In the Twin Cities, running is a religion.
Around the scenic lakes of Uptown, down the winding parkways of the Mississippi, and through each and every well-maintained park, MSP lives so that runners can do what they do best. It’s one of the easiest cities in the world to lace up and just go.
I took that for granted.
In Rome, there are handfuls of runners – but they can be hard to find, as busy streets with long stoplights and crowded, uneven sidewalks leave little room for those looking to go the extra mile (or kilometer).
Combine that with a few menacing glares that Romans douse on those donning athletic clothes and a good sweat and you’ve got a real good case for taking four months off from training.
People say Italians don’t run, and it’s true. Again, it’s not a catchall for the entire population, because their are some native joggers – but it’s a drastic change from the active Midwest.
For a long time I tried to convince myself that by not running, I was adapting to the culture, respecting the community, and taking a little break from my active lifestyle at home. But all I was doing was making excuses for myself.
Italians don’t run, but I do.
So in the month of April, I took to the streets again – and little by little – I found my way.
I found routes to wide open spaces, where I know that other runners will be when I arrive. It may not be a dense population, but it gives me the chance to smile and say hi to every runner I pass.
I found things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, like the Mercato Trionfale – essentially the Pike’s Place of Rome. Who knew?
I found how to go my own way, which sometimes is hard to do living with seven girls and a life that requires us to be on the go all of the time. Running is exhausting, but it is peaceful too. When things get a little too crowded or loud, that’s my cue to step out.
I found connection with the world around me, and that’s the very last thing that I expected. While the original fear of being stared at and going against the grain in Rome initially scared me, I’ve felt less like an outlier than I thought I would. Because I’m still part of a community, even when I’m halfway across the world.
Every day, people are running. They are running in Minnesota, and California, and Barcelona, and Paris. People are running in Hong Kong and in Sydney, and it doesn’t matter if they are running for a race or recreation – they are all running for a reason. And I am too.
In the past year, our country has been running for Boston, and the idea that we are all so much stronger than we ever could have imagined possible. In light of a tragedy, we’ve discovered that the obstacles we sometimes must face on the outside are no match for the perseverance and passion we carry with us on the inside. Runners are strong, runners are resilient, and runners are a community.
Metaphorically and not, there are always going to be places that are difficult to run: where going against the grain feels awkward, uncomfortable, and like there is little harm in not trying. But it’s how we all decide to go forward in those situations that define us.
And so, I started running in Rome.
Ciao, for now.