Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Marathon in Venice

I've been working with the Venicemarathon
for eight years now. They called me in as a consultant back in 1999 because they'd had a drop in participants and needed help in getting the numbers up again. Their then director decided that I was the ideal amateur running expert and that's how I got the gig. The first year I had them go visit all the regions in Italy so they could hear the complaints from the running clubs about what they wanted changed. It also gave the clubs a chance to vent and feel like they were being heard. The second year I brought in the pacing groups, something very new to Italy. So new in fact that nobody knew what they were and everybody told me it wouldn't work. Whenever the Italians tell me something won't work is usually the moment that I know that it will! Anyway, I called Amby Burfoot and asked him if he would come over and "baptize" the group, which he did by being one of the four hour pacers.
Since then pacing groups have spread to almost all the Italian marathons. I am proud to say that my groups are the best. I do that by making sure that they have a lot of marathon experience, that they're reliable runners, but most of all that each group has a chance to bond before so that when they go into the race they work as a team.
The other cool thing about being the boss of the pace teams is that I've made a lot of great friends. In the first pic above you see on the right in red my friend Serena and her sister being hugged by Stefano. Serena ran her marathon number 100 at Venice on Sunday. She says she'll quit after this but I don't really believe her! Next in my line of friends is Stefano.
Just last week he ran his PR, 2h51'32", and this Sunday he paced the 3h40' group. Plus the day before he toted Evan around the expo on his shoulders entertaining him for a few hours while I worked. All around great guy! I had a really hard time putting the groups together this year. About a month ago ten pacers (of 33) called me to tell me that they were a- injured b-sick c-had an emergency family situation. I was panicked and calling around for replacements, having to rely on people I didn't really know and trusting that they would be able to perform. I'm happy to report that it all worked out and all the pacers, from 2h50' to 5h00', came in on time.
For the first time marathoners it was not an easy day. The temps were hot and humid and I saw a lot of experienced people fall apart at 35km. In any case, the best time out of my "new" group was a guy from GB: "Julia, I completed the marathon in 3 hours 13 minutes on Sunday and love it.
Thanks for all your support."

How great is that for a FIRST marathon?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My favorite fall recipe

No time for a lot of blog entries 'cause I'm really busy with work. This Sunday I have 86 first time marathoners that will be debutting at the Venicemarathon in the "My First Marathon" programme. I'm so excited for them! It should be a great day weather wise. I also have 26 runners flying over the Atlantic and running the New York City Marathon. This is probably the most gratifying part of coaching people, I can't wait for Sunday!

In lieu of a real entry I wanted to post my pictorial recipe for baked apples. I love these apples. They're sweet, low calorie and super easy to make. What more could you ask for?

I use Fuji apples because they remain sweet after cooking. You can bake as many as you want at once. I usually choose about ten apples (here I'm baking five...). Give them a good wash before starting.

Cut out the stem and upper part of the core leaving a little pocket hole.

Place them in a pan. Insert a dried prune into the holes where you cut out the core.

Add an inch of water to the bottom of the pan. If you put the correct amount in (not too much, not too little) you should end up with a nice syrup in the bottom of the pan (yum!). Sprinkle cinnamon on top of each apple before placing in an oven preheated to 300°F. Bake for one hour.

They're delicious hot or cold. I like to eat them with a dollop of yogurt. Please do not do not do not use sugar or any sweetner. They don't need it and neither do you!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Happy Birthday to me :-)

Actually it happened a few weeks ago (St.Francis's patron saint day). I turned 47. I feel fine about that, which is good because it'd be sad if I really cared about it! Piero gave me a new Polar, model 800sdGPS. It's super cool and I'm into downloading my workouts again on my computer. We'd been using the Accurex Plus for years, even going as far as buying used models off of ebay when they stopped manufacturing that model. I told him we had to take the plunge and go with the new models sooner or later. I'm not really crazy about the GPS system it has, it seems inaccurate and besides, I'm not really into checking out how fast I run since I prefer just to "feel" it out. Anyway, I can't wait to start using it on the bike too. Maybe in the spring when the temps go up again...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Smart little boy

