating, and apparently so did Matt Fitzgerald because he did more work on this, sending out questionnaires to many other top athletes from 11 different sports and 32 countries. Having analysed all the data, he was able to pull out the common threads that link them all together. His argument is that if we, the hobby joggers of the world, eat using these basic rules, we are likely to improve our athletic performances. So far, so logical.

The five rules that he pulls out of the questionnaires are:

  1. Eat everything
  2. Eat quality
  3. Eat carb-centered
  4. Eat enough
  5. Eat individually

food salad vegetables

Eat everything is based on elite athletes eating from all the six different food groups – fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meat and seafood, dairy, whole grains and nuts, seeds & healthy oils. In principle I agree but as a vegetarian (sometime pescatarian to be precise) I hmmed and haaahed a little. To be fair, Fitzgerald (whilst clearly not a fan of vegetarianism/veganism) flags the dangers inherent in a vegetarian diet – lack of iron being one pertinent to me – and recommends veggie athletes be very careful to ensure their diets make up for that loss, and I have to agree.

Eat quality talks about the obvious – eating decent food and not crap. He does recommend that athletes eat a little crap if it makes them happy and helps them have a healthy attitude to food. Given the number of eating disorders in runners, I appreciated this. Fitzgerald goes over his Diet Quality Score system – a way of scoring your diet by giving you points for healthy choices. He outlines this in great detail in Racing Weight and goes over it again here in some detail as well.

Eat carb-centered talks about having carbs as the mainstay of each meal. I’ve read some writings lately of Tim Noakes who argues precisely the opposite so I am very much undecided on this one, but Fitzgerald argues his case well – basically that most elite athletes eat a LOT of carbs as it fuels performance.

carbs rice cakes food

Eat enough made me giggle because I have never knowingly under-eaten. Apparently some people don’t eat enough to fuel their workouts and they need to eat more. I am not one of those people and I have a sneaky admiration for them. But if you’re not eating enough, eat more. It’s fun.

Eat individually gives a nod to tweaking your diet for what works for you, acknowledging that whilst the above rules are worth sticking to, everyone is different and it’s important to know what’s good for you. There is slightly more grace shown to vegetarians here as he discusses ethical choices around food and some common sense about the popularity and lack of necessity of gluten-free for most people. I liked that.

Another thing I liked was the idea of writing down your ‘perfect day’. If you were to eat perfectly for one day, what would it look like. He doesn’t suggest you eat those foods over and over and over again, but it’s an interesting place to start trying to make small changes.

Tomatoes vegetables market food

Fitzgerald then spends more time discussing other issues – supplements, how to fuel during races, how to stop mindless eating and how to eat with intention. He talks about super foods in a refreshing way – instead of ‘Buy lots of expensive green stuff from Wholefoods or you’ll never be healthy’ he picks 22 everyday foods that are proven to help improve overall health and athletic performance and encourages us to build them into our everyday diet. I liked that. He includes a chapter of healthy recipes and an extra chapter which sums up his book 80/20 running.

So…what were my impressions? 

There is a lot of overlap here with 80/20 Running and Racing Weight. Many things were familiar to me, having read those two books. But I think this is a good introduction to his writing and a great start for people looking for solid general principles to improve their diet for performance. This would be a great first Matt Fitzgerald to read.

If you’re not particularly science-y, this is also a good read. I admit I was slightly overwhelmed by the science in Racing Weight (not helped as I was reading it on a cruise and was dazed by sunshine, sleep and margaritas) and this is a much more approachable book.

There were a few passages that I took slight issue with – early on, Fitzgerald writes  ‘To be as fit as you can be, all you have to do is eat like the world’s fittest people. If only, Mr F, if only!!!’ But later on, he modifies this to ‘If you want to become as healthy and fit as you can be, given the amount of time you’re able to invest in your training, you need to eat like an elite.’ Feels more realistic. 

or her.

What changes will I make to my diet, having read this book?

