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Friday, December 05, 2008

Italy Et Cetera

The days following the race were spent seeing a bit more Italy. Sunday we moved into a hotel in Tarquinia proper, in order to be able to explore the village on foot. After we left our baggage at the hotel, we set out.

A wall surrounding Tarquinia

View from atop the wall

We first went to the Tarquinia museum which displayed artifacts of thousands of years old, including many sarcophagi.

Museo exterior

Sarcophagus on the right

We next decided it was time to indulge in gelato!

Bueno Gelato!

Then we ambled about eventually returning to the hotel. The European style hotel was modern, including the inability to turn on the lights without a special key card....which we didn't know about when we got into our room and couldn't turn any power on. I recalled seeing a basket of key cards sitting at the reception desk, so I went back down, grabbed one, and upon sticking it into the wall receptical, we had light and tv.

At 6:00 we thought it would be good to try to get some dinner, so went to the hotel restaurant. It was very dead, but I found a menu to look over. While doing so, a young man sweeping the front asked if we were planning on eating - they weren't open until 7:00. That was fine, but we were so impressed with his English that we starting plugging him for information. We had been trying to determine how to spend the next 3 days, wanting to include a side trip to the village of Orvieto (which came highly recommended by Kami). We had been inquiring at the touristo office, but the lack of understandable verbal communication had made the plans difficult to nail down. He assured us the best plan was to take the train back to Rome, then take a separate train to Orvieto. He also said we could catch a city bus in the morning with our luggage that would take us to the train station.

Much relieved, we returned to the restaurant a little after 7:00. Our same sweeper was now our waiter. After much deliberation, we finally had our first plate of proper pasta. It was awesome, as was the house red. We liked that so much that we refilled our carafe, which was too much for me, but when in Italy.....

Pasta and vino

The next morning we hit the breakfast room, confronted with many delicious and different breakfast options. I generally wanted some of each, but croissants dressed in different shapes don't really need to all be tested. We were brought some great coffee by the front desk clerk, and we asked him about catching the city bus to the train station. He said - "Oh, please, my colleague, he will take you to the station! Please, finish your food, no hurry." Another fine example of the willingness of the natives to help.

We were driven at the usual breakneck speed to the train station. Upon getting into the station we were taken aback to see that the ticket office. The train conductors fine you if you are caught without at ticket, so we were unsure about what to do. After some aimless wandering and wondering, an Italiano came in and I asked "do you speak English?" He said a little, so I asked about buying train tickets and he pointed to the coffee shop. So, I went in and purchased to 2 tickets to Rome. Oh, that was so easy. We walked out to the platform, validated our tickets (another important requirement resulting in a fine if you forget), and having an hour to wait we came back inside and relaxed.

A few minutes later, the man who spoke some English came back to us. He said "You are going to Rome?" Well, yes, that was the plan. "No trains today" he said, pointing to the schedule. We were a bit dumbstruck. We couldn't interpret the schedule, but he said again that there were no trains, and again "you are going to Rome? I will take you." Wow, dumbfounded again, we fumbled a bit, and he said "come!" So, blindly, we followed him to the parking lot, me thinking - didn't Rick Steves say something about not trusting even business men? Was this a mistake? A big con? Are we going to be shot somewhere? He opened the back of the SUV and I was relieved to see that there was remnants of a bale of hay, so I figured he had farm animals and for some reason that made me trust him.

