Month: January 2015

Free Fruit and a Most Humbling Experience

Two brief stories about my week:

I stopped at a different fruit and vegetable store on my way to a dinner. The 40 something-ish owner had shaggy blond hair and sported an embroidered US Army jacket. I asked in Italian for 2 tomatoes and one red pepper. A huge smile took over his face as he said “Americano?!” “Si…” “Ahhhhh!!!” And he gave me a giant hug. We attempted to chat for a couple of minutes in Italian. He had an old set of American BDU’s from Iraq as well as an unidentified set from Afghanistan, complete with a picture of him wearing them. I ended up leaving with a new friend, 2 extra tomatoes and a bunch of Clementines thrown in. Not bad for less than 2 Euro.

One of the most humbling experiences of my life occurred yesterday during a ski trip. I spent all morning on the bunny slopes working on my turns and a couple of other things, and then after lunch decided it was time to be brave and travel up high. The easiest run on the mountain had a small easy part, a steeper intermediate part, and then an easier part coming in towards the end. I was nervous but the girls I skied with all morning convinced me we could do it.

I exited the chair lift and a feeling I have never had before hit me. I have now identified this feeling as pure fear and panic. As I looked over the side of the mountain, I felt myself freezing in place and I could not even turn my head. I was so scared to move because I felt like the sides of the mountain were so close, just waiting for me to spill over. This is probably how Jon Snow felt when he was on top of the Wall, except he managed to kick ass and take names. So I stood there and tried to control my breathing and rationalize with myself. Obviously I was not going to fall off of the mountain, but I was so scared I could not move. The wind would gust and I would panic all over again as I felt it push me a little bit. I managed to get moving by side stepping/sliding down the first bit, and felt better once I got onto a flatter part with less of a visible drop off. Then I came to an insurmountable obstacle- a giant cliff of snow that a bunch of six year olds were flying down at ridiculous speeds. I started to feel the same tightness in my chest and again, froze in place. So after this continued and I just couldn’t make myself ski, I took my skis off and walk/slid down the hill on my butt. Telling the story today seems silly- why couldn’t I just go? But the more I think about it, the more I am ok to admit I was really, really scared and I froze. I got down the scariest part where the other women I was with were waiting for me. I felt bad that they waited but was so grateful for their support. Even though I know I sucked and did terrible, they were really great at uplifting me and helping me down the rest of the mountain. On my skis this time.

Now I know I need to go back and deal with some irrational fear of heights and/or powerlessness while standing on top of the world. I will work on my turns more- my instructor (who the more I think about it reminds me of Tami Taylor (of FNL fame) says that if you master the turns you can ski any mountain. Goal set. But I won’t complain if spring just hurries and somehow I don’t have to face this fear again 😉

This is my panic face apparently.
This is my panic face apparently.
If you look closely you will notice the edge of the world perilously close to my skis. You know nothing, Jon Snow!
If you look closely you will notice the edge of the world perilously close to my skis. You know nothing, Jon Snow!

Meeting my Italian Neighbors

Now that I am sort of settled in our apartment, I decided that it was time to meet the neighbors. Like any good American, I thought that junk food would be the fastest route into their hearts, and make a pan of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownies. If you have never had those, do yourself a favor and bake them immediately.

I wrote a short note in Italian introducing us, as well as stating how excited we are to be here and to learn Italian, to accompany said treats.

Our building has 4 apartments in it, with an identical building sharing the fenced yard and drive. Pictures to come later.

Neighbor number 1 (next door): not home. Left brownies and note at door.

Neighbor number 2, downstairs: Super nice lady, doesn’t speak English, named Paola. Ran into her today and she asked “Ciao, Cara, tutto bene?” That means “Hi, Cara, everything ok?” Super sweet!!

Neighbor number 3, also downstairs: old dude who obviously can’t hear that well since we hear his TV just fine in our apartment or out on the street 🙂 Does not bother me- since I can’t understand the words it just sounds like white noise. He seemed super confused when I knocked on the door and introduced myself. “Piacere, mi chiamo Cara.” I am sure he liked the brownies though! Who wouldn’t?!

Rewind to neighbor number 1: She came over when she heard me get home the next day. She also speaks no English, but had obviously taken the time to translate her words onto an index card. She told me it was nice to meet me and asked where I was from, and then told me that the cake was delicious. SO AWESOME.

I hope we can all be friends. Or at least enough so when they see or hear my cani pazzi (crazy dogs) they will laugh and say “ciao, cane!” instead of saying “zitto cani stupidi!”

