Sunday was the most fun day that I have experienced since the move to Italy. RW, his friend T, and I took the train to Verona for their now annual Christmas run. This fun, untimed run is a fundraiser for the hospital organized by the directors of the Verona Marathon. All of the information I gathered on the race was from the website, but for some reason it did not translate well through Google Chrome and I still had some questions about registration on site. (Side note: Google Chrome has been a life saver. It will automatically translate websites into English for you.) I was pretty sure that we could register on site from 730-9 AM on race day, but was unclear on the Santa Claus outfit situation. Our plan was to arrive by 8 AM to ensure a spot in the race.
Another side note: Trains in Italy are often late and often get canceled. Sometimes they get canceled 3 minutes before the train is supposed to arrive. Where does the train go? Did it disappear into thin air, thus necessitating cancellation of the remainder of the route? Or was it just so late that canceling that stop makes more sense? My thought is that it was canceled way earlier in the day but no one bothered to tell the rest of the line until the last minute. “Oh, whoops, we forgot to tell Vicenza that the train to Milan is canceled, better call them quick before it is supposed to get there.” There are two different types of trains- basically fast trains and slow trains. The slow ones take longer, cost less, and stop more. We had tickets (5 Euro each) for the first slow train to Verona, and it got canceled as we were waiting on the platform. Then, the protocol is somewhat fuzzy depending on your personal comfort level of getting on a train for which you do not technically have a ticket. In this case, we decided to get on the next train that stopped in Verona, which was a fast (ie. more expensive, 16 Euro) train. I was super uncomfortable with that and was envisioning a scene involving me getting thrown off a moving train due to the wrong ticket. Luckily we made it to Verona without incident (or a ticket check). I am pretty sure you are supposed to do some sort of exchange of your ticket at the ticket office to change trains but oh well. Stop canceling my dang trains!
Ok, back to Verona. The race start/finish was located in Piazza Bra, which is just outside of the Verona Arena. This Roman amphitheater was built in the 1st century and is remarkably well preserved. In fact, it is still used for operas and concerts today. Apparently One Direction was there last summer. Pretty sure that is exactly what the architects were planning when they built it. It was just under a mile walk from the train station to the Piazza, but it was freezing and really damp, so we stopped for brioche and coffee on the way. Brioche is a fancy way of saying air filled dough, often covered in sugar. Similar to a donut or croissant but obviously way classier.
Upon arrival at the race start, a thin crowd gathered. The race did not begin until 10 AM and we were super early. I went up to the registration tent and fumbled my way through paying for the three of us to get bibs (5 Euro each). A separate tent was set up for the Santa outfits, and that was sort of a disaster. I do not speak enough Italian to figure out how to ask how to get one, and I could not understand what the one lady was trying to say. Then, this other lady who clearly thought RW and T were cute, called to us in a stage whisper and handed us three Santa hats and then hurried us away. A victory in my opinion! As we were standing around the Piazza, a gentleman in a Santa outfit came over and began to speak to us in English. He was the race director and was really excited that we had come out to the race. He explained that it is a run for solidarity and it began with a handful of people doing their weekend run in costume and ballooned from there. He then took us back to the costume tent, spoke Italian to the nice lady, and told us to check back just before the start for extra costumes. We came back and were granted costumes, and then were super pumped to join the crowd of 3000 running Santas!
As the crowd gathered, I got more and more excited. I love costume races, costume parties, costume parades… any reason to get dressed up. It was really stunning to see such a huge crowd. Christmas music was blasting through the speakers and everyone was taking pictures of each other. Then I smelled cigarette smoke. As in, people were lighting up while in the crowd at the start of the race. Fast forward to the finish, and there were people lighting up ten steps after the finish line. Smokers are everywhere here, but at a run? That is just so bizarre to me!
The horn sounded and it was a slow crawl for about 1/4 mile. No such thing as runners in the front and walkers in the back, or even slower people on the right so you can pass on the left. I spent the first mile hopping in and out of groups of people, up and down onto the sidewalk, just trying to get some space. I know that it was a fun run which is why I didn’t get annoyed, but I am slightly curious if this is the same general idea in a real race? The good news is that everyone had on long sleeves so when I bumped into them no one sweated on me (Darlene and Kristy will remember my panic attack due to this issue at the Gasparilla half! Ugh).
The run wound around the old part of Verona and crossed over bridges at least three times. It was stunning to look downriver and see hundreds of Santas running across a really old bridge, and then to look ahead at a sea of red costumes squeezing through tiny historic cobblestone alleys. Tons of people were out and about for their regular Sunday morning routine and I had a blast yelling “ciao!” and waving at all of the old people watching.
Although it was cold and damp (45 degrees and foggy), I heated up quickly. RW and T lost their Santa pants early in the race and apparently caused a ruckus when removing them Magic Mike style. T ended up taking off his long sleeve shirt so was running in just a Santa jacket and shorts. Apparently Italians are either always cold or don’t sweat the way we do, because we were the only people who didn’t run the entire race dressed as if the Polar Vortex was upon us. Or maybe we were the only ones running for real? The guys were carrying backpacks with all our stuff and stopping to take pictures and then sprinting to try and catch me. I ran pretty fast but the course was slightly short so not counting my time (which would have been a PR if we were keeping track 🙂 ).
One “water” stop was set up. It provided vin brulee (hot mulled wine), cake, and Pepsi (being poured into Coke cups, which I thought was hilarious). I skipped the hot wine this race, maybe next time. Or not. Eek.
The finish line food was Ah. May. Zing. Italian fruit cakes, toast and jam, chocolate with nuts, hot wine, Pepsi, fresh juices, and paninis. Apparently there were goody bags at the finish that we somehow missed, which was unfortunate because they included an entire Italian cake and bottle of wine.
After the race we hung out, had lunch, and went to both the local market as well as the Christmas market. Trying to get home was another adventure. Three canceled trains later, we hopped on the fast train again and finally made it. It is sort of stressful to be on the platform, hear an announcement in Italian, and then see tons of people rushing off the platform. Now I know that means “this train is canceled; follow everyone else and hop on the next one.”
I give this race a 10- if you are ever near Verona at Christmas put it on your list!