We climbed in, and took off for Rome, some 60 mile away. I fumbled through the Italian phrase book, and after a bit, determined that there was a train strike that would be over at 9:00 p.m. We introduced ourselves. Our driver was Guilio, and he was a policeman (yeah, right I thought momentarily). We managed to find out that he has lived in Tarquinia for about 3 years and he has a small farm. He was familiar with the agriturismo we had stayed in. He has many animals and crops. Daughters live in north Italy. The speed limit is 130k, but he hit 160 more than once. It was a great drive in, and when we got close to the city, we really experienced the brunt of the strike. Guilio normally takes the train in. It took probably 30 minutes to go 10 miles. The upside is that we saw many ruins and ornate buildings all along the way. We were approached in the car at an intersection by newspaper vendors. We finally reached the train station area, and he said he would stop and let us out. He pointed down the street to where he works as an inspector. Cool! We grabbed our wheelies, and trudged to the train station, pulled out our Rick Steve's book and map, and made our way to a hostel. After we passed it and asked at a tourist office, we found it, entered only by intercom communication. We were allowed in, checked in, left our baggage and set out for the colliseum (one of my 'must see'). Needing some lunch by now, we stopped inside a sandwich shop. The case was full of interesting sandwiches we were unfamiliar with. We pointed to something that looked good, the waiter took it out and panini'ed it, and asked if we would like caffe'. Of course they were asking in Italian and Brian said si' and I said I would like water. He looked at me a little confused. He then held up a bottle that I assumed was bubbly water (we are usually offered flat, with lots of bubbles, and with a few bubbles), and said 'prego'. He proceded to pour me a glass. I thought odd that he would put it in a wine glass until I drank it. Feeling a bit hungover from last night's red, I was not real excited to have wine with lunch, but, when in Italy...

The streets were noisy, fast, and crowded, with narrow sidewalks. One quickly learns that if you want to cross where there is no light, follow an Italian. Any hesitation results in not crossing. Along the way we saw some ruins that for me warranted a stop and photo.

Some Ruins

Nearby views

Ornate buildings

One more turn, and we were met with the awesome Coliseum and the throngs of tourists. I was amazed at the number of people there in mid-November and midweek. We were approached by guides trying to sell us a tour inside, but we resisted.


Entry way into arena stands

Inside the floor is gone, but the underground is where the animals and fighters would come up from.

More inside views

We spent a good deal of time there, and then hiked across the way to Palatine hill to see more sites. Unfortunately we couldn't get in as there was some maintenance issue. I took comfort in more gelato.

We were pretty tired, so made our way back to the hostel. There was a vegetarian bistro in the basement with very good food and a policy of letting the customer name their price. We had excellent food, and asked the chef/waiter/dishwasher what a fair price was, and it was only 25 euros for the two of us, including wine.

Next day, we decided we would do a trip to Orvieto. The trains were running again, so we headed to the station. Trying to buy a ticket for the time we wanted was fruitless. First the line at the ticket office was too slow, so we tried buying tickets at the self-serve machine. The pressure was on, we had about 10 minutes. I was able to get one ticket out, but the machine didn't have correct change, so gave me a printed voucher. That was fine, but I didn' have the right money to put in for the next ticket, and we ran out of time. So now we had one ticket, a voucher for change, and at least another hour to wait in the train station.

I went to the original ticket office and tried to use the voucher for another ticket. No, no, that must be done at the train ticket office, not the tourist office. Okay, so stand in another line for 20 minutes, and get the voucher applied to another ticket. Finally, we had 2 tickets and time to kill. We went to a coffee shop, and witnessed a typical Gypsy woman with baby strapped on begging us for money. Behind her, her young daughter followed in and tried as well. Then she stood in line and begged and then ordered her coffee.

Finally, we were on our way. It took a little more than on hour, and the scenery was nice - very pastoral with many small farms and villages. We arrived and took the funicular up to the the top. The city sits on a volcanic rock, and is filled with cobblestone streets and shops that sell ceramics and Orvieto Classico white wine. At the top is a beautiful, baroque style cathedral from the 14th century.

Brian in front of the rather large duomo in Orvieto

We had a nice lunch of pasta and white wine, then walked around the small town, trying not to get lost in the maze of streets.
On the edge of the city was a beautiful, but leg tingling view.

