Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Running in Italy -- The Strasopportico 7K

News about my crazy running habits (TRT100, etc.) spread fast while we were on vacation in Italy, so it was only a few days after we arrived that we were already signed up for a 7K "Corsa" (race). This was going to be the Italian edition of the Gold Country Grand Prix. I had no idea what to expect, but it would be fun to see the differences between the way that these events are hosted in Italy vs. America.

The race was called the Strasopportico 7K. This was the 26th running of the race and it was held in the picturesque little medieval mountain town of Sant'Agata dei Goti. It was about an hour by car outside of Napoli, where we were staying. It took us a lot longer to get there, though, because we decided to take public transportation and the South of Italy is not exactly known for its efficiency. The first difference between the Italian and the US races was that the race started at 6 p.m. I usually train in the evenings, and personally I would much prefer if all our local 10Ks started in the evening. That way you don't have to get up super early and you're warmed up by the time the race starts (+1 for Italy!)
The beautiful town of Sant'Agata dei Goti

A friend of ours picked us up at a train station close to the race and kindly took us to the race. Vicky was going to take pictures and the boys and I were all going to run the 7K (or so we thought). The sign in tables were very similar to the ones in the US, except everybody was cutting the line (-1 for Italy).

Signing in -- Don't wait for your turn here (if you want to participate in the race)

We signed up and the kids received a different color bib. I was worried that the kids were entered in a kids race by mistake and double checked. It turned out that the kids (14 and under) were all running a shorter 5K version of the race that would start a few minutes early. Fortunately they were in the running for the same awards, which were some beautiful ceramic amphoras, modeled after originals that were found during excavations in this area. There were amphoras for the top three finishers in each ten-year age group (+1 for Italy).

The prizes -- beautiful amphoras

The fee to participate was only 5 euros and that included a nice t-shirt, a jar of local honey, snacks and Gatorade at the finish (+1 for Italy) . We also bought some great-tasting sports-honey, which came in a huge 4oz package with a screw cap.

Ready to go with sports honey

6 p.m. came and went, it did not look like the race was going to start any time soon. Finally at about 6:15, the kids were lined up on the road and the race organizer explained where they had to go. It was pretty straight-forward, because the 7K would start with an extra 2K loop and then follow the same course.

Sean (front) and Rocky (with black and purple sleeves) with stopwatches ready

Once all the kids were lined up, the race director called, get this, ALL women! Apparently running in Italy is a men-only sport and women and kids are treated as second class citizens. Women were not even awarded in age groups, but just treated as one group, similar to the 14 and under kids (-10 for Italy). I could not believe it. This probably explained why there were just a handful of women that participated. The kids were sent on their way and the men were going to start a few minutes later.
I noticed from looking around that there was also a surprising lack of older and slower runners. It felt as though I had accidentally landed in the elite runners chute of a prestigious road race. Everywhere I looked, I saw lean and mean Italians, with the exception of a few teenagers who actually seemed to be running for fun. I guess people do not run just for fun in Italy (-1 for Italy), and only show up for a race if they can do well.

This strange attitude had one positive side effect: there was a huge crowd of non-runners that lined the course. The finish line even had metal crowd barriers to avoid runners getting trampled (+1 for Italy).

Most of the runners belonged to running clubs and came dressed in their team outfits. Some teams were huge, with as many as 60 runners on the course, while others were as small as 10 runners. There must have been at least 10 running clubs that were represented and there were very few unattached runners.

I could still feel the Tahoe Rim Trail miles in my legs and I had no idea how fast I would be able to run, so it was clear that it was up to Sean and Rocky to bring home the hardware.

Lined up for the (all-male) start
The race started and the pace was fast. We turned around a sharp corner into a huge parking lot and snaked our way through about 50 cars to get to the main road. As soon as we got on the main road, I calculated that I was in about 25th place. The course wound its way around part of the old downtown and ended up close to the start again and we followed the same course as the kids from there.

It was a gorgeous course, which ran over a beautiful old bridge, through some very narrow cobblestone streets, and past centuries-old buildings and plazas. It then ran uphill through the outskirts of the little town and made a big loop back to the start.

On the uphills, a few men passed me, but I was able to pass them again on the downhills. I was surprised at how well I was able to run and kept going at a pretty fast clip. I had hoped to make it in about 29 minutes, but I was not sure how hilly the course would be. After about 15 minutes, I passed Rocky, who was suffering from a cramp, but determined to start running again soon. A little while later, I passed Sean, who was running great. He had passed some fast-looking kids and only had a few kilometers left to run. Go Sean!
After a few minutes, a few men passed me in what looked like their finishing kick. I looked at my watch and figured they were surging a bit early, but when we turned around a corner, I could see the final stretch of road that led to the finish line. I immediately went after them and was able to pass one of them before the final turn onto Main street. I sprinted towards the finish and arrived in 25:10, way faster that I had expected. I did not have my GPS watch, but I think the course may have been a little shorter than 7K, because I don't think I went that fast.

Kicking it in!

Sean finished a few minutes later and I thought he might have a top-three spot. Rocky also made it, despite his earlier cramps. We enjoyed some cold Gatorade that was handed out to all finishers.

Sean's finish

Rocky runs through the crowd towards the finish

The awards ceremony took place in the center of town an hour later and it looked like the whole town was there. People came by with cups of wine (+1 for Italy!) and the race director got all the kids who finished on stage to sing the national anthem. All the kids got a nice medal regardless of how they placed. Oddly enough, the race results only showed the places of the top-three age group and overall winners without their finish times (-1 for Italy). No other results were shown. Sean did not make it in the top three. He could have been fourth, but we'll never know.

The kids sing the national anthem

How do you spell Lubbers?

Sean explains that he is from the US,
while Rocky walks away with his new medal and t-shirt

At the end of the awards ceremony, we had another delicious pizza (+2 for Italy). We walked around the old downtown a little bit and came across a small real estate agency. How about a nice cottage at the edge of town for just 16,000 euros. Tempting, but then I'd miss the rest of the Grand Prix series...

Real estate bargains in Sant' Agata dei Goti


Michael Kanning said...

Uh-oh. Looks like the final score for Italy was -6! Guess I'll have to stay here in the states... Just kidding! Hope you had a great trip and I look forward to your Cool report.


Mariano said...

Hi, I ran the Strasopportico 2008 just yesterday... I can confirm that it is shorter than 7kms, my Gps said 6,27:

I completed it in about 33'... not a great time but good for me ;-)
I noticed too that women ran a shorter race: It's not usual in Italy.


mariano said...

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