Sun, Champions, Friends, Smiles…and An Awful Lot Of Ks!

​By Francesco

After a hectic week of work, it’s time to share with you the wonderful experience I had in Tuscany for a 3-day running retreat in the fields surrounding Siena, more precisely on the gravel roads of San Rocco a Pilli. My wonderful wife had discovered this interesting initiative while I was in Strasbourg for work and sent me an email telling me that it could be fun to participate. The details were few and (antisocial as I am) I was sceptical in the beginning, but after mulling it over for a while and after sending some emails for clarification to the organisers, I decided to overcome my “fear” of other people and just go for it, even if in the end this meant being away from Chiara for a few days, since she had to work in Zurich over the same exact weekend. In hindsight, I must say that it was the right call and I really enjoyed my time in Tuscany, coming out from the weekend with useful insights and a wonderful experience “in the pocket”.

So, what am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about the possibility of training at the Tuscany Training Camp on the roads and trails where 3 Olympic medals were “built” with hard training and tough work-outs, besides running with some of the most promising athletes of the Ugandese and Burundian long distance running national team, as well as accompanying in training Anna Incerti, one of the best female Italian marathoners of all times. And boy, was it fun! Running is a wonderful activity, but its essence, its spirit lies in running with a group, making it a social event that can hardly be topped by something else. Nevertheless, in my life as a runner, I’ve always run solo: even in races I always had troubles running with a group and I’ve always been a frontrunner. So, I’ve really missed the company and fun that running with other people can give, with the exception of the running sessions with my wife, which I love and cherish.

Photo by Nicola Giovanelli

How did it work? Well, the “retreat” started on Friday evening on the 400m dirt-track built by the Ugandese coach in the fields surrounding the former aiport of Siena. This place is truly inspiring to run and do tough work-outs and, in addition to the 400m track, there is also a 1k cross-country track with sharp edges, jumps and small bumps where one can train for the winter season. When I arrived, the team was testing the performance of the Ugandese runners with a special metabolic analyser, a machine that (in simple words) measures all parameters of the “engine” of a runner. The tests were open also to us but unfortunately I first had to attend a medical check-up and couldn’t do it, but I was able to meet again with the others after their first run in the area.

Photo by Nicola Giovanelli

So, in the end, my real “retreat” started only the day after, when we ran a 34k long run with Anna Incerti and her husband, Stefano Scaini. In the end, we finished our effort in 2 hours and few minutes, starting with 18k easy followed by a 16k-fartlek: during the run we were accompanied by some of the Ugandese runners and it was nice to lay in the pack and “stroll” together on the quiet gravel roads in the woods and fields of San Rocco. The time flew by while chatting, joking and panting, something really different compared to the boring sessions that sometimes long runs turn out to be. The temperature and weather were perfect and I really enjoyed my time, putting in some really needed mileage if I want to run a marathon in December. The afternoon was devoted to resting, recovering, foam rolling, technique training, chatting and visiting Siena, which is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited.

After dining together, it was time to sleep and get ready for the last “easy” day of the retreat, when we put in 20k on an easy pace to clear the muscles from the toxins built up the day before. Once again, we explored the surroundings by taking a new path, this time a more hilly one, but my enjoyment of the run was still at top level, leading me to a full recovery both mentally and physically. After a quick session of stretching and foam rolling on the pool side and a lunch together, it was time for me to leave and catch a plane in Malpensa in order to get back to Brussels.