We made our way back to Rome, had one more night of pasta and pizza, and yet one more experience to try. I really wanted to see the Trevi Fountain. The city is a bit hard to navigate, so I thought why not take a cab. The train station is surrounded by eager drivers, and the first one approached, asked where we wanted to go. I said Trevi, how much? "20 euro". Both ways? "No no, only one way." Too much. We walked on. Another driver asked "where you want to go?" Trevi, both ways, how much? "You take pictures?" No, I just want to see it, how much? "20 euros, both ways". Great! We'll take it! He drove really fast and precariously by our standards, but boy was it fun! He let us out one block away, and said he would wait for us. He didn't ask for any money, trusting us to return. He stood by his car, made a phone call, and we briskly walked to the fountain. It was beautiful, and again I was amazed and disappointed at the number of tourists. We had our look and hurried back to our driver. He was surprised to see us so soon, telling us we didn't have to go that fast. He gave us a bit of history of some of the buildings on our return, a most delightful ending to our stay in Rome.

Next morning we caught the train to the airport, where, due to an Alitalia airlines strike the previous day, we were delayed for 2 hours before getting on the jet only to sit on the tarmac for another hour. But we finally were off, and our adventure came to a happy end.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tre, Due, Une, Cominciare!

Day 6 – Race day!

I was up at 6:00, got some coffee, had a shower, then ate a bowl of rice porridge. The race started at 10:00, and Kami's dad was picking me up at 8:00 to drive Kami, Carolyn, Adam, and I over to the race start. The day looked very promising – sunny with a few clouds, no wind. We arrived arrived by 8:30, and eventually found the rest of the team sitting on a sunny step about 100 yards from the start. It was an interesting site for me to see all of the international teams and individual runners from around the world. Not only was this the World Cup Championships, but also the European Championships and an open race as well.

At 9:15 Kami, Carolyn, and I went for a warm up – on a cobblestone street, winding our way around the various turns of Tuscania. Since we didn't want to get lost, we came back the way we started, and then ran a few strides before shedding the extra clothing. I was clad in very little plus arm warmers, and debated whether to leave them on. Connie said I would be too hot, so they stayed behind. I kept gloves on, mainly to keep my hands from getting that annoying stickiness that is inevitable after one aid station of spilling drink or gel on them.

We assembled on the street at 9:45, and we American gals stuck together, wishing each other luck. I wanted to stay with Kami for as long as was comfortable, looking forward to having someone to work with. The final countdown sent us off, and we quickly were funneled down at the first turn onto cobblestones and under an arch, and straightaway we were turning down a narrow alley. There was not much momentum in the first K, and eventually we were on the main street of town, heading past the local spectators, then leaving the town on the rural road. The main roads are marked every K, so Kami and I tried to time them to get a sense of pace. We were running very comfortably, yet the Ks were coming pretty quick. We had no idea of how many women were ahead of us, given the number of men. The course was marked in 5ks, so we were planning on splits between 4:20 and 4:30. At the 5k mark, we checked our time – 21:25 – a little too quick. Our bottles were on the table as planned, and amazingly we found them, given that all 33 countries were set up on about 4 tables, very close together. I was using gel flasks for all of my energy drink, as I was sure I could carry and drink 6 oz comfortably. I was also carrying a gel flask full of gel that I would sip on until it was empty. I had 3 more full gel flasks on the course – hopefully enough to get me through the day. I was also carrying a packet of SCaps! in my sports bra.

Kami and I continued on in a very relaxed and comfortable rhythm. The course was very exposed, but cool still, and mildly rolling. At 10k, our split was 22:12, so we were at least calming down a bit. “Only 90k to go” I was checking my heart rate, and for the most part it was in the 165 range – where I wanted to be – and occasionally 170 or more, but even then I never felt like I was pushing. My hamstrings felt slightly crampy, so I took an SCap! Our 3rd 5k came in 22:37. I was surprised at how quick these were coming, and how relaxed we were running. Around us were mostly men, and all speaking Italian, German, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, and others. Kami needed to make a pit stop, so I slowed way down to wait for her. I was overtaken by a group of Italians, one cheerfully shouting at me 'Avanti! Avanti!'. We soon caught up with them, and then passed our first woman – a Japanese woman with an extremely fast cadence and short stride. I said to Kami that I hoped we weren't going to be the first women at the 50k, because history has shown that usually who is in first at that point went out too hard.