Well…once the holidays are over, I will…

  1. Be more careful to eat on a weekly basis the super foods he mentions – things like salmon, eggs, bananas, almonds etc. Real, every-day foods that make a difference.
  2. Try doing a ‘Perfect Day’. In January, when my parents have gone back to the UK, I’m going to plan a perfect day’s eating and see how it goes.
  3. Think about supplements I may need – specifically vitamin D, Omega 3 and Iron.
  4. Try Gatorade. I’ve never taken Gatorade in races, assuming it’s horrible, sugary crap. Apparently it’s actually engineered to help you race harder. Who knew? Not me!!! Might need to have a think about that.

So overall, I think The Endurance Diet is a solid book giving good advice on broad principles to help you eat like an elite athlete. I think Racing Weight is the better book, but this one is definitely easier to read and is a great introduction to Fitzgerald’s writing.

You can buy it HERE. (Not an affiliate link, just being helpful).

Thanks to the publishers for my free copy! 

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Race Report: Woodside Ramble 10k

As part of my campaign to bring joy back to my running, I knew I needed more trail time. So a week or so ago, I emailed Jen and suggested we get together and run some trails, or we do a trail race for fun. She agreed and we decided on the Woodside Ramble 10k in my very favourite park, Huddart Park. The deal was that we would run together, we would not ‘RACE’ it, we would smile for the photographers and we would have fun. This race was for fun, for joy, for aid-station demolishing and free race photos!  We planned brunch at my favourite place, Alice’s, after the race and the plan was hatched.

I ran a half in Huddart three years ago and I ran this very 10k three years ago too . I know these trails well. I know the big 2.5 mile climb and I know the delicious 2 mile descent down to the finish line! I was really looking forward to it.

All the photos in this post are courtesy of Jen. My iPhone 4 is dying and I am desperately hoping that Santa brings me something ever so slightly less archaic.

It was FREEZING when we arrived at Huddart Park. Maybe not actually freezing but a few degrees above it. We had planned plenty of time to get there as I had to register on the day, but the queue to get into the park was very long – several people running the 35k and the half-marathon were running past the queue of cars to ensure they got to their race start! We found a parking space fairly easily, I registered (take cash) and Jen and I went for a little jog to warm up. It was cold.

As the half-marathon started fifteen minutes before our race, we got to see Margot doing her first ever trail race and Paulette and Kevin as well. We cheered them off, dropped our lovely warm layers in the car, bumped into my friend Rod doing his first trail race too and we got ready to start. The race director reminded us to follow pink ribbons and we were off.

I know this park well, I know the course well – it’s the route I take visitors on when they come to the Bay Area, except that I run it in reverse because that’s much easier. The first mile of the race is solidly downhill on Bay Tree trail – it’s a lovely stretch of single track, marred only by the pressure of having other runners trying to pass us, or at least the mental pressure of thinking people are trying to pass us. We were in no rush, but we didn’t want to hold people back. I ran along following Jen’s nimble footsteps and listening to two clever people discussing Slaughterhouse 5 behind me. They liked it (I hated it). I lowered the tone by starting a conversation about Harry Potter, which I’m just starting to read!

After a mile, we got onto Richard’s Road, a lovely fire-road which is wide enough that people can pass easily. We settled into an easy stride and chatted as we ran along. There were redwoods everywhere, it made me very happy. The recent storms meant there was water in the stream, something I’ve never seen before, and that’s a good thing. After a while, Richard’s Road started climbing quite steeply. We alternated walk-jog, identifying trees and stumps where we’d start walking and then start running again. Soon enough we turned onto the much flatter Chapparal trail and we were able to run comfortably.