Sunday Morning Volksmarch

Today I participated in my inaugural Volksmarch. What is this surely fascinating event, you must be asking. It is a non-competitive walk in which one particpates for fun. Volksmarching originated in Germany and is now practiced all over the world.

In this region of Italy, almost every Sunday there is a different Volksmarch. The location varies dependent on the host club. Three distances are typically offered- 5-ish K, 10-13-ish K, and 20+K. The route is clearly marked from the start area, where you register for a nominal fee (today was 2.50 Euro). Since this is a non-competitive event, you are free to start whenever you want during the designated time, and you may chose whichever route you prefer.

Some people ran, but most people walked in small groups, chatting and enjoying the morning. Lots of people walking with Nordic Poles and lots of pets on the course. Rest stations were provided along the route, complete with hot tea, hot mulled wine, toast and jam, and fruit.

Today’s course wound through the small town and farmland of Monticello Conte Otto, about 10 minutes from my apartment. I did not bring my phone so did not get really great pictures. Part of the course was off road through large fields. Afterwards, several refreshments were offered- I had a proscuitto sandwich and warm tea. I plan to do these more often. Great way to get in some mileage while checking out new towns.

Cold morning with lots of sunshine.
Cold morning with lots of sunshine.
Seen along the course.
Seen along the course.
Random runners.
Random runners.
Part of the field course.
Part of the field course.
Course marshall. Check out his awesome feathered cap.
Course marshall. Check out his awesome feathered cap.

Cara’s Top Ten Winter Run Survival Tips

  1. Cover your important bits. In this case, I mean your ears and your hands. Whether you prefer a hat or a headband, keeping your ears covered is imperative when it is below freezing. Same with your fingers- nothing like thinking you will lose an appendage to frostbite by the time you make it back home. My running gloves have reflective seams as well as index finger and thumb touch screen capability. This is a must if you run with your phone!  
    Fancy gloves with fancy fingers.
    Fancy gloves with fancy fingers.
    • As far as running tights and shirts, Under Armour has the competition beat in my opinion. This is not just my Maryland pride showing- UA ColdGear is slightly thicker than any other brand’s winter gear, which makes just enough difference to help block the cold wind as well as wick sweat. Their compression tights do not move at all when I run. No one wants to fidget with their crotch on a run, am I right? These tights are also long enough for tall people. Don’t overdress- you will warm up! Better to start out a little cold than to have an extra layer to deal with when you warm up a couple miles in.

2. Plan to meet someone. You don’t want to be the guy who stands someone up when the thermometer reads 25 degrees F.

3. Warm up more than you think you need to. In my case, I spend a few minutes in the hall of my building doing some dynamic movements (thanks, Ignite360, for giving me a warm up routine!) and a couple of trips up and down the stairs. When it is very cold out, it feels infinitely more terrible to start moving when you aren’t warmed up appropriately compared to hot weather.

Warming up inside is totally acceptable.
Warming up inside is totally acceptable.

4. Sometimes mental tricks are necessary to get yourself going. Think of warm things- coffee, hot sauce, Ringling bridge repeats in August, Jimmy Buffett, whatever. Just don’t focus on the temperature outside!  Beating the weather requires the opposite approach from summer early morning long runs in SRQ. In this case, wait until the sun comes up to get going; it makes a huge difference.

5. Cool down and STRETCH. This step also feels more important in the cold. When you stop moving in the cold, your muscles seem to tighten up way faster than they would otherwise.

6. Fuel appropriately. Just because you aren’t sweating buckets doesn’t mean you don’t need fuel. Make sure you water bottles don’t leak. Wet hands, below freezing… no thank you. PS- gummies and chomps turn rock hard. Be prepared.

7. When feeling cold and defeated (usually about halfway in the long run, just before the turn around), think about how badass you are compared to the people not outside running in the cold! Also at this point I like to envision a hot shower and some delicious food. “The faster you run, the faster you are done,” as my best friend and running inspiration MG says.

8. Watch your step. Frozen uneven ground and ice patches will sneak out and get you. Then it is a really cold long limp back to the starting point.

9. Attempt to appreciate the fresh frigid air as it freezes your trachea and lungs. Although truthfully, after a while it really does get easier to breathe compared to thick South Florida humidity.

10. Learn how to blow snot rockets. Obviously.

So now you are prepared to go out and brave the cold! Happy New Year, y’all!