Our 4th 5k arrived in 22:18. This being only my second 100k on the roads, I didn't and still don't fully comprehend what it is like to race this distance intelligently. We had been running nearly 1.5 hours, and I said “only 6 hours to go!” which was unimaginable. Not impossible, I just felt clueless. At 23k we hit the big long downhill. On this section we caught a British woman, and Kami conversed with her about one of their teammates, Liz Hawker, who was unable to run in this race, but is extremely talented and fun to watch. After the chatting, she wished her well, and we let ourselves roll down the road, ending our 5th 5k in 21:04. During this section, my heart rate came down, so I felt I had recovered from any taxing hills earlier on. My drink was not feeling super palatable, so I took more SCaps!. We were now getting close to the loop portion of the course, and I was getting exciting about seeing our support team. We had a long, flat section, and again, I felt very relaxed, but also wondering about the next 6 hours. Our next split was 22:05, and then we headed south into a head wind. Kami asked if I wanted to take turns leading, so we alternated 2 minutes of pulling for each other. We were also being tailed by some men, but the rules don't allow for women to draft or be paced by any men during the race, so we didn't ask them to return the favor.

Another pit stop by Kami allowed me to slow down and jog a bit. She was back soon, and again we were taking turns pulling until the wind let up. Our 7th 5k was 22:41 including her stop, so we had run very steady so far. We still had 5 hours to go, and I was beginning to feel it in my legs a bit.

We finally came to 36k, the beginning of the loop that we would run about 4.5 times. We had 3 aid stations on the loop, and our support team was dispensed over the course so we would have handlers at every one. Lion was stationed at the first, with Carolyn's sister, and Paris. Aid 2, which was the turning point for either running a loop, or peeling off to run the finish, was aided by Brian, Kami's parents, Lin, Mike, Connie's friend Jim. Aid 3, way out in the middle of the loop was aided by Susan (Lion's wife) and Colin. Each time we came to an aid station we would be greeted by a crew member, and they would run beside us, handing us our aid, asking if we needed anything else. It was good to finally reach this point have familiar faces to look forward to for the next 60+k.

After aid 1, Kami started chatting with a Canadian, and I found myself focused on effort. She was still very relaxed, and I realized I was working. We crossed a bridge that we would cross 5 times – it had a steep pitch, and she drifted away. On the other side, I caught back up, and said I thought she would be on her own soon. Our next split was 22:09, and I said I would be glad with 22:30's the rest of the race.

Finally, we reached our primary support aid station. Brian saw me coming and waved, and as I approached he ran along side me, handing me my bottle and a power gel. On the other side of me was Connie's support, running along asking if I wanted water. Kami's dad was helping her out behind me. We passed Mike Spinnler who was keeping track of runners and times, and Lin was enthusiastically cheering us on.

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We turned onto the next road, right into the wind, and Kami strongly went ahead, and I let myself relax. I knew that in order to finish well I had to keep good form, so I slowed until I felt I was really under control. The 26.2 mile mark was flagged, and I was a little stunned to see 3:06. I could afford the slowdown, inevitable as it was. The next 5k was 22:59, and I thought – ok, maybe the next one will be 22:30. But this section of the loop involved headwind, loneliness, trying to get my act together. I came to the third aid station of the loop and was greeted by Susan,who ran beside me asking me what I wanted. I said my bottle, but when we got to the table it wasn't there. Colin got me water, and ran along with me encouraging me the whole time. The sun was a little too warm, I said I was tired, and he assured me I had good reason and I didn't look as tired as others.

