by Melinda Gallo

An evening race through the streets of Florence

Last night we ran in the Notturna di San Giovanni. I had been a little worried about the race because it didn't start until 9pm. I generally run in the morning as a way to start my day. Erin, Alessandro, and I walked to the Duomo while the city was still glowing as the sun was slowly setting. We ran into Annette who was warming up near the punto di partenza (starting point).

I was already a little nervous about tonight's gara (race) because it was competitiva (competitive), but became even more nervous when I saw people jogging around the Duomo to warm up. Groups of runners wearing matching outfits from their sports association all over Tuscany looked quite serious.

The temperatures were much cooler than they had been all week, so I put on a t-shirt and pants. While we were waiting for the gara to begin in front of the steps of the Duomo, the wind whipped past us and gave us goosebumps.

We could barely move around in the small area where we were standing. While the church bells were ringing, a gun went off and we started making our way down via Calzaiuoli. Flashes were going off as we left the partenza, and people cheered us on and clapped as we jogged by. I made my way through the crowds to find a less crowded area to run. A few runners jostled me as they ran by to get ahead.

When I went past our piazza along the Arno, I looked up and saw Alessandro's parents. I was so happy that I recognized them because up to that point, I hadn't even looked at the people in the crowds.

We ran across Ponte alle Grazie and turned right toward the Ponte Vecchio. The smell of a restaurant was distracting to a few people as they called out, "Buono!" We headed down via Guicciardini, passed Piazza Pitti, and turned back up via Maggio at Piazza San Felice. I looked out at the Arno while we ran across Ponte Santa Trinità. The cool breeze was perfect after our stretch down the narrow streets of the Oltrarno. I looked out at people who were eating gelato (ice cream) and cheering us on while we ran past Piazza della Signoria and down via Calzaiuoli.

The runners who were doing the non competitiva (non-competitive) gara stopped at the Duomo while the rest of us made the loop behind and back toward the Battistero. Cups of water were put out on tables for us to take, but I didn't want to stop. I followed the other runners to Piazza Repubblica where an American couple were cheering on the runners. When they saw my "Americans in Italy for Obama" T-shirt, the man yelled out "Go Obama! Yes you can!" I smiled at him and gave him the thumbs up.

My friend Annette caught up to me and we ran down via della Vigna Nuova toward Borgo Ognissanti. I didn't run on the sidewalk at all along on the percorso (route) until we ran past the Excelsior in Piazza Ognissanti because of so many cars parked along the street. A cool breeze greeted us while we ran along the lungarno (street along the Arno). While I was looking at the shimmering river, Annette commented on San Miniato illuminated on the hilltop in the distance.

We ran across Ponte alla Carraia and I tried not to look at the people who were eating a gelato outside. Via dei Serragli was the most difficult part of the run because there wasn't any wind at all coming down the narrow street. I could feel my face get flushed from not enough air. A few motorini (scooters) and cars hovered behind us and passed us up when there was room. Many runners got upset and would yell at them because it's rare that we get the streets blocked off to run.

When I turned the corner at Piazza della Calza, there was a sprinkler that sprayed us with water. It was refreshing, but maybe a little too small because I only felt a couple of drops on me. When I was running up via Romana I felt a bit alone. I started with my two girlfriends: one passed me up and the other was behind me, but I didn't know where. Around me were very few people, but at different paces so it was hard to run with anyone in particular.

We crossed back over Ponte Santa Trinità and turned toward the Ponte Vecchio where people were waiting to cross our path. Once again when I passed by the piazza where we live, Alessandro's parents were there to cheer me on. They told me that Alessandro ran by a while ago even though his leg was hurting him.

I ran down via dei Benci and turned down a small street to get to Borgo degli Albizi where people were taking their evening stroll. A couple of guys who had finished the gara were walking back down and called out to a few of us still running, "Bravi ragazzi!"

At the end of Borgo degli Albizi I hadn't realized that we were turning left down via Proconsolo. I was hoping we'd be going straight down via del Corso. I was happy that there were people directing us along the way because I couldn't remember the entire, rather complicated, percorso. We turned down via dei Gondi to Piazza della Signoria.

An older gentleman and a young woman were running ahead of me. With the punto di arrivo (finish line) in view, I sprinted past them both even though they too sped up. The older gentleman yelled out, "Brava!" to me as I passed him.

As soon as I passed under the punto di arrivo, my time flashed on a monitor: 1 hour 1 minute. I was happy, hot, and exhausted. I immediately went to the refreshment area to get a lemon and drink sali (salts) and acqua (water). I improved my time from the 10k I did last month although that gara included an incline that led us to Piazzale Michelangiolo, which might have slowed us down, the dicesa (descent) might have sped us up too.

After stretching out, I went to get my pacco gara (gift bag) where I met up with Alessandro and Annette. While we were talking about the gara we heard tuono (thunder) in the distance and were happy that it didn't rain on us. We cooled down quickly because of the strong gusts of wind, so we decided to head home.

As we walked home I thought about how we were running down these same streets only a half hour earlier. It was fun to see the city differently, but also to have so many people come out to cheer us on and call out to us from their apartment windows as we ran by. It was a great experience and I'm a little sad that the next gara in Florence isn't until September.

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