This summer and early fall, I trained for another international race to be held in Lake Garda, Italy.
It had been 12 years since I last ventured to Italy’s lake region—and His Lordship’s first visit to the country—so I couldn’t have been more excited.
Like the spring, training was up and down due to work and personal travel, but my long runs were on point. I was stoked to toe the line and run alongside Italy’s largest lake with stunning views of the Dolomites.
On Thursday, October 13, my comrades and I crossed the pond to Milano. (ON EMIRATES! Sweet Moses, look for their flight deals in late December and book a trip. Best. Airline. Ever.)
We threw our luggage into what I would dub the remainder of the trip, “The Silver Bullet,” a Fiat 500L Living, and made the three hour trip to Garda.
Though I couldn’t understand anything the highway signs were saying (other than “Attenzione”), it was a fairly easy trip. We even managed to get through the tolls without an EZ-pass! (Cue the “alright, how many Euros you got?”)
After a very, very, long trek around the lake complete with monsoon and an apple that nearly broke the windshield, we finally made it to the lakefront Hotel Castello, checked in, and immediately got a round of drinks.
We made friends with the hotel’s stellar management staff, Matteo and Marco. They knew we were in town for the marathon, and expressed their interest in running as well.
Everything opens later in Italy; we bided our time meandering through the rainy streets of Malcesine while trying very hard not to think about food.
We managed to find a restaurant that was open—Pizzeria Ristorante Caminetto, owned by a jovial man named Mario. We were a ravenous bunch and ordered a heaping portion of antipasti as well as our own personal pizzas. #carboloading
On Saturday, our well-rested group explored Malcesine, and then set off to Torbole to gather our bibs. It was a seamless process; no one even seemed to care about our medical forms. (I had to get a heart echo for this race, FYI.)
Torbole was a relatively small and sleepy town, so there wasn’t much for exploration.
We settled on a local windsurfing bar, aptly-named Winds, as our post-race destination for food and beverages.
Back to Malcesine and more carb-loading. Life is very hard, indeed.
The late race start allowed us to sleep in ever so slightly.
My race nerves were setting in, so I quickly got changed and headed downstairs for coffee and breakfast.
I reminded myself that peanut butter is an American necessity, so I packed a tub of Skippy for my comrades and I to share.
We briefly discussed the day’s events, what we thought we were capable of, and went back to our respective rooms for one last bathroom break and to grab our gigantic bibs.
The weather was pretty damn near perfect for race day: 45˚F, a light breeze, and not a cloud in the sky.
Danika and I took shelter in the Town Hall lobby so to not get too cold. It worked out well as there was a bathroom should we need to use it yet one last time.
Finally, we made our way to the back of the start. (No corrals, people. This was a very, very small race.)
His Lordship and I were wondering if they would sing the Italian national anthem. They did not—the gun went off and we were moving.
The first mile was spent getting out of the town of Malcesine. It was very crowded, so I tried my best not to exert too much energy moving around runners.
I noticed a few runners jumping onto the sidewalks—I followed suit as running on cobblestones was proving difficult.
We made our way out of town and onto the main road. I knew this was the first of two out-and-backs; the second would happen at the last 10K.
I settled into my pace and took in the views of the lake. It was a crisp autumn Sunday morning; most people weren’t even venturing out for church yet.
The scenery was nothing short of spectacular. We ran through tiny towns with people sipping espressos out on their balconies. We ran by rows after rows of olive trees. We ran by beaches. (And beach bars! Too bad those weren’t open.)
Because the race map was…well, it wasn’t the best, honestly, I had absolutely no idea just how far the out-and-back was.
And then I saw the lead males making their return. There was a small pack of four—one with a blue bib (noting he was running the marathon), and three with red bibs (the 18 miler). I suddenly wondered if those running the 18 miler were frustrated that there was a marathoner running at the same pace.
Not too long after, I saw His Lordship. We high-fived and a wave of excitement started coursing through my veins.
The turn-around was shortly after; we took a sharp turn down into a sleepy village. I felt like we were running through a movie set. Then, we ascended back onto the main road. Next stop: Torbole.
I saw Dougie making his way to the turn-around. We high-fived as well. More energy coursing through my veins.
Then, somewhere around mile 6, I felt a dull pain in my quad. I tried to shake it off and thinking that it was maybe in my head.
I noticed my gait changing. The pain worsened. I pulled over to stretch it out and began weighing my options. The remaining 20 miles seemed very, very far on what could be a potential major injury.
My new goal was to get back to Malcesine and weigh my options again.
The pain in my quad was worsening with every step and was growing; I realized I somehow injured my IT band. I slowed my pace and stopped several times to stretch it out. Malcesine seemed so very far away at this point.
When we got to the olive groves I knew we were about a mile and a half out.
I saw the castle in the distance and told myself to get there.
It was, quite literally, a very long uphill battle to get to Via Paina, the road leading into the castle and our hotel.
I stopped and waited along the side and weighed my options one more time. I had 16.2 miles left to go, a daunting task when you’re already in pain.
I ripped off my bib and called it—I was done.
Defeated and upset, I walked back to the hotel. I was greeted by Matteo, who looked a bit concerned as to why I wasn’t still running. I told him about my IT band, and he shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, you know what? We are not professionals.”
Though I knew he was correct, the words didn’t help all too much. I went back to my room and laid in bed. I thought about how long I had trained and how far I had come for a race. And I blew it six miles in.
Knowing I was in Italy and my friends were making their way to Torbole, I ended my pity party and made my way to the port to catch the next ferry.
I ran into Marco, who had a look of concern across his face. I told him my injury woes and he placed his hand on my shoulder. I grew calmer.
As I had to wait quite awhile, I sat down at a local ristorante and ordered a glass of wine. (Naturally.) I contacted Danika, knowing she was almost done with the 15K.
I sat in silence and looked out onto the lake.
I thought about those last four miles getting to the hotel and the pain that worsened in my IT band. They were the longest four miles I have ever endured in any race.
I knew I made the right decision.
Danika contacted me, wondering what happened. She congratulated me for going with my instinct so to not ruin the rest of our vacation.
Eric made his way down to the port and we caught the ferry together. (True story: the fastest way to get to Torbole is by bus, NOT ferry.)
We (finally) made our way to Winds. Chris finished in 3:05. He told me about the rest of the course that I had missed, and that the final 10K was incredibly industrial and not enjoyable.
Dougie finally made his way into the bar and expressed the same also noting that the course was a lot harder than we anticipated.
More wine was had and we made our way back to Malcesine.
The rest of the trip was an absolute delight. We ate incredible food, made more friends along the way, and saw so many unbelievable things that I can’t even put into words for a blog post.
Italy, it was truly a pleasure. Though I came for a specific reason that didn’t pan out as planned, you delivered well above my expectations.
To my comrades and new friends Matteo, Marco, Marcello, and Roberto, thank you for making this trip so fantastic.
Alla prossima, Italia!