Alone again, I kept myself going, looking for the 50k mark, feeling a little like toast and not even being half way done. I finally reached it at 3:42, but my 5k split was 23:11. Well, maybe the next one will be faster! I came back to station one for the end of loop 1, happy to see Lion who handed my bottle and told me Kami looked good, and I was in the top 10. That surprised me, and really made me focus on keeping good form. Between station one and two felt a bit like a vacuum to me – it was flat but I felt so slow here. My 5k split indicated it was true – 23:33. I finally made it to station 2 again, Brian running beside me with a bottle which I took, Connie's support Jim offering water on my head, and I said 'down my back please!' as I didn't want it getting my SCaps! tabs wet. Mike yelled that I was in 8th place and Kami was in 6th. I was excited about that and hung in there for place. I had been taking SCaps! whenever I started to feel weak, crummy, crampy, or exasperated, but was always concerned it was too much. However, each time I took one, in a few minutes I would feel much better.

Better or not, slower was the reality. My next 5k was 24:30. But I now only had 60k to go! I cruised into aid 3 and Susan had found my bottles. I declined the gel flask of gel, since I had been eating less and less of it as it sounded nastier and nastier. I trudged on, and being in the second loop I was now passing men who had gone out too hard, or who were on their first loop. At least it gave me someone to say 'good job' to. I reached aid 1, took a bottle from Lion, drank some water, and he said Kami was now in 5th. I was so glad she was continuing to have a good day! I hit the vacuum section again, and my 5k split was 24:45. Ugh. I had 35k to go, and I hoped the slowdown was over. I got to aid 2 again, Brian handed me a bottle plus a gel this time, Lin with water, Jim gave me some coke, and Mike called out my placing (8th). I turned the corner, finally starting lap 3, and immediately got a severe side ache. I had been so thirsty I had downed a lot of water – maybe too much. I held my side while 'running', considering SCaps! – hadn't I just had one? I struggled along for awhile, and finally decided I may as well try it, and in moments, the side ache was gone. My split was 24:56, a total of 5:20 for 70k. I started doing math - “if I run 70 minutes for each of the next 15k that would still be 7:30” but reasoned that it wasn't likely I would speed up. I guessed that 7:45 was still in the realm of possibilities. As I was contemplating, an Italiano pulled beside me on his mondo motorcycle (did I mention that this was a 'closed course'?), and motioned for me to get on. I replied that I would like to, but better not.

I made it through aid 3 again, Colin ran with me a bit as I passed a woman from the Czech Republic and asked 'Hey, am I passing her?' and he confirmed. I was pleased when he said I was still looking stronger than most folks coming though, so thought my place might stay secure if I keep it together. I was followed now by a tall Danish man wearing blue knee socks. We ran quietly together until I realized he was going to try and stay with me, so I told him I liked his socks. He hoped they worked, and I wished the same for mine. He said 'only 1.5 loops to go before we head to the finish!' I liked his attitude, and very soon we were joined by a Spanish runner. We all ran silently, I being careful to be a little ahead or well off to the side so as not to gain a draft. Just before hitting aid 1, I surprisingly came up behind Adam. “Hey Adam! Is your knee bothering you?” He was just having a bad day and said he couldn't form a clear thought. He also said he needed to finish the race because Howard had dropped with an injury. I wished him well, and was soon into aid 1 for the 4th time.

Meanwhile, the course management had some activity of its own – there was a large truck with boxes and boxes of candles – they were about 8 inches in diameter and the shape of a pie. A young woman was placing them on the side of the road. This is how they were going to light the course after dark. I imagined it would be very beautiful. Sundown occurs at around 5:30, so the majority of the runners would be running in the dark.

I had been using more SCaps! than I anticipated, and told Lion as I came through I would need some for the last stretch. He said “I have it right now” and reached into his pocket, took my baggy, filled it for me and put it back. He said “You're in 6th place now, and Kami's in 3rd! You put a few seconds on the 5th place woman.” I was now starting the 4th time around, and the Dane and Spaniard were still with me. We climbed the short hill together, and down the other side in silence. I hit the next 5k (80k) in 25:12. About 500 meters from aid 3, we heard motorcycle sirens, and soon we were being over taken by the lead runner with his escorts. He was flying, and a few minutes later, a Polish man in hot pursuit. “Brava! Brava!” we shouted to them as they went by. I wondered if Michael would pass us before we made the turn away from their finishing stretch. We arrived at aid 2 for the fourth time, and Lin yelled for me. I smiled and she said “wow, still smiling!” and I replied it was the one that I could still manage to do. Brian handed me a bottle for the last time, as I headed out one more time, he would now make his way up to the finish. Mike yelled at me again that I was in 6th, Kami in 3rd, and that I looked strong. And with one lap to go, I felt like I could start bolting for the barn, even though I had 10 miles to go.

