42.2 my way

How does one describe a marathon?

The friendly, excited atmosphere that started on the metro already, total strangers from all over the world, all there for one and the same thing.

The unexpected kindness, people cheering, helping each other to carry on.

After 38 km, when I almost couldn't run anymore, this guy came up from behind and started talking. "Come on, let's run together for a while" he said, so we did.

After 39 km, when I almost couldn’t run anymore, this guy came up from behind and started talking. “Come on, let’s run together for a while” he said, so we did.

The pain.

The excitement.

The happiness.


I had been to Italy 5 times before, but this time was different. This time I went alone, just like the very first time, but this visit and the first visit had only that in common.

I didn’t fret. I didn’t count down. I didn’t plan obsessively. Heck, I hardly planned anything at all.


It was raining heavily when I came to the Colosseum on Sunday morning. By the time I was approaching the starting line, when the air around me was thick with excitement, when The Final Countdown was blasting from the speakers, just at the very minute the gun shot went off, the sun came out. 19,000 people reacted as one, laughing, clapping, rejoicing. Many cried. I had sent a The Face of Fear-selfie to my husband an hour earlier, but all fear was gone now. Crossing the starting line was surreal.


My first time in Italy, almost 8 years ago, was emotionally exhausting.

Coming to Italy this time was different. I came alone, and even though the major part of the weekend was spent with friends, I also spent time alone, went on the metro alone, dined alone. I had never been alone in Italy before, and I enjoyed it immensely. Being able to find my way around, talk to people… it was empowering. At the same time I didn’t feel like I was in a new place. I felt right at home. I saw my family everywhere, I walked the same streets we walked together last summer, and in so many ways I felt that I was in our city. All of this made me so happy.


The first half was easy. I went slowly, made sure to drink and refuel right from the start, walked at all the stations like I had decided, even when I didn’t feel like it. I smiled for the first 10k. I smiled even more when I ran past the 19k mark, knowing full well that I had already run farther than ever before. 20 was big. 21.1 surreal. 27 was TOUGH, but reaching the 30k mark felt pretty darn awesome and I had to stop and take a selfie. I smiled then, too.

It was around this time that it started to get physically painful – tired muscles and badly bruised and blistered feet hurt with every step, but somehow it hurt worse to walk than to run, so I ran, albeit slowly. My face developed a salt crust. My hair was heavy, wet and matted, feeling more like a wet dog’s tail whipping my shoulders than anything.

Running through Piazza Navona was fun. It was packed with people, and somehow Nicki managed to find me in the crowd. She took pictures and filmed with her camera, and even ran with me for a bit – a lovely distraction after 36 kilometers on my feet!


Nicki has written far more eloquently about marathon day than I ever could. She is a natural born storyteller, far better than I’ll ever be. Follow her blog, if you don’t already. It is one of the best out there, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend. I am very, very proud and happy that she is, though. That she came to Rome to spend the weekend with me, and that she even stood out in the rain for hours trying to find me among 19,000 other runners… that she ran with me, and that she was at the finish line calling out my name… for that, I have no words. 

On Friday night, six girls including me went out for dinner. We have all known each other for years, but I had only actually met two of them before. It didn’t matter. Nobody would have guessed it. We all know each other. We have all been friends for years. How lucky I am to go to another country and yet have so many friends to meet up with, go out with, laugh with. Friends that know me, include me, make me feel that I belong. How much that means to me is yet another thing for which I have no words. 


At about 40 km I apparently ran past the Spanish Steps. I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t see them.

The Face of Pain. I was so tired I didn't even see where I was.

The Face of Pain. I was so tired I didn’t even see where I was.

At that point I had tunnel vision, and my only focus was on the tables filled with water, Gatorade and fruit that I knew would be waiting soon after the 40k mark. I drank a whole bottle of Gatorade when I finally reached the station, and then… well, then I knew I was almost there.

Then I saw the Colosseum, and only a little further on I saw the finish line, and started sprinting. SPRINTING! I was still running at a ridiculously slow pace of course, but at least I ran faster than before – and faster than many others that I passed those last 100 m.

Crossing the finish line, I felt invincible.

I crossed the finish line smiling. How could I not?


I am so much calmer about Italy these days. Much like any long-term relationship, that initial desperate obsession and infatuation has developed into something deeper, bigger, stronger. I still need it, but I don’t cry on arrival anymore. Leaving doesn’t kill me. I have learned that I can come back. I do come back. Italy is part of me, part of my life, part of my family, and it doesn’t matter where we live. Life is not black or white, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t always have to choose. Sometimes you actually get to have it all.


Most people don’t start their running career with a marathon. No, they do a 5k race first, then a 10k, half marathon, 30k, then MAYBE, a couple of years in, they do a full marathon close to home. I am not most people. I never follow the mapped out route. I signed up for the marathon a year ago, at a time when I had never run farther than 10k – once, on a treadmill. Two months later I ran my first 5k in 20 years. Then I took the summer off from running altogether, started running again in fall, got shin splints at New Year’s, had to take it really slow again. I also bought a new salon three months before the marathon and was so busy getting that ready to open that I simply didn’t have the time to train. I kept going to the gym about 3 times a week, I ran a lot of tabatas on the treadmill, but I only did a handful of long runs outdoors, the longest 18.5 km.  Then I tackled a full marathon, just like that. Hello, deep end.

but to lose all my senses
that is just so typically me

I didn’t follow a training plan. I didn’t even run a lot. People kept telling me that I needed to have lots of miles in my legs. I ran for 20 seconds, rested 10, times 8, then focused on building strength where I would need it the most – glutes, hamstrings, core. My trainer made me do pistol squats, deadlifts, box jumps. I worked on my general fitness and strength, but didn’t run a lot. Then I set out to run 42.2 km – 26.2 miles. Every single person who knows anything about running told me it was insane.