At the end of Evan's first year of nursery school in June, his teacher sat down with me and told me that she thought we were being too "cerebral" with him and that he should be doing more creative activities. She pointed out that he still wouldn't write his name out. Her guess was that since he liked to play on our computers at home (and write words out that he copies from books) maybe he felt that he couldn't do it as perfect as a machine. I didn't totally agree with her but I thought that maybe she had more experience than I did or I was just not seeing something that she was because she was able be more objective.
All summer long I threw "creative" things his way: playdough, crayons, clay, paints, scrapbooking. It was all good because he did learn to finally draw and we were fully amused when the first drawing he did was one of himself with the main object being...that. It was a proud moment for his mediterranian father!

Towards august I started thinking that I should get him to be able to write his name. Four letters, very simple. Up until then there had been a little resistance but now he was interested. He enjoyed it so much that he started writing out the whole alphabet. He never got tired of writing and rewriting for like two hours, which is huge amount of time for a three year old. The sequence from there went that he sounded out the letters as he wrote them and then he started "seeing" letters everywhere and sounding them out. All of the sudden he was reading whole words and then full sentences. I swear it all happened within a month. Last night when we went to bed he wanted to read me the book instead me reading to him. Of course it's still at that level where he sounds everything out like this - "fan-tas-ti-co" - but then he says the word over and he comprehends what he's reading.
I mentioned this to his two teachers in passing but they just said "Well, we hope you're not pushing him..."


So here we are, he just turned four and he's reading perfectly. He'll take one of his Power Ranger Books or Geronimo Stilton and sit on the couch and read to himself for an hour at a time. He also "got" addition and sits for long amounts of time using his blocks to do 1 block + 3 blocks = 4 blocks.

I know you're asking why am I'm even worrying about this. It's because he still has two more years of preschool. By the time he actually gets to first grade he's going to be totally bored. The Italian school system tries to compensate for children that are slower or have learning handicaps but they have NOTHING for children that are faster or gifted. Everybody is supposed to be the same and the smarter ones just have to sit there while the others catch up. I'll wait and see how things evolve but I'm going to look into skipping him a grade when it's time to sign him up for school. I'm going to start taking him to the library once a week so that we can have more books to look at and read. If anybody has any other ideas, let me know.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What lies ahead

I voted for Al Gore when he was running against George W. Bush. I remember the speech he gave after they had spent days recounting the votes. Then he sort of went into hiding and gained some weight and was the butt of a lot of peoples jokes for many years. I don't know he if deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, but I smiled to myself when he won it. How many times does something so terrible happen to us, something that we really fought for that doesn't come our way, like losing the United States presidential elections...and then have it all turn around a mere seven years later. This guy won an Oscar, an Emmy and the friggin' Nobel Peace Prize all in ONE year.

Next time you're disappointed in the outcome of something, just look around the corner. Something better might be coming your way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Elbaman IV

While we were waiting for Dino to pull in Giorgio kept going back and forth on his marathon times. Four hours. No, four hours ten minutes. No, four hours fifteen minutes. Definately not under four. We were just there to have fun and I kept telling him to just forget about the time but he kept pulling it out of the hat so I told him to shoot for under four hours. He hadn't run a lot this summer and his only long run had been a mere eighteen miles but he had done a lot of mountain climbing during the summer so I knew that he had muscles. Now listen up all of you marathon runners out there: YOU DON'T NEED TO DO THE LONG SLOW RUNS. Stop it! Work on strength, get a solid foundation, then start doing tempo runs. That's what you need to do a successful marathon. The marathon was fun to watch. It was an approximate 8km circuit so if you stood in one spot you could watch your athlete go past ten times. I was standing next to some crazy people that were just yelling and screaming at people as they went by. The runners names were printed on their bib and since I'm quite far sighted I could read the name off the bib and yell "Hey everybody, here comes..." and this group of ten would pick up on it and start screaming his or her name. It sounds so silly but I had so much fun doing that! Just trying to give the triathletes a boost and see their faces light up (or not) as we yelled at them. Giorgio said that there weren't any mileage markers for the entire course, but we could tell that he was going to make good time. I saw Dino on the course as Giorgio was going on his last loop and we waited by the final shoot so that we could run in with him. His time: 3:58:17. Our final time: 12h37' (don't remember the seconds. Fourth place out of six mixed teams.