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Free race photos are the best. Thanks, Inside Trail

Chapparal turned onto Crystal Springs trail and the climb proper began. Two miles of steady uphill. On the whole, it was pretty runnable – we walked where we needed to but were able to jog a surprising amount. This park is definitely my favourite place to run, it is SO beautiful. At one point, the trail was so beautiful we stopped to take photos. We’ve never done this before in a race, and I felt a bit ‘Instagram Girl’ but we were out for fun today and sometimes, photos need to happen.

huddart me jen trails

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Redwood gazing

Eventually we got to the turnoff where we start going downhill and then it all got fun. Running downhill trails is the payoff for the hard work and we just relaxed into the hill. I pretended to be Katniss, I pretended to be an aeroplane, I pretended to be a bird, Jen pretended not to know me. We tried to fix up a single friend with the nice gentleman running behind us and we  dropped like stones back towards the start line. Sooner or later, we heard the wonderful volunteers screaming like loons and we were running out the woods onto the field and across the finish line together.

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Freezing at the finish line

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Our time was a VERY unspectacular 1.17 but we genuinely didn’t care. Jen is still post-CIM, I’m running my way out of a running funk and today’s trail excursion was exactly what was needed.

me redwoods

Hugging redwoods is always a good idea

We were very cold at the finish line so we got some food, got our medals, got our shirts. Jen went for what she thought was a free massage and ended up having to pay $30 (!) so beware, people! And then shivering and numb-handed, we drove up to my favorite place, Alice’s, for brunch. Margot joined us having rocked the half-marathon – she earned her brunch, Jen and I felt slightly fraudulent eating all the food after a 10k, but we ate it anyway. Paulette and Kevin came just as we finished, so we got a quick photo, wished each other happy holidays and drove off home.

me jen margot paulette brunch

This is a lovely event on lovely trails. Inside Trail do a fantastic job and their medals are really nice these days (they ran the Mt Tam half I did recently too).

You should do this race. It did me the world of good.

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Running the World: Sicily

This week’s Running the World comes from the Italian island of Sicily. Italy? Didn’t we talk about Italy last week? Well yes we did. But the gentleman who put me in contact with Franca also put me in contact with two wonderful runners from Sicily, the large island at the bottom of Italy, the ‘ball’ that the Italian boot is kicking.

Sicily has always fascinated me, it’s somewhere right at the top of my travel list! It’s always seemed to be somewhat different to the rest of Italy. Set apart, with its own character, language, literature, dangers and beauties. I wondered what it was like to live and run on a large island as opposed to being on the mainland. I wondered how Sicilian runners differ from mainland Italian runners. So I posed the questions.

Today’s interviewees are Luigia and Silvana – I was put in contact with them by the gentleman who runs parkrun Italy. There are currently four parkruns in Italy – one in Milan, one in Rimini…and two in Palermo, the capital of Sicily.

I have to say that I really love these interviews – I thought I was an enthusiastic person but these two? They’re like the marketing team for Sicilian running. There’s just so much passion for running here, so much joy and so much love for their island.

Without further ado…here’s what the ladies had to say!

Tell us a little about yourself – who are you and what do you do when you’re not running

Luigia – Hi, fellow runners, I’m Luigia. I’m 46, I’ve been married 22 years, I’m the mother of two splendid girls of 17 and 11 and I’ve been a traffic police officer for 24 years in a difficult city that is, at the same time, stupendous and rich in history and traditions – Palermo! So I can say that when  I’m not running for fun, I run around all the time in my daily life. And if there’s any time left, I sit on the sofa with my little dog reading a good book!

Luigia at the Rome Marathon

Luigia at the Berlin Marathon

Silvana –  Hi, I’m Silvana, I’m 42 and I have a 12-year-old daughter. I’m from Palermo and I’m a runner, I’m a marathoner!

Silvana xxx

Silvana xxx

How did you get into running?

Luigia – I’ve always looked at runners a bit critically, thinking that only total madmen would be happy getting out of bed when the moon is still high to go and run to exhaustion in shorts and a tank top. Until it happened to me! Only two years ago, after having given up smoking and at the end of a difficult time in my life, I realized that something had to change. I had to do something just for me, something that could turn me upside down and make me suffer – suffer in order to be born again, to stop me being dragged to rock bottom in my crisis. And thus I made a decision and I started to run…at dawn!