So, what do I take away from this experience? First of all, that I train like a real amateur (ultimately this is what I am) and that pro runners are pro for a reason. Obviously, they do not need to juggle their training sessions with work and other duties and therefore there is no need to squeeze out the quality from every minute of the workout. They pace themselves, they push themselves to the limit when there is a need to do it, when it is profitable to do so. Easy is easy and hard is hard. This leads to two main advantages: firstly, they train more efficiently and get to better results much faster, and secondly they can do amazing volumes of training with a lower risk of injury or burnout, something that leads them to still enjoy running even when basically it is the only thing they do: there is still joy in their running, and the atmosphere in the group is cheerful and healthy. Second of all, even pros can have a wonderful family life: seeing how Anna and Stefano spent their whole time outside training with their 4-year-old daughter was inspiring. It was like they got energy from her and her happiness, which tells and teaches a lot about the balance that even a pro running family can enjoy. Thirdly, I rediscovered running in a form that I had never considered before, the social and yet challenging form that pushes you to tie the shoes and take the first steps with a smile on your face, even when what you are about to do is difficult. This does not mean that in the past I was sad while running, but the feeling is just different, positively different. Then, there are all the wonderful people I’ve met during these days, Italians and foreigners alike. Sharing experiences and running tips and tricks is always useful, because it allows you to question your routines, which is really important in order to get better. And finally there is the location, a genuine paradise for runners and sporty people. The tracks and trails are many, the elevation gain can be there if you want it but there are still many flat places to do some mileage without getting bored. The cuisine is tasty and the places where to stay many. There are many hotels, b&bs and old houses (poderi) where one can relax and enjoy “la bella vita” and the sunny weather. So, to sum up, a wonderful experience that I hope can be organised again in the near future…this time accompanied by my wife!

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10 things to know if your date/partner/spouse is an interpreter

by an interpreter married to an interpreter (the one in booth n. 4 on your left)

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  1. The toothpaste rule

You’ll need two separate toothpaste tubes… to avoid quarrelling over who gets to keep the toothpaste: the one who leaves or the one who stays?

  1. Netflix/film/tv show night

Be prepared for endless comments about how crappy the subtitles are. And for compromises: at one point we have ended up watching a series in Swedish with Croatian subtitles.

  1. News talk

Accept that the conversation will mainly revolve around the news from the weirdest countries in the world (in our case, covering the whole spectrum of our combined languages: all the Nordic countries, the UK, the US, a good part of South America, Spain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Slovakia and of course Italy, inter alia)

  1. Lists of words everywhere

Don’t throw away that scrap of paper! And no, it doesn’t matter that it is the back of a receipt from the supermarket. We jot down notes on virtually anything, and we need those for our meeting.

  1. Whining

Our job is unpredictable, and tiring, and frustrating. With the notable exception of my husband, we as a bunch kind of like to complain. Don’t try to stop us. At one point we will get tired of all the whining and change subject.

  1. Suitcases

We come and we go. Do not expect us to unpack the moment we get home. After all, we’ll probably be leaving so soon that we don’t even need to unpack half the suitcase.

  1. Outlets

After spending our days like fish in an acquarium, we need outlets. Plenty of interpreters take up meditation, yoga, or pilates. We clearly need something more intense and like to sweat the stress out. Together my husband and I run 150 to 200 kilometres per week. Support your significant other and do not try to talk them out of exercising…

  1. Wandering eye

Although neither of us has it, we have noticed an impressive rate of wandering eyes among interpreters. I believe it is due to the act of listening and speaking at the same time, hence reflecting the split occurring in the brain.

  1. Forgetting things

We need to store an unconceivable amount of information in our brains in a very short amount of time. In order to keep functional, we also need to delete it as soon as possible. But together with all the names of chemicals, Syrian activists, scary diseases, gardening tools, pig breeds, varieties of aromatic plants, and god knows what, we forget birthdays and dates and names too. Be kind.

  1. Tip-top shape

Most of the interpreters I know are super fit. My theory is that we cannot afford to take up too much space in our tiny tiny booths…

In a nutcase: we have some weird traits, but we are also fit, super smart and usually dedicated, as it takes a lot of hard work to become (and stay!) an interpreter. In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen… marry an interpreter.

Reporting from my couch – recipe of the week

You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

 

Oh, Sunday. I had almost lost hope you would come. I am still waiting for my husband, but he is coming back tonight, so it’s all good.

