Published in July/August 2007 issue of "Marathon & Beyond"

The Last Shall Be . . . Nearly Last.

We entered the craggy, southern Italian hills, where the towns are built on impossible cliffs and the chitarra pasta is cut with wires. My husband, Luciano, and I had driven 400 miles south from our home in the Veneto to Abruzzo, the Wyoming of Italy, to run in one of the few trail marathons in Italy, an ecomaratona. This region sits between northern and southern Italy, a border state straddling two worlds. To the north, a cold resentful Milan hums with a productive bustle. In the south, Rome and Naples sit back on their heels in their own happy squalor and, according to northerners, wait complacently for the north to sustain them. Abruzzo is so wild, so isolated, that it is geographically able to rise above it all, literally.

Luciano planned to run the classic marathon, starting at an elevation of 2,900 feet, straight up a mountainside. I was, to celebrate my birthday, going for the baby run-a measly 13K. I'm a veteran of hundreds of rolling, sea level 6K to 10K races, but this one would be the longest and highest of my trail-running career, and I was secretly petrified.

We drove past villages perched on rocks hundreds of feet above a narrow gorge, the stone houses clinging to the cliffs like gray crabs on a boulder. Luciano commented that the bricklayers who placed the foundations must have been medieval acrobats, working with ropes and pulleys, swinging above the dizzying precipices. With the opportunity to plummet to their death only inches from the front door, we imagined that nocturnal trips to the outside loo might have been a death-defying adventure-and an easy explanation for any occasional disappearance.

Continued in July/August 2007 issue of
"Marathon & Beyond"