Silvana – I’ve been running since 2010 and I’ve always dreamed of running a marathon. Sometimes dreams come true and in October 2015, I ran my first marathon, in Turin! It was a marvelous experience, very emotional, I’ll always carry it in my heart. So many kilometers of training went into it, during a very hot summer, alongside my running buddy. I did more marathons in 2016 – Messina (in Sicily), Rome (which was spectacular and gorgeous) and Berlin (which was perfect). I love the marathon, and this year I treated myself to a 6 hour ultra marathon in gorgeous Capo d’Orlando  where I managed 63km on a 2km course, I was the female winner!

How popular is running in Sicily?

Luigia – Luckily Sicily is an exceptional place to run; spectacular views, magical trails at any altitude, a great climate in all seasons. And so, at any time of day or night, you’ll find noisy, happy groups of runners but also silent solo runners shut in their headphones and their thoughts, scattered across the city streets, in the parks, by the ocean or in the mountains…everywhere but always running. Sicily is truly full of those crazy people in shorts and tank tops, and when they meet each other in the various events around the place, it’s always a party!

How popular is running amongst Sicilian women?

Luigia – Pff, let me tell you that here in Sicily, within the running community, the women are the bosses. So many female runners and so many undisputed queens of the marathon, eco-trail, ultra marathons and extreme races. Basically, our female champions are our greatest pride!

 Silvana  – I run with the Palermo Running club. In addition to me, there are another 15 women from 30 – 60 years of age…and another 60 men!

Tell us about races in Sicily!

Luigia – Racing, whether in Sicily or in Italy, are very diverse and you can find all times. Here in Palermo, a super-famous runner organizes a charity event every year, a race called ‘A sip and away’ (Un sorso e via‘), a race where you have lots of fun and get a bit drunk as well as run. (A race that includes drinking wine – I’m in!) So there are many races, all important with many participants but sometimes the joy of racing trumps the whole ‘racing’ side of things.

How often do you leave Sicily to race on the mainland?

Luigia – People race pretty frequently in cities around Italy and even abroad.

Silvana – I race all around Sicily, especially for the half-marathon distance, but also in Italy and Europe. In 2017 I’m hoping to run the Valencia marathon in Spain.

Silvana about to rock Berlin

Silvana about to rock Berlin

How popular is trail running in Sicily? What are the trails like?

Luigia – Trail running is perhaps the jewel in the Sicilian crown. Very popular and varied, they get lots of use by many runners who come from across the world. The trails and footpaths in Sicily are second to none.

Silvana – Sicily offers wonderful places to run trails – from Etna to the Nebrodi mountains, Montepellegrino, Monte Cofano, Alcantara, the Bosco della Ficuzza nature reserve, the tiny island of Ustica … I could keep going forever, because our Sicily offers breathtaking and unique places to run!

Monte Cofano Source

Monte Cofano
Source

Let’s talk about the parkruns in Palermno- there are two of them, aren’t there? How long have they been running? How popular are they? Have they changed the running scene in Palermo?

Luigia – parkrun is a very key event here in Palermo. Thanks to Giorgio, we’ve started to understand what it could become, we’ve started to run the events, they’re gaining popularity and we’ve started to build the parkrun culture at our meetings. These days,  we have two fabulous parkrun courses in the city. The second one, which takes place near the royal estate of the Parco della Favorita is run by the president of my running club and when I can’t run, I contribute by volunteering as photographer.

Silvana – parkrun is a new thing, where about 30 participants and often foreign tourists come to run. It’s something great that’s starting up. I often run the event at Mondello in the historical centre of  my city, in the Parco della Favorita, sometimes I volunteer as well.

parkrun Favorita

parkrun Favorita

How safe do you feel as a solo female runner? Do women face particular problems?

Luigia – I think it’s the same for Sicilian female runners as it is around the world. Personally I’ve never felt threatened or in danger.