I have to say that this is the most fun I've had in a really long time and probably one of the races that I'm most proud of. We decided to go back next year, changing roles. I have a year to become a cyclist. Giorgio has a year to become a swimmer. We've signed up another hopefully reliable friend to be the runner. I'm really looking forward to training this year!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Elbaman III

Dino was a find and in the end I think we were just meant to come together with him. This spring he had won the Italian Duathlon Championship in his 55 - 59 age group just three weeks after his wife's death. They had brought their children to Elba often and coming to this Ironman meant a lot to him. But when he saw the water, the bay, the waves, he got scared and decided to bail on the race. That's when he heard that we were looking for a cyclist...and what a cyclist we got! Our hotel was right in the middle of the race venue and right smack on the bike course. We calculated that he'd come around the 60km loop (three times) about every two hours and ten minutes, so we organized ourselves accordingly. The first two hours I went and had a shower, changed, ate something and then went on the course to watch. Dino came by the first loop in two hours and ten minutes. We watched some more and then we went and had an early lunch so Giorgio could digest in time for the marathon. He wanted to order some seafood dish but I talked him out of that (!) and insisted on just plain rice with some oil. I ate a big salad and some really yummy homemade foccaccia. We went back to the hotel, had a nap, and met down in the lobby again. We went towards the bike exchange to hang out and wait for Dino. It was really fun to see everybody coming off their bikes and getting ready for the run. It was fairly hot out also, probably in the low 80's. Dino came in after 7 hours and 15 minutes of brutally steep hills. Giorgio started his marathon...(continued...)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Elbaman II

Giorgio and I went on the beach to check out the bay and the swim course. I always have to stare at a course for awhile to understand exactly where I'm supposed to swim. In my head I had the image of a perfect rectangle (to be looped and swum twice), when in fact it was sort of a rectangle...but not quite. In any case it took me one afternoon explanation, a thirty minute stare, and then another morning explanation to really understand where I was to go. The good thing was that the athletes doing the full race started thirty minutes before the relay teams so I could see exactly where they were going.
The next morning I woke up at 4.45 so that I could have a nice breakfast and be able to digest in time. Giorgio came in while I was having my tea to let me know that he had been on the beach. The only wind that could possible come into the bay and disturb the water was a Scirocco, and that's what we had this morning. Great!
I gathered up all my equipment and headed towards the beach. It was very surreal to be there. All the athletes were getting ready in silence. No agitation, no loud voices, just very very quiet. The sun started to rise and I got really excited about swimming. The thing that was different for me this time was that I had actually prepared for this swim. In other Olympic tri's or the half Ironman I'd done last year, I'd always trained to survive the swim so that I could get on with the rest of the race. This time my main focus was on swimming only and even though I still wasn't able to get to the pool more than twice a week, I made a good effort to work on my form and get in at least four 3,000 metres workouts. No, I never went the whole distance in the pool because you don't need to do that...

At 7.00 am we watched all the athletes take off. Now I could see that they went straight out to the first buoy and then turned left. Here's a map of the course...The first athlete out of the water and onto the second loop took a mere 25 minutes. Then they all started coming out of the water and it was time for us relay teams to line up and get in the water. All of the sudden I was running in the water and trying not to hyperventilate in the first 200 yards. I just tried to focus on my breath and not get too excited. I was okay after about five minutes and started to make out in what direction I wanted to go in.