Today I ran a 15k race in the morning, for which I didn’t have any expectation as I knew it was super hilly and it turned out to be muddy as well, and took it as a tempo run on a hilly course. I ended up in 15th position among all the women and in 7th for my age group. I spent my afternoon studying for my upcoming conferences for the next few days and watching the Chicago marathon at the same time, from my couch, with a steaming hot cup of tea with milk. I will be on the road again on Tuesday, because I have an assignment in Milan, but I will be back on Wednesday. It will be my last mission for a while. Travelling over the last two weeks really took a toll on me, and having this Sunday afternoon to spend at home was a much needed break.

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I went out to shop for groceries and couldn’t find half the stuff that I needed. Although that was frustrating, I ended up making a cake anyway. Here it is.

Ingredients

180 g flour

5 tbs butter

3 eggs

150 g sugar

lemon zest + lemon juice

salt

250 g ricotta cheese

16 g baking powder

a couple handfuls of blueberries

 

Preheat your oven at 180°C. Beat your butter and sugar together vigorously, add eggs and beat some more. Add ricotta cheese and lemon zest + lemon juice (a good squeeze), and beat slowly until well blended. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Mix everything until smooth and creamy. Add in blueberries, transfer to pan and bake for 50 mins to an hour. Let cool and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

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(… I wasn’t patient enough. The cake hasn’t yet cooled down but I have already had two slices).

P.S. First week over 70 km for me!

#SuckItUp

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.

SnapseedToday was not an easy day, and we were apart, but on these days one can only do their best and move on. And on those days, it is even more meaningful to have the right person(s) by your side. Thank you to my friend and colleague for getting me through this day and to my husband for supporting me even though he was thousands of miles from me.

Greetings from two very different places. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back and enjoy the view.

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Rainbow stir-fry

SnapseedI couldn’t let a week go by without a new recipe, even though I barely had any time to cook. I missed not being at home – and next week I will be away even more! – but today I immediately grabbed the opportunity to eat as many veggies as possible.

This may well be the easiest recipe ever for a great completely home-made stir-fry. I adapted it from http://www.superhealthykids.com

We got a colourful, healthy and nutritious post-workout meal and even managed to save and freeze one portion for the hard times (read: those times when I’m working abroad and Francesco needs some comfort food straight out of the freezer).

RECIPE

Wash and chop all of your vegetables. I used 1 head of broccoli, 1 red bell pepper, 3 medium carrots, 1 onion. Throw them into a pan with olive oil on medium for 5 mins, then cover them and let steam for 5 more mins.

In the meantime prepare the sauce. Half a cup of soy sauce, 1 generous teaspoon of honey and 3 teaspoons of grated ginger root: combine them in a small pan over medium heat, and add 1/4 cup of water where you will have mixed 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Stir until you like the texture, then put to the side. Take your chicken breasts, chop them up into bits, quickly dust with flour, and cook over medium heat. Add in a tablespoon or so of sauce. Add to the first pan together with udon noodles, stir in the sauce and finish cooking (4-5 mins). Enjoy the easiest and healthiest stir-fry ever!

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Work work work… and friendships, and love

SnapseedWhat a week! I worked non-stop from Monday to Saturday. Three different meetings in three days for the EU, and one more three-day meeting on the private market, this time in Montreux, Switzerland. I was not 100% sure I would be able to come out alive, but here I am to tell the tale! More than anything, this post is meant to celebrate friendship.

I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful friend who went to university in Geneva with me and with whom everything became easy, even working for a full day with an early start (7 AM!) after sleeping for no more than 3 hours. Giulia and I even managed to go for a run later that day and explore the beautiful lake-side at sunset. As always, we were two little chatterboxes! We had to catch up on so many things, even though we regularly talk to each other on Skype. We took our run easy enough to make sure we were able to talk non-stop all the way through our 9 kilometres… To be honest, I was happy we only ran around the lake, as it is the only flat part of Montreux (otherwise famous for a trail running festival… But as you might or might not know, uphill running is not my cup of tea).