Silvana – Up until 2014, I often ran alone and I was never scared. There are so many women that run at any hour of the day and I’ve never heard any of them express fear or mention issues. The number of female runners has been increasing over the past few years and that’s really important.

What do female runners wear in Sicily?

There’s not a quick reply to this. Female runners wear whatever makes them feel safe and attractive, whatever’s comfy and practical. Brands aren’t as important as quality here.

Silvana – The biggest clothing brands here are Mizuno, Asics and Brooks – I prefer Mizuno, especially for the shoes.

Are there any climate challenges to running in Sicily?

Silvana – The hot climate means you have to hydrate well during training and in general. For long runs, I take a mix of mineral salts that I dissolve in water. I run nearly every day, for me running is joy and liberty. Our climate allows me to run all year round in shorts and short-sleeved tops.

Silvana demonstrates her year-round running attire!

Silvana demonstrates her year-round running attire!

How important is social media in the Sicily running community? Anyone we should follow?

Luigia – It strikes me that Facebook is the most used social media to keep in contact with the running community on the island and to get up-to-date information on the running world.

Luigia on one of her dawn raids!

Luigia on one of her dawn raids!

Silvana – There’s much talk of running on social media and I follow Runlovers, a group with over 4,000 subscribers. I use Facebook myself.

If I came to Sicily, where would you send me to find out about local running groups, places to run or races?

Silvana – I hope you can come to Sicily soon, I’ll be your tour guide. Along with my running group Palermo Running, I’ll show you all the beautiful places to run in Sicily and Palermo.

(Seriously…googling flights!)

Who are the famous runners in Sicily? Or Italy?

Silvana – The professional runners I admire the most are Giorgio Calcaterra, a 100km specialist and Marco Olmo, a very famous ultra trail runner. Out of the women, I most admire Valeria Straneo.

If I was to do any race in Sicily, which would you recommend?

Luigia – It has to be said that all the races and marathons in Sicily have their own unique points. There are some truly exceptional ones – La Filippide, which takes place at night in August, it’s like a marathon from antiquity where it’s hard to gauge time and space, no GPS and no indications of the distance run so far – you only know you’ve run a marathon when you get to the finish line….AMAAAAZING! And then there are loads of other marathons, ultras and trail races on Mt Etna, the most beautiful volcano in the world.

etna

EtnaTrail.  Source

Silvana – The Sicilian race that I like the most is the Agrigento Half Marathon, which is famous for the stretch in the Valle dei Templi and for its gorgeous porcelain medals that are collectors’ pieces!

Silvana at Valle dei Templi? xxx

Silvana at Valle dei Templi?

What are the best and worst things about running in Sicily?

Luigia – Sicily is a made-to-measure running paradise!! It’s just a shame that there are lots of people who live there that don’t understand sport and how gorgeous it is to run

Silvana – I love running, I love running near the sea and I’m glad to be able to do it all year round and even if the race organization isn’t impeccable, the beauty of the scenery and and the countryside more than make up for it. Sicily is marvelous and running here is a dream that comes true every day.

Silvana clearly not hating her run!

Silvana clearly not hating her run!

Luigia, Silvana – thank you both so very much for your time and enthusiasm! Sicily has just sprung to the top of my travel list! Seriously!

It’s worth checking out Sicilia Running as well if this has whetted your appetite.

For more Running the World interviews, click HERE. If YOU are an international runner, please drop me an email at the email address HERE, I’d love to speak to you.

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Running lately

You may have noticed that I haven’t actually talked much lately about my running. Other people’s running? Yes. Running around the world? Yes. Movies about running? Yes. Hiking? Yes. But actually, I haven’t talked about my running REALLY for about six weeks.

That’s because I’m in a bit of a quandary about running.

I trained hard for Healdsburg and missed my goal fairly significantly, blowing up at M8. And whilst I hope I have a pretty healthy perspective on how unimportant running is in the grand scheme of things, I’ve really struggled to be motivated to run ever since. I signed up for Mt Tam in a blaze of excitement, but then got sick and found the race very difficult. And since Mt Tam? The only word that describes my running lately is ‘meh’.