The first loop was fantastic. Once I got my breathing in sync I started to enjoy my surroundings. The water was clear and I could see the sand below. There wasn't any vegetation. Every once in awhile I would see a jellyfish. In total I saw about five clear whites and two purplish coloured jellyfish. As I got further out I could see schools of little fish and a few bigger ones. I was swimming pretty effortlessly though I had to keep spotting until I figured out that I could just watch the feet of someone in front of me and follow them without looking up. That was fun! I was through with the first loop! I got back on the beach , took a swig of fresh water to rinse my mouth out and then headed back in. Now it was easier because I knew where I was going and what lie ahead. I took a quick glance at my watch...38 minutes!! That jazzed me and I dove back in the water.

Even though the second loop was exactly the same course, it was a different race. Most of the relay teams were there to win so they all had picked fast swimmers. On my first loop all of the athletes doing the full race were on their second other words, I was alone. There were a few guys behind me, but they were too far back to wait for. Also, the wind had picked up a bit and now there were waves. They were those long waves that go u-p u-p u-p and then d-o-w-n d-o-w-n d-o-w-n. I started to feel a little seasick so I turned on my back to see if that would help. I burped all the extra air I had in my stomach and that felt a little better. I was actually more efficient and comfortable doing a freestyle stroke although every once in awhile I tried a breast stroke and the back stroke. The race crew came up to me on a scooter and gave me the thumbs up as a question. I stuck my thumb back up to let them know I was okay. I pulled out my meditation card and just tried to put my concentration on my stroke and the fact that I was doing this and how thrilled I was about that. Then I started seeing the jellyfish again and I looked to where I could touch the sand again and all of the sudden I had finished. 1:21:31 is where I stopped my watch. I had to run another 400 metres through the streets of Campo Marino and down to where the transition was and give the chip to Dino to put on his ankle. My friend Alessia ran with me so that I could see where to go. I rounded the corner, found Dino waiting for me, gave him the chip and he took off.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


All through last week I'd had this weird, funky feeling that I couldn't put my finger on. I was fine, in good health, but it was like whatever positive feeling I was trying to go towards wasn't panning out. I felt down for no reason. Even my daughter asked me if something was wrong.
Friday night Giorgio, the runner for our Elbaman
team, walked in the house and I had to give him the bad news. Our cyclist had bailed at the last second. Thirty-six hours before the event we had to try and find someone who could hop on a bike and ride 180 kms (a.k.a. 112 miles). I could have handled about half the distance but I hadn't been on a bike since the beginning of september and I've never covered more than 100 km. We started calling everybody we knew. We called my triathlon club, we called cyclists. But no one was willing or trained to bike the distance. I called the organization and explained our predicament. We told them that we were coming anyway, even if it meant just participating in the swim and run legs of the race for no medal.
As you all know I had trained for this. A lot. There were times that I really did not want to go down to the pool but I felt responsable for my two other teammates - so I worked out anyway!
We decided to visualize a triathlete that had trained for the race but had suddenly gotten scared of the swim, that would be our man.

The three hour drive to get to the Island of Elba from my house takes you south through Bologna and Florence, then West towards Pisa and then south again to Piombino where the ferry docks are. While we were in line waiting to get on the ferry boats we met another group of triathletes. We were so excited to be meeting other people that would be participating in the race! When we announced that we were doing the relay we got blank stares back and a couple of yawns. Oh. We were only swimming 2,4 miles and only running a marathon. B-o-r-i-n-g.
Made me laugh!

While we were on the Ferry we got a call from the race director, they'd found a cyclist for us! When we arrived at the expo we met Dino. Sixty years old, in absolutely fantastic shape, a master the pool. He just couldn't get over the waves and the salt water. No problem, Dino! We had a team again.

(to continue tomorrow)...