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il Marathon della Citta di Roma
by Audrey Amara

"Use all your negative energy to your benefit," I told myself. "Tomorrow I can expend it all-just save it up." I had been dragged on a "Pub Crawl" through the streets of Rome when, really, I should have been resting my legs for the marathon I was going to do in two days.

The ides of March were gone, or in Italian terms 25 marzo 2001. I had been preparing for the marathon in Rome, Italy for about a month now and I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

Before I left the states for a four-month stay on a foreign exchange program in Florence, Italy, "Rome, Italy" had caught my attention when I was online looking at http://www.theschedule.com. Three months from the time I was to arrive in Italy, there would be a marathon in Rome. At first, I thought, "I should do that just to see if I could finish". I really knew I would be able to complete it, but the question was how fast would I be able to go.

I daydream six months to my time in Italy and replay my preparation for my first marathon called il Marathon della Citta di Roma. It was a brisk February and I hadn't been running much when I got to Florence for the first time. Just walking to a certain destination in the big city would be a feat.

Chris, my newfound workout partner, helped me get over my fear of getting lost in a foreign city. We began to go on runs together every other day. I felt lucky to be running in Italy because we noticed things that many of the other students who didn't run couldn't see. We explored the hills behind Florence and got lost in their vineyards and small cobblestone streets that lead nowhere. We touched a convent that was on the top of a hill. It was so far away from Florence, I was amazed at how big it really was when we got close to it.

Chris and I were unstoppable until he hurt his ankle on one of our runs and was barely able to walk. That day I had doubts about training on my own and thought about giving up. Then I made a decided to stick to my goal. I ran alone, through the streets of Florence. Day after day, I trained on the path that followed the Pointe Veccio River. I raced the taxis on the streets. I was especially thankful to my Walkman, my new running partner, for drowning out the sounds of Italian men hooting and hollering at the sight of a "Bella Dona" in short running shorts and jog bra.

I really hadn't been serious about entering the race. I just assumed I would do it unofficially, which is something I do for a lot of races. I like the fact that there is no pressure when I don't pay the entry fee. However, Lorenzo, the exchange program director on the Italian side, persuaded me to actually spend $60 and enter the race. Now I wanted to do well even though I still felt no pressure because this was only my first marathon-for fun.

Christy, my friend from high school, was visiting the week of the race. I could tell she didn't want to go to Rome (who wouldn't want to go to Rome?), but I got her to buy a train ticket anyway and I was set.

Two nights before the marathon, I had to trudge along with Christy to one of Rome's all famous Pub Crawls. I wanted to make sure Christy had fun on her stay in Italy, so I was the designated sitter while she and about 25 others sampled alcoholic drinks in Roman pubs.

I had given up alcohol in preparation for the marathon two months before. Everyone thought I was kind of weird because I was on a pub-crawl and not drinking alcohol. My friend kept asking me if I was ok because I looked sad, but I really wasn't sad at all. I was just thinking, over and over, about the fact that I wanted to be in bed resting my legs instead of following this drunken procession.

At about 2:00 am, we finally got back to our hostel. The place was extremely hard to get since everything else in Rome was booked. I just laughed as frustration and exhaustion caught up with me. In our 12-person room, I was above a man who, in my opinion, was too old to be at a hostel. This guy snored so loudly that I thought he was making snoring sounds on purpose. I couldn't comprehend how anyone could make that loud of a sound while sleeping.

I tried to sleep that night knowing it was only one day and one more night until I ran in my first marathon. I also remember trying not to let the top blanket (the one above the sheet) touch my skin because it smelled bad and looked dirty. I wondered how many people used it before me.

The day before the race was better than the night before. My friend and I walked the streets of Rome while I tried to stock up with food to eat before the race. In Rome, or anywhere in Italy, finding good food isn't very difficult to do.

I can still remember most of the food that I ate that day before the race. Who can forget Italian food? I started the day with some artichoke and mushroom pizza because we woke up late. My friend and I both had gelato in a cone from this gelato shop. We were positive this shop was world famous because the gelato there was so good. The entry fee for the marathon included a free spaghetti dinner the night before the event so- free spaghetti so I had that.

I also was excited as all entrants received a free backpack that contained Gatorade. This was a treat since I hadn't had it in three months since I left the states back in February. I also got a t-shirt, some Nutella chocolate peanut butter that is popular in Europe, and this certain energy juice that tasted so disgusting I couldn't get myself to drink it.

The night before the race was I was able to get to bed (not sleep) at 9 p.m. (a lot better than my night at the hostel). Waking up early enough was the only thing I worried about. Several people in our room, my cheering section, set their alarms for 6:30 am so that I could get to the starting line on time.

The start was right in front of the Coliseum. There, I sat on cobblestones and stretched. All I remember was looking at the people who were warming up and wondering if they were good. I tried to visualize a good time to shoot for - 3:30 sounded like a decent target goal.

When everyone was squished into the starting area, I talked to a couple from the states who had done marathons before. Talking to the couple made me feel less lonely since everyone seemed to have a running partner.

Then the gun went off. At every hour mark in my time, I told myself "I run an hour every day and I only have to do three of them". That seemed easy enough. The people I ran with were mostly Italian men who were intrigued to learn this was my first marathon. I kind of got the impression that they thought I would poop out. I really wanted to prove them wrong.

The thing I liked best was all the Italians who came out to watch the race and cheer the runners. Italians are so passionate about everything and I could hear the streets ring with the word "bravo". When they would see me, one female in a pack of men, their cheers would turn to "Brava." That made me feel good and pushed me on.

When people ask me what I saw on the course, I say things like "it must have been beautiful". I smile and nod because the sights along the way were really a blur. Only runners know the feeling of concentrating so hard on the race that the only things in view are the signs ahead telling where the next the water and Gatorade tables are located. The aid stations and the huge clocks marking the halfway point are the only thing I really remember seeing. The race did go by Ancient Rome, Vatican City, the Spanish Steps and many other beautiful and famous Roman Monuments. I enjoyed these sights on all those other days I visited Rome. This day I was running a marathon. I was on a runner's high What more can I say?

I felt great the first half of my run. In fact, I didn't start getting really tired until the last 6000 yards. There was a stretch that went around a park and doubled back so all the runners could see their competition. I only saw one woman on that switch back and I passed another that had dropped out. She must have really been hurting because we only had about three miles to go. I hadn't come that far to drop out; What a waste that would be!

For those who have heard that doing a marathon will change one's life, I realized the truth in these words as I crossed the finish line. I wanted to cry and scream and laugh all at the same time. I was in Rome, Italy and had just run 26.2 miles in 3:12 around its ancient streets. I love Rome!

As I think about marathon experience now, I see this not as an achievement, but as a memory with feelings that no one can take away from me.

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