RWC Dude Me Stroller

Back in the days when the Dude and I knew EXACTLY how we felt about running

I just can’t decide how I feel about running.

I barely ran for  few weeks after Mt Tam. I felt rough due to my stinking cold, life got busy, I hardly did any running at all. So now I’m very much starting from the beginning again, and that’s hard work.

Officially, I’m training for the Kaiser 5k on Feb 5th. This is a goal that does excite me and something I genuinely want to race hard. My PR is 24.52 but this course is significantly downhill so I feel that, if I race hard, I’ll probably set my final 5k PR. I’ll be 42 the day after the race, I can’t imagine a much better opportunity to fly hard. So that’s quite the motivation. But even then, that inner drive hasn’t quite kicked in.

I’ve recently signed up with RunCoach, a semi-personalized online coaching system. Everyone’s favourite Boston Qualifier has used them for years and speaks very highly of them, so I thought I’d give it a shot for six months. I don’t think I’ll be qualifying for Boston any time soon but paying for a training plan and having it emailed out to me has definitely shifted something in my attitude to running. I wouldn’t say my mojo is back but I definitely am getting some pleasure from completing the workouts and filling in the online reports.

As I get older, the likelihood of PRs get less and less. Not impossible (Shanna’s been crushing her races and PR-ing like a boss lately) but realistically less. Which means that I need to find new motivation to keep running. Apart from the rare, spectacular, thrilling moments when I PR, why else will I keep running?

In my mind, I keep coming back to a quote by Sara Ronne, who I interviewed a few years ago about running in Sweden. It struck me enormously when I first read it and I keep coming back to it regularly. She said ‘ I’ve come to the conclusion that running a 10k race 30 second faster, or so, won’t make me happier. But running in beautiful places will. That’s quite an insight which has completely changed the way I run, and made it more fun and more meaningful.’ I still think there’s joy and satisfaction to be found in working towards and gaining PRs but I know that Sara is right and that’s where the future of my running will be.

me trails rancho

I had the delight of finally meeting Lisa from Yo Momma Runs last week after reading her blog for years and years. (She was so awesome). She’s about my age and has switched almost entirely to trail racing, with great success. She pointed out the joys of the trails – how it’s not about the clock, it’s about running in beautiful places, racing hard, playing with tactics. I definitely think that, sooner or later, my racing and running is going to be all about the trails.

lisa yo momma

We took Lisa to see the skyline from the top of Hawk Hill. Instead she saw Karl the Fog

lisa yo momma

I’m excited about Kaiser and I’m very VERY probably going to go for a PR at Hellyer in March.  If I crash and burn in those races then I suspect I shall give up on PR-ing and switch to the trails.But I still think I have a few PRs in me yet and I hope RunCoach can get me there.

They’ve got me out running in the dark again, so that’s a good start!

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Running the World: Italy

Today’s Running the World interview comes from Italy. I love Italy, I did an Italian degree and spent six months studying in Florence, which was not an unpleasant experience! To find someone to interview, I contacted the head of parkrun Italy and asked if he knew anyone suitable that I could speak to. He outdid himself – I have an interview with two runners from Sicily coming up soon. He also put me in contact with another runner based in Rome, Franca. When I opened her email and saw that she had won the New York City Marathon back in 1998, my jaw literally hit the floor.

I emailed Franca – explained how small my blog was and asked if she REALLY was up for talking to me and she said yes. So, without further ado, here’s my interview with Franca Fiacconi about running in Italy!

Hi Franca. Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do when you’re not running.

I am a teacher of physical education and doctor in Physical Education with a specialization in science and the technique of sports activities. I’m married and I have a 12 year old daughter and 6 cats that I rescued from the street.  Since 2005, I’ve been a specialist running coach. I train amateur athletes of any age, whether they want to start running and therefore want to learn to run or whether they want to improve their performance .
Since 2008, I’ve been an Official International Travel Partner of the New York City Marathon -I organize the trip to NY for Italians amateur athletes. I’m currently an ambassador and consultant for MACRON technical sportswear, an Italian company.