I started running what felt like a hard effort. I could taste the finish. Then I had to slow down from fatigue. Ebb and flow. My next 5k was only slightly faster, 24:42. My next sad surprise came in the form of one hurtin' Gregg Crowther. I barely realized it was him until I passed. The only word I could muster was 'buggar!' and wished him well. I made my way into aid 3, Susan handing me a bottle for the last time. I kept taking SCaps! when I felt bad, and was able to drink all of my bottle if I sipped. I was now joined by a Norwegian runner, and we silently fell into sink. Dusk was falling, and the candles were being lit. Then we saw the 90k mark in 24:47, and my partner said 'that is a very important mark' and from now on each k would be flagged. My stomach was starting to go on me, and I finally had to give in and visit the bushes. I was pleased that I had made it to 90k without real GI distress until now.

My total time at this point was 7:00. I had 10k to go and I thought I was flying. Surely I could run a 10k in 45 minutes! I charged into aid 1, and Lion commented that he couldn't keep up with me now. He gave me some gatorade, as I was out of bottles, said Kami was in 2nd and I whooped out loud. That was so awesome! He said I had a solid 6th, and that ever second counted. The way this event is scored is by adding the times of the top three runners for each team. I hit the 95k mark with a blazing 25:52. Oops, there went my 45 minutes 10k. Oh well, I kept on pushing, and the Norwegian caught back up to me. We both ran hard to the aid 2, where it was now quite dark. The candles did a nice job of looking decorative, but did nothing to light the way. Lin could barely see me until the last minute, then ran beside me, excitedly saying that every second counts, and keep it up. I was determined to make it up to the finish with every ounce I had. I knew that Devon was in at least 12th place and running strong, so we had a good chance of earning a medal.

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Kami's Spectacular Finish!

As I left aid 2 and headed to town, I was given a small head lamp to light the ground. It helped me avoid any potholes, and soon we were under city lamps. The Norwegian and I both surged and died repeatedly, and then we came to 1 km to go. It was all uphill, and very steep in places. I told him he should catch the man ahead of us, and he said, ugh – everytime he tries to run faster he cramps, but as we made the last turn, he surged ahead. I could see the finish, the lights of the old town lighting the sky. I pumped my arms and pushed way up the last bit, and crossed the finish line in 7:52.

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Brian was there to help me get a space blanket, and we stood around for a bit chatting to a few folks, hoping that Devin would arrive soon. She delivered in 9 minutes, and in 10 place! Kami was being drug tested, so we wouldn't see her for awhile. I got a massage, and waited for Connie, who was our 4th finisher in 8:40. Carolyn unfortunately had dropped due to an injury.

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Connie and Carolyn

We all assembled in a nearby pub, waiting for Kami, waiting for results, and sharing stories. Wardian had placed 9th, and was pretty pleased with the day. Adam and Gregg both finished with great effort having suffered early on.

At 9:00 p.m. we gathered in the piazza for the awards. We were all so proud of Kami on the podium. She was in shock that she had placed so high.

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Kami on the Podium

After the individual awards, came the team awards, and our team had indeed received the silver medal. It was a happy group assembled on the podium with Russia in first and Japan in 3rd.

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Thus ended a day of new experiences, ones that would gladly try to repeat and improve upon. It will take some training and practice to have a better middle of the race, and I am up for trying. Belgium, June 19th, 2009 – see you there!

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Kami and Lin, just before the parade

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Me and Lion, post race

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Day before the race

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Typical Tarquinian Avenue

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Kitty heaven

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Brian in Tarquinian Plaza