Last night we found a lovely restaurant in 'Bergamo Alta' (the old part of the city which has amazing views over the North Italian Plain). I hobbled stiffly to the table and asked the waitress for a bag of ice cubes for my calf muscle (it's becoming a customary question!). We dragged ourselves up at 5 am today as it was so hot towards the end of the marathon yesterday, I suffered somewhat in the 30-degree heat! We crept out of our dorm room (leaving four other back-packers snoozing), loaded the car and began running at 6.15 am. The first 8 miles whizzed by with relative ease and I enjoyed running in 19 degrees Celsius! Despite some aches and pains after yesterday's run and not a huge amount of sleep, I felt strong today and the miles ticked by. I didn't feel like I was running through (much!) pain and this was an absolute blessing. I decided to walk down a couple of the steeper descents today as the impact on my legs of running downhill has been a bit detrimental of late. We passed south of Lecco and completed the 42 km (26.2 miles) south-east of Como. Today was mostly an uphill marathon and the mountain views are getting more spectacular by the mile. In Florence last week we bumped into a very cool Italian language student by the name of Marta. After having our photograph taken in a statue of a bath (!), we had a natter with Marta who is a language student at the University of Sussex. Marta happens to be here in Italy spending the summer in her home town of Galbiate (8 miles from our marathon finish-point today). I texted Marta and she invited us to her home and gave us a lovely pasta lunch. We have enjoyed simply wonderful hospitality so far in Italy! The views of the surrounding lakes (Laghi Briantei) have to be seen to be believed and we are touched once again by the kindness people are showing to us as we head towards Switzerland.
We packed away the tent and left our riverside spot in Orzinuovi after tea and cereal by the river. Our new friend 'Mario' rolled by at 6.10 in the morning (on his way to work!) and blasted out some Italian music from his car, it brought a smile to our face despite the early hour! Cumulative fatigue (perhaps exacerbated by a drop of Prosecco last night!) left me feeling somewhat groggy this morning and I found it hard to get into my stride. Within the first hour we saw our first glimpse of the Alps, rising ominously on the horizon! I gasped initially, it came as a bit a shock after nearly a week of flat running across the North Italian Plain. My mind soon drifted to the prospect of running over the mountains, an intimidating prospect... The mountains gradually loomed larger throughout the day as we neared the ancient city of Bergamo. I enjoyed the run today; it was very painful for 6 - 8 miles at the end (my legs had a real 'burning' feeling) but it was rewarding nevertheless! We found a stunning new hostel overlooking the city and crashed out for a quick siesta. Shortly we hope to find some dinner and soak up the views.
We left the campsite in Cremona after a good sleep-in (6.45 am) and completed the run in 4 hours and 45 minutes. My calf was pain-free for 45 minutes before tightening up and I had to run through gritted teeth for 4 hours. My shadow became very short towards the end of the run as the sun grew ever-stronger. I dug deep to get through he last few miles with Hannah passing me food and keeping my spirits up. We made it to the town of Orzinuovi in a slight pickle over where to rest our heads for the night. The town has no hostels, hotels or campsites. We got chatting to a local guy, Khaleb, in a restaurant on the main street and he seriously came to our rescue! He drove us to a nearby river where we pitched the tent. I washed in the cool waters which felt fantastic, whilst Hannah managed to dip her toe in...what a wimp! We made friends with some local people (Mario and Aldo) who had more generosity of spirit than you would think possible. They came back in the evening with Prosecco sparkling wine, cream cakes fom the 'pasticcieria' and even ice cream ('gellato')!! From having nowhere to pitch up we have enjoyed an evening next to the river, learning Italian and enjoying some terrific company. A friend of Khaleb's (Leo) also joined us with a mobile internet 'dongle' enabling us to update the blog! It's evenings like this that make the trip so unforgettable...
We left our budget hotel in Parma at 5:45am having loaded up the car, a routine we have become very familiar with over the last fortnight! Leaving the busy A-road which heads towards Milan, we turned north onto a fantasic B-road. With cool early morning temperatures and a clear blue sky the first couple of hours of running were really enjoyable. This region (Lombardy) is flat and agricultural and it is famous for the production of Parmesan cheese. We passed numerous farms and my legs felt pretty good for the duration of the run (thankfully!). We found a little camp site close to the end point of today's marathon and spent an (exhausting!) hour pitching our tent. After a brief siesta we checked out the historical centre of Cremona and we are heading back for a BBQ with the hungry campsite mosquitoes... I need to find some ice this evening for my right calf which is sore at the moment. Hannah's support continues to be absolutely unbelievable and I simply could not do this without such super help. A huge thank you once again for all the marvelous messages and donations, I feel quite humbled by all the support we are receiving.
With a cooler forecast (‘sunshine and showers’) we slept-in until 6am, loaded up the car, had a cup of tea and headed off for the run. It turned out to be a blue-sky day with 30 degree temperatures but happily we had completed the run by 12.30… We are now in the ‘North Italian Plain’ and today we followed an arrow-straight Roman road through a busy industrial landscape. I’m grateful for the flat terrain right now though, despite some pretty serious aches and pains in my legs I feel as though I am perhaps beginning to find my stride again. 4 and a-half-hours after starting today, we had completed the 26.2 miles. Traversing the centre of Parma after 21 miles I began to feel groggy (probably due to my glycogen levels depleting) and I struggled to work out the road signs through the one-way systems and the chaos of mopeds and lorries. Just then, Hannah came zooming past in the Ka shouting, ‘The Sat Nav says go left here’ and waving a delicious croissant out of the window! Talk about perfect timing! I hungrily ate the croissant and Hannah guided us expertly to the finish. What would I do without her?! The campsite in our guide book appears to no longer exist so we have sought out a budget hotel. After a kip we hope to see some of the sights in food-lovers-paradise Parma.
