Perhaps at this point I can finally be honest and talk about what the real issues were. I was quite friendly with someone called Leonardo, who used to own a sports shop in Siena, aimed mainly at runners ("Il Maratoneta" kind of gives it away), but he also used to sell swim stuff. At the time I was learning to swim and used to buy my stuff there. Soon, I started buying a magazine from the shop called 'Correre' which is the Italian equivalent to Runner's World, and there I read about Paavo Nurmi. And that is how I started running.
I used to run at Pian del Lago and was approached by a few clubs to become a member, but I resisted. When I started doing speed workouts at the track, people still used to approach me, and in the end I joined a club, which unfortunately had some very fast people. In an effort to keep up and score points for the club in the regional table, I would run a lot, but skipped out on the fartlek and speed work. Since I did not acquire a 'base' of miles, running suddenly became hard work and I no longer enjoyed it. I continued though since I could not let the club down, but I had long stopped enjoying it. This went on for years, and when we left Siena, I stopped running. And almost 8 years later, to the day, I started running again.
During my final year of PhD at Oxford, my room was right next door to the University Parks, alongside the Cherwell River. With such a stunning view, I could not resist, and went out for a walk one day, and the next and the next.
out and ran. It took a long time and I spent many hours thinking about why I wanted to run, and why I
Funny thing is, here in the US you get a race t-shirt, energy drinks, shot bloks etc, and sometimes even a medal for your troubles. In Italy you seldom get a t-shirt or medal (I do not know if that has changed now), but you do get a box of goodies containing pasta, Chianti wine, snacks, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and other goodies in that vein. So those were the things I missed, and the
(photo Simon Ho, Linacre College)
genuine cameraderie, but I did not miss the stress of accumulating points for the club, doing badly in a race and thereby letting the club down. During the remainder of my time at Oxford, I could think of no good reason why I should run, so I put it out of my mind and just ran.
When I went back home to Geneva, I continued running outdoors, around Lake Geneva. Indeed, I would go out at night. Ah yes, I had forgotten about that! Yes, I have run in the night. Geneva is an extremely safe city, and I had no issues running at night - reason being, that there were no other runners out at 9pm! I still had no reason why I was running, but felt that I wanted to recapture something of that running feeling that I had experienced in Siena. I had not quite thought it through yet, when we moved to Boston.
Boston, the perfect city for runners. I was excited and overwhelmed by the number of runners here, but it seemed that no matter what time of the day or night, there were always people running! For 7 months I ran indoors on a treadmill, and then finally on World Run Day in 2008, I ran outside, and the sky did not fall on my head. Although I had run alone previously, it was always 'alone' - there were very few other runners about. Running alone here was challenging, because I hate running slow. I could not accept that of myself in Siena, and I think that was what I was struggling with here. Francesco was a strong runner and he would set a good pace that I would force myself to keep to - I had no Francesco here, and to be quite honest, I do not want that kind of stress again (well not just yet). I am not a particularly fast runner, but on good days I can hold my own. However, I cannot run to a blistering pace without a little help, but what to do without Francesco?
Then it finally dawned on me, why I run: for myself. I run to please myself. No one else but myself. I know it sounds a little weird and totally obvious, but it was not obvious to me. There was a delicious freedom in discovering that, and suddenly running became a complete joy, not just that partial one that I had previously experienced. That said, I think my true test came this week past, when I went running at 6:30am - yes, with all the other runners. It was delightful, and I am looking forward to this week.
I have mentioned what a delight it is to run here in the US, and I truly feel that 2010 is going to be the year of my Great Leap Forward, so stay tuned!