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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who are the famous runners in Sicily? Or Italy?
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.
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!
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.
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.