Since I stopped running as an elite, I enjoy running marathons with friends but I really don’t have much time to train: once I trained twice a day, now I train twice a week.

Franca

Franca

 How did you get into running?

I started running 12 years randomly, in Rome’s Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful squares in the city. There were competitions for children,  I was convinced to participate because they said that I had long legs, but the girls my age had already run so I agreed to participate with the older girls: after leading for most of the race, I came third in the sprint finish. Everyone told me I was born to race. My passion for racing was born that day. It was basically ‘love at first sight’, a thunderbolt, and I still carry this passion with me to this day.

Let’s talk a bit about your incredible career. In 1998, you won the Rome Marathon, came 4th at the European Championships in Budapest, then you won the New York Marathon in 2:25! How on earth does it feel to run along the home straight in Central Park and win the race?

I spent my youth running the middle-distances, becoming one of the best junior Italian middle distance runners, and then, at the age of 23, it was suggested that I run my first marathon. I did not want to, but my then coach, Oscar Barletta, convinced me that this was my way to success, as he considered that even the longer middle distance races were too short for me.So I ran my first marathon, doing the Rome Marathon on 1 May 1989 and came second behind a Kenyan athlete. That day I had another thunderbolt moment, falling head over heels with the marathon.

1998 was a great year. I won the international Roma Ostia Half Marathon, then the Rome Marathon, then the Italian Championship in Turin. I only came fourth at the European Championships, but I went there to try to win – unfortunately I had a fever a week from the race.

Winning the New York Marathon is the dream of any marathon runner but for me it was amazing because I’ve always loved the marathon itself, I’ve always had a great passion for this race distance. In fact, I always prepared for and participated seriously only in marathons –  the other races in which I took part were, for me, just training runs for my favorite race.

I remember that during the last few meters of the 1998 NYC marathon I laughed with joy and felt like I was flying. I was very happy and I wish those last meters were endless. I wanted to freeze time at that precise moment when I broke the line. The next day I received the key to the New York City  from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: I was honored to receive the award.

Breaking the tape

Breaking the tape

(Cat’s note: there’s a youtube video of Franca’s race HERE. The quality is dreadful but you can still see the thrill of her victory).

Since you’ve retired from professional racing, how has your relationship with running changed? 

It remains a great passion. Clearly, when I was an elite runner my thoughts were all focused on running. I saw little of what else was happening around me, I was living in another dimension because I was always away from home, doing loads of training in the mountains all alone, months and months in preparation for one big event. It was hard in the eyes of others but I did not mind because I enjoyed it so much. It was a strange pleasure because it was made of much hard work and loneliness, but I liked it. Today I enjoy running differently, with friends, because I’m not watching the clock or monitoring opponents.

Now you are a running coach  – what do you like about this? What kind of people you train?

I train amateurs athletes, ie people who work, who have a family and then carve out a little time for themselves to run.Training amateur athletes is very satisfying because we share a mutual passion. I always try to teach them that running should help them to lead a pleasant and healthy life and should help them understand themselves better. I like to make them understand how wonderful the human body is, and how running will help them test their mental and physical limits.

Let’s talk more generally about running in Italy. How popular is running in Italy? Is it is growing in popularity or has it always been popular?

Running in Italy is greatly increasing over the last 20 years. In the past the people who ran were generally from the lower  social classes because it was an inexpensive sport. Today it is done by all social classes, since it is understood that it can be an economical sport both in terms of finances and time: for example, many managers have little time to train. Running allows them to train anywhere in the world and whenever suits them,  they just need running shoes.

How popular is running amongst women? Is this a new phenomenon?

Running amongst women has gained great popularity in the last 10 years, but the number of female runners is still nowhere near the number of male runners, but we are increasingly greatly. It must be said that many women do not participate in races,so it’s hard to exactly gauge how many women run these days.