When we went to university, all our teachers would tell us not many of us would end up working as interpreters. We know the Italian booth is particularly competitive and we were discouraged from the very beginning by everyone around us. And that only makes it so much more special, to get to work together and do our dream job. Getting to work together at a conference was our little victory over those doubters.

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We were joined by four young interpreters for the French and German booths: it was a pleasure to meet three new colleagues and to catch up with another former student of Geneva University. I had forgotten how expensive Switzerland can be, and it was a bit of a shock, but all in all Montreux treated us very well and provided me with some much needed peace with its placid lake surrounded by beautiful mountains.

It is now time to go back to Brussels – but just for little more than 24 hours, as Francesco and I are headed to Strasbourg for the plenary session of the European Parliament on Monday. Will try and catch up on sleep on the train(s) and plane(s)!

Crazy Friday nights… running in Schaerbeek

This week we set our sight on racing in yet another neighbourhood. Francesco ran the Schaerbeek 10k yesterday night, and guess what? He won! I played the supportive wife – loud cheering included, of course. I was bursting with proud as every time he passed in front of me he was leading: I know he likes to run in front, and it was lovely for him to win after leading the race from the first metre.

Considering the pitch black and the crazy course – which went into a school and the city hall, up the stairs, down the stairs, etc etc – his time was excellent. We stayed for the prize-giving ceremony even though it was soooooo late for us – we are usually in bed by 10 pm ;-P Another crazy Friday night is in the books…

SnapseedAnd this is what happens when he is so fast all you can see is the reflective part of his shoes. From behind!

Race recap by Francesco

Here comes my race recap… It was a nice race in the end, interesting, even though I’m glad that Chiara did not take part in it because I would have been sooooo worried otherwise (see “running in the dark” or “run up and down the stairs”). The start was not as messy as I feared it would be, despite the fact that after 300 meters there was a sharp turn to the left, and I decided to take the lead right from the beginning. Thank god I did so: when we got into the park (a couple of km after the start), it was pitch dark, no light whatsoever, and I just followed the red light of the bike right in front of me, trying to understand where to go. The road was also bendy, with a couple of sharp and slippery turns, and it was also quite hilly: I did not know the place and facing it in the dark was not easy, but I got out of it with 10″ on the following group (Chiara was there to cheer me on and keep me updated on the gaps). Then, we entered the neighbourhood and it was nice to run in its wide streets, even though the audience was a little bit silent and there where cars almost everywhere. The police was escorting us, so by honking and flashing their lights, they were able to make them move, but it was not so relaxing for me, since I had to run in all that mess. After a while, we got into the first building, a school: I crossed a gym, a couple of halls, one classroom (I think) and then got out in the street again…after a hill, several turns, another couple of hills and some downhills, it was time to pay a visit to the mayor: we entered the city hall, climbed a couple of flights of stairs and passed through the office of the mayor, who was standing there to give us a “high five”. I was so focused on where to go and avoid losing too much seconds on the others that I totally ignored him…I hope he did not get angry at me for that! Nevertheless, with the stairs and the turns in the offices and corridors, I almost lost the entire gap I had built and therefore I had to push also on the last few km to secure my first place. 

At the finish line, I was happy; it has been the first time after a while that I had the possibility to run a race as I like it (always in front, setting the pace and just trying to keep the others away with a good, steady pace) and it is always nice to win. All in all, I can recommend the race if you are looking for something different and you are not afraid of running in the dark or up and down the stairs: the organisers are really committed to the success of the event and the competition is good, as much as the atmosphere is friendly and easy-going. Schaerbeek is not so runner-friendly as far as the traffic is concerned (with the exception of the parks), so maybe the race can be a good excuse to run in the streets and discover them (and the buildings) in a particular way. Once again, Chiara and I had a nice experience, discovering a new place thanks to the Run in Brussels Challenge and our passion for running.

Here comes the link to an article published by a local newspaper: you can find some pics if you are interested in the event! DHnet article