I added a short radio interview from BBC Radio Sussex about the 'run home from Rome' challenge. Please click on the 'Press' above tab to listen to it and hear how I fared in the radio quiz (woefully!)...
Bonjourno! Hannah here. Whilst John is having a well earned siesta, I thought I would write today’s blog. The alarm, once again, disturbed my beauty sleep at 5am! We packed the car, again (!), and left Bologne heading towards the start point for marathon 12. Whilst John prepared himself for today’s marathon, I performed my normal routine of checking the map and setting the SatNav. John set off, blisters not too bad, leg not brilliant, but was able to stride out the start of today’s 26.2 miles reasonably comfortably. I set off along the road, and compared to all of the journeys so far, this one was remarkably boring, particularly after roaring and gliding down the Apennines only a day or so before. Okay, so maybe the Ka doesn’t roar or glide, but it has served us well so far (once the brake pads were fixed!). We approached Modena, and trusting the SatNav, I navigated John through the town . I soon realised the SatNav was taking us around the town on a duel carriageway – however it was leafy and not busy, so I carried on not worrying John with the details of the error... This duel carriageway, rather annoyingly, turned into a motorway! Not a problem for me in the trusty Ka, however, it posed a little problem for John. Stubborn as he is though, he carried on and ran the 1.2 miles next to fast-moving traffic ignoring the horn-blowing outrage from the drivers on the motorway! He safely left the motorway and found me, back on a sensible (yet boring!) road again. Quick pit stop, and I learn John isn’t feeling too great. Leg is sore and causing him not only physical, but also psychological grief... Yesterday’s rest hadn’t performed its miracle recovery as ordered. He carried on, determined to not let it get the better of him, however this doesn’t make the running enjoyable! We left Modena and the motorway behind us and headed for the city of Reggio Emilia, the end point for today. Approaching a junction just outside the town, I pulled over to check the map. SatNav says turn right, map says motorway to right. I decided not to trust the SatNav this time after the earlier error! I ignored its instructions and carried on straight as the map suggested. Can you guess!? Yes, another motorway! John, with his painful left quads, and now his right deteriorating also, did not need another motorway to battle with! He ran on and I drove a mile or so, and left at the next possible junction, re-checking the map and SatNav. I managed to redirect us onto a sensible road, and get us back on track, however this did mean we had slight detour and meant today’s finish was not quite as far a long the road as we initially planned. With the finish near, I parked the car and waved John in as he completed his 12th Marathon! Well done John! He is not, however, quite as elated as one might assume. With his injuries persisting, and the left quad now also damaged the completion of the challenge still remains uncertain. We are now resting up in a fabulous hostel in Reggio Emilia, one like you have never seen before. A converted convent, with its towering ceilings, magnificent décor, and utterly beautiful grounds. Stunning. Ciao for now. H
We have embedded a few short YouTube video clips into the blog. If you would like to see the videos all together on YouTube, please click the YouTube logo below:
After much deliberation, we decided to rest up today and give my muscles and blisters time to heal a little. Plan ‘A’ was to run a marathon every day from Rome to London and I have been persisting pretty stubbornly to achieve this since leaving Rome, despite running 5-and-a-half marathons through an injury. Looking more closely at the route ahead (through Italy, Switzerland and France) it is clear though that we can still make it to London in the 50 days we have (before term starts again in September!) with a few rest days when needed. My quadriceps muscle is okay at the start of each marathon but it is showing varying degrees of damage by the end – a rest day will hopefully give it time to repair more fully. I also have an ever- growing blister caused by walking (or limping!) and, having cut away some of the blistered skin, I’m l hopeful that this will begin to ease with a rest day. I have asked Hannah so, so much to get up at the crack of dawn each day (so I can avoid running in the searing afternoon heat!) and support me whilst out on the road. Hannah does this without complaint and with such amazing dedication and compassion, she is amazing! Although we have more friends and family joining us in Switzerland and France, it seems unfair to ask Hannah to do this every day of her holiday and she absolutely deserves some rest and recovery time of her own! So, it’s a sleep-in, a leisurely afternoon and perhaps a nice meal in Italy’s culinary capital Bologne later this evening. We will get back in the swing tomorrow and we’ll see how beneficial a day of rest proves to be.
We ventured into Bologne last night and (daftly) got a little carried away putting our videos on YouTube (we'll add them here later!). As a result I didn't quite get as much sleep or take on as many calories as I might have and I consequently feared the worse for today's marathon. We ran north into Bologne, used the Sat Nav to navigate the 'busses only' challenge for a time and then turned north-west (towards Milan!) and followed a straight, flat road to the outskirts of Modena. The road was not as scenic as the mountainous regions we have passed through; in fact it was mostly factories, a high-speed train line and the odd field of maize! I ran all 26.2 miles today which was a great relief. I was expecting the sore leg to play up after 10 or 15 miles again which leaves me grinding out the remainder of the marathon with gritted teeth in the heat of the day. Today, however, the flat relief was most welcome and we completed the distance, with refuelling and loo-stops in 5 hours. With 2 miles to go and with every mile feeling like it was taking an eternity, the heavens opened and a cooling thunder storm ensued! This somehow got my adrenaline pumping and I was at the finish line, soaked through but smiling, in no time. Hannah, who has been just the most amazing support through all this, was sheltering from the downpour with a change of clothes in hand for me. I really cannot begin to thank her enough!