How popular are races in Italy?  What are the biggest races or the most important? What kind of distances are popular?

In Italy there are lots of races every Sunday, from 10km up to the marathon distance. Every major Italian city has its own marathon. The most important race in Italy is the Rome Marathon, then there is the Florence Marathon and then Venice.

Hmmm...I recognize that bridge!

Hmmm…I recognize that bridge!

Is Trail Running popular in Italy? How are the trails?

In the last 5 years, trail running has become very popular, people find it really fun  – not only because we have beautiful trails in Italy but also for the fact that we run without looking at our watches, but  rather based on feeling. There are all kinds of trails, the most beautiful in my opinion are those in the high mountains.

Source

Source –  iRunFar

As a woman, how safe do you feel when you’re running? Are there particular problems faced by women runners?

As a woman, unfortunately, I do not feel very safe when I run alone at times when there are few people around or in isolated places: years ago I had the bad experience of being assaulted in a race in a public park in Rome at 10 in the morning! In general I can say that women still have many problems when they go running alone in the big cities.

What do female runner wear in Italy? What kind of brands are great?

Women in Italy love to dress well and comfortably: both in training and for racing, they wear very fashionable clothing and spend a lot more than men for sportswear. I work with Macron Running, an Italian company based in Bologna: We specialize in highly technical clothing and in particular we pay much attention to elegance. My job in Macron is to collaborate with the design team, where I provide the technical guidelines of how a product needs to be made for comfortable and easy running. Fashion designers create prototypes and together we study the graphic and fashion trends. So our collections are born in that way.

The Florence Marathon Source

The Florence Marathon
Source

What do Italian runners use to fuel and hydrate?

Athletes use only water or water mixed with electrolytes, alternating with liquid carbohydrates to provide energy during marathons. For fuel, we use a lot of pasta and rice, fruit and vegetables, olive oil –  in short, it’s basically the Mediterranean diet.

Who are the most famous runners in your country?

Italy has a great tradition in running –  the most famous names known among amateurs are Gelindo Bordin, Stefano Baldini, Alberto Cova. I’m the only female Italian winner of the New York City Marathon.

ny_vittoria_jpg

How important is social media in the running community in Italy? What are the most popular blogs? Are there some people on Twitter that we should follow? What are the most important magazines and podcasts?

Social media is very important but often the information is uninteresting. The most important magazines are Runners World and Correre magazine. Personally I do not read blogs so I can’t talk much about that.

Franca rocks Berlin!

Franca rocks Berlin!

If I came to Rome, where would you advise me to run?
In Rome there are special places for running: Villa Pamphili, Villa Ada, Villa Glori, Aqueduct Park, the Caffarella Park, Appia Antica, the Circus Maximus, the Caracalla Park.

(Cat’s note: if you’re heading to Italy, I’ve found this website Running in Italy to be really useful. Lots of info on races by month or by region and even website reader’s route recommendations.)

If I did any race in Italy, which would you recommend and why?

Italy is all beautiful, and there are so many races that you should just choose a city and try its big race. But if I had to advise you, the general consensus is the Rome Marathon and Florence Marathon because the routes explore the cities’ histories. Try the Cortina-Dobbiaco marathon in the Dolomites, the TNF Lavaredo Ultratrail and  the Etna Trail Ultra for spectacular scenery. But there are many others.

What are the best and worst things about running in Italy?

The best thing is that Italy is beautiful and, in some places, running is really fantastic. The worst thing is that in Italy does not yet have the right sports culture –  so when we are in city races, people still get angry because streets are closed to car traffic and there are very few people who come and cheer on the runners.

How can we follow you on social media? You’re on Twitter / Instagram / blog?

My site (which is about to be completely redone) is http://www.francafiacconi.it
My Facebook page is HERE, I’m also on Twitter HERE and Instagram HERE.

Franca, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me! 

You can find other Running the World interviews HERE. If you’re a runner in a part of the world that I haven’t yet blogged about, I would love to speak to you – please email me at the address on this page

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