For breakfast on marathon day,  I ate two custard-filled cornetti, a cappuccino and two bananas. Other people suggest oatmeal, but I figured that if my best run until that day had been after a McDonalds lunch, then cornetti alla crema would be perfect for a marathon.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
And through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way


 - That YOU of all people would run a marathon… said my dad.

- A marathon? Did YOU run a marathon?! said my grandma.

That I, of all people, would run a marathon, wasn’t really something anyone saw coming. Me least of all. And somehow that’s what makes this so grand. That I, of all people, actually did it. That I persevered, what with poor training and my history of always being the weakest, slowest, least athletic, sickliest little nerd of all. The odds were very much not in my favor, but I did it. I beat the odds and finished my first marathon in 5.01.27.

We really can do anything, if we only put our minds to it.

the gift of words

You should date a girl who reads.
Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

520e366ac6ba5dca6400001eDate a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

Rosemarie Urquico

Yesterday my husband gave me an early birthday present: A Letto e-reader.

I can’t think of a better gift for a girl who reads.


I think I may have had the wrong approach to this whole marathon business.

You know how I started going to the gym a year ago because I wasn’t comfortable with how I had gained weight, and how happy I was when I shed that fat and built muscle instead? How I started to run and found it to be so awesome that I decided to sign up for next year’s Rome marathon? Yeah, that.

I signed up for a marathon, and started reading up on how to best prepare for one. What stuck with me the most was that it is crucial to fuel your body properly to be able to train enough. It is very important to eat enough to have enough energy to run. Ok. Fine. I started eating more. Not that I was eating too little before, but hey, I had signed up for a goddamn marathon! I had to have enough energy!

Except that I didn’t follow up my new food regime with increased training. Oh no. Instead I came down with dead butt syndrome on my left side, shortly followed by ITBS on my right, after which I went on vacation and stopped working out altogether for two months. We went to Italy for three weeks and ate a ton of delicious food – which was fine, because we also walked a lot – and then we came home and I kept eating a ton of food.

So here I am, it is August and the marathon is seven months away. I have regained most of the weight I lost, I am once again uncomfortable with the way my clothes fit (or don’t), and I am not by any means in shape to run even 5k, much less a goddamn marathon.

But you know me. To paraphrase my current favorite howlinthecarwhenImdrivingalone song: I’m not broken, just bent, and I can learn to [run] again. 

I went to the gym yesterday. Today I walked to work, which takes about an hour. Tomorrow I will put my running shoes back on and see if my legs remember what to do. Next week, a dear friend and I are going to yoga class.

I will not go down without a fight. I still have my eyes set on that goddamn marathon.

I’m not broken, just bent.

(on travel)

vda.jpgYou read, dream, plan, save. You make itineraries, book tickets and rooms, buy oh-so-essential travel gadgets that you simply cannot be without.

You wait. Dream. Plan. Save. Read.

You wait some more.

You exchange money. You examine and stroke and smile at the foreign bills, their color, size, texture, different to what you are used to.

You buy new clothes. You wash, iron, fold. You count tops and underwear. You write lists. You take out, put back.

You put your suitcase in the middle of the room and open it. You look at the suitcase, at the piles of gadgets and carefully folded and counted clothes, shake your head, shed a tear, pour a glass of wine.

You print booking confirmations and timetables, check money and passports and phone chargers.

You shower. Try to sleep. Wake up ridiculously early and go over everything again, just to be safe.

Then you go.

And then you come back.

You come back, starry-eyed and tanned, senses overflowing with scents, sights, flavors, and sounds of faraway places. You have seen beauty beyond compare. You have become familiar with the term foodgasm. You have been dirty, sweaty, blistered, dead tired. You have philosophized on the beach, walked hand in hand, dressed up, kissed at sunset. You have smiled, giggled, laughed with your entire body. Kissed again.

You come back a new person, for how could you remain the same?

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
– Pat Conroy

You come back new, better, bigger, with fresh memories of faraway places. How could anything remain the same? But the same songs are still playing on the radio. People are still talking about the same things that they talked about before you left. Nothing has changed. Those weeks you were gone, filled with more beautiful memories than you can count, passed by unnoticed in your hometown. Are you back already? they ask. Already? You have been gone for a lifetime. I have no desire to travel, some say, and you can’t help but pity them. How sad, you think to yourself. If they only knew!

You come back, and your hometown feels small, old, far too far away from the real world.

Nothing has changed, yet nothing is the same.

Nothing has changed, but you.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
– Miriam Beard




“Good Morning,” said Deep Thought at last.
“Er..good morning, O Deep Thought” said Loonquawl nervously, “do you have…er, that is…”
“An Answer for you?” interrupted Deep Thought majestically. “Yes, I have.”

The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.

“There really is one?” breathed Phouchg.
“There really is one,” confirmed Deep Thought.
“To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and everything?”

Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.

“And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonsuawl.
“I am.”
“Now,” said Deep Thought.
They both licked their dry lips.
“Though I don’t think,” added Deep Thought. “that you’re going to like it.”
“Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. “We must know it! Now!”
“Now?” inquired Deep Thought.
“Yes! Now…”
“All right,” said the computer, and settled into silence again.

The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.

“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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