After all, the ‘half marathon’ is certainly not a distance that I’ve regularly run,or concentrated on at all, and so its not been something I’ve particularly pondered over. But then again, as it turns out, this little half marathon story thread is all linked into the story of Babacino and Mauri, and so, in a way it is no surprise that it’s a surprise. And for that reason, I would say it’s worth writing down the story!
On Sunday morning, just gone, at about 8:15 in the morning, our little family: Me, Mauri, Babacino and Tata (and in spirit: Raul, Signora Maria and Franci!) – headed off on our little jaunt for the day, as we do. Wheels and Feet, Feet and Wheels. Stai Attento! Camera’s at the ready! Annnnnd, all together now:
C'era una volta un piccolo naviglio
che non sapeva non sapeva navigar e dopo una, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette settimane e dopo una, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette settimane e dopo una, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette settimane il piccolo naviglio incominciava a navigar
cu issu e senza issu
cu issu e senza issu
Avanti u peri cu issu
It was the day of the Palermo Marathon and Half Marathon, the 17th of November 2013 and the 19th edition.
Maratona di Palermo 2013 The races start and finish at the Palermo Athletics track, which is right at the foot of Monte Pellegrino, where you can find the ancient pilgrim’s path leading up to the beautiful Church of the Saint Roselia (built into the mountain) Santa Roselia is the Patron Saint of Palermo and much loved by Palermonites.
[Monte Pellegrino and the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia] We had already visited the stadium the day before, on a little jaunt to the expo and to collect my race number. And also the other fun bit, the collection of the ‘pacco gara’ which directly translated means ‘person race’. But what it is, is (usually) a bag containing, various goodies like chocolate bars, maybe some pasta, a drink, and some other little suprises from sponsors of the race, or even locally made produce and of course very often a t’shirt to commemorate the race. In Italy, it is very exciting getting the ‘pacco gara’ as you never know what you will find! I think it is a bit like when you are a child and you get buy a lucky packet from the sweet shop, all excited to see what you get. The Palermo Marathon and Half Marathon certainly lived up to the reputation of the ‘pacco gara’ of Italy!
Back to Sunday: It wasn’t long before we were warmly greeted (especially Babacino!) by many of the running fraternity who know Mauri from so many years of running and taking photographs and writing about everything to do with running and the human spirit. Likewise the stadium was a buzz of excitement. Bouncing and jogging runners meeting runners; families with kids (of course, this IS Italy!) and music; the smell of coffee, warm weather; bright colours, all of the things I’ve come to love about Italian running events. But this was my first real true Sicilian Italian running event AND in Palermo our home town.
When Babacino was still a Beetle, before he got born, Mauri and me used to talk about a lot of things to do with the Beetle child Babacino, like how we’d take Babacino to Villa Sperlinga, and do some running around the park, taking turns and being close to Babacino at all times. For me, this would be my gentle re-entry into running. In real life, it soon became a cherished little family ritual. I think the first few times I ran 3 or 4 laps of the park and then step by step we built up our distance as Babacino grew and grew.
Somehow out of that the idea of running the Palermo Half Marathon emerged, but with the very distinct caveat, that ‘we’d see how Babacino was on the day’, and decide to run or not to run. Babacino needs his food and lots of hugs first and foremost. But on the day, Babacino was right on form and running was on the menu! And so, with special thanks to Mauri, the running of the half marathon came true and Babacino got his first real life medal and he got to cruise around with a press pass and his Papi, taking pictures of all the runners starting and finishing, and no doubt interviewing a few!
And this made me think, it is indeed a good thing to have dreams and to talk about them, that way, they are more likely to come true! I think Babacino must have a huge amount of dreams in him, because the dreams about Babacino, even the ones that are still pictures and not even words yet, just seem to come true. Bravo Babacino Bravo!!
My first half marathon was when I was in school, in Johannesburg South Africa. Johannesburg, also known as: Jozi, Joburg, Joni, eGoli or Joeys, and JHB! As I recall, I managed to catch a much coveted lift from my (most idealised by me!) big brother. In my memory, that was probably one of my hardest races ever. Up until then, running was just putting on some shoes, and running, being free and going where ever my feet took me. Of course that was also long before the days of Garmins and GPSs where we had the 'luxury' depending on how you look at it of being able to analyse everything about running. Johannesburg is about 1800 meters above sea level, it’s dry and hot. The race was fairly rural, taking in some out of town potted roads with lots of dry red sand on either side blowing up in plumes like smoke, every time a car drove past. I’m not sure how much I walked or ran, all I know is that I finished, I think I got a packet of iwisa (maize meal eaten in South Africa), some toothpaste and some mens deodorant at the finish, and I was hooked on ‘long distance running’ from that day on. Little did I know that running and that taste of ‘long distance’ would take me on quite some journey around the world
Forward again to Palermo 2013. I admit to having felt a bit nervous before this half marathon. It was to be my first race (apart from a little taster of a few kms in Villabate a few weeks ago) since Babacino got born, a little less than 5 months ago. Since then, I haven’t run more than 12km’s at a time. Nor have I been away from Babacino more than the time it takes to run 12kms! Luckily I knew that Babacino would be ok with Mauri, who was fully armed with passagino, baby carrying sling, banana and mashing implements, ‘choocho’,toys and hats!
The start of the race was right on the athletics track on the side where the spectator stands are. This meant families could be near by, and there was as usual a lot of animated banter, along with music and announcements and talking over the loud speaker. I had wanted to wait until literally when the gun went off before going to the start, but Mauri sent me off, and off he and Babacino went taking pictures of the start and the runners and I went to soak up the atmosphere of being in the midst of the runners of my first Palermo Sicilian race. What really strikes me about Sicily and of course this was totally prevalent at the race, was how proud the Sicilians are of their country and the Palermonites of Palermo. Most runners were dressed in their brightly coloured club gear or else in t-shirts from local or Italian races and this seems to emanate a real feeling of celebration.
There was a bit of a delay in the start of the race, but with glorious weather of about 23 or 24 degrees C, it just meant a slight continuation of the enjoyment and anticipation before the gun and the start. I found myself thinking about the last half marathon I had run, which was also the last race I ran before Babacino was born! That was the Richmond Half Marathon, in London, on the 31st of March 2012, when I was precisely 6 months pregnant with Babacino. At the time, I guessed it would be my last race, and it was quite a moment for me, because having run most of my life, I knew I was entering into a new phase and wasn't sure when I would be in a position to run again, especially as this was my first baby. Also it would be my last race of running with Babacino so close and so attached to me. I really enjoyed my running when I was pregnant and often wondered whether all the running would be going into my little boys feet making him a runner before he even got born! And so, little did I know at the time, that I had just added another Half Marathon to the Half Marathon Story!
At about 09:30 the race finally started and off we went out of the stadium into the road heading for Della Liberta, and the first long stretch into the Old Town of Palermo. Feeling quite fresh and quite relaxed with no time to aim for at all, in fact I had forgotten to even put on my Garmin, I immediately settled into the race at an very manageable pace, enjoying the sites and saying goodbye, for a little while, to Monte Pelegrino. By now all nerves were gone, although it was still rather strange not to have Babacino in my arms or in the next room with Mauri.
Fortunately all the roads had been blocked to cars, so it was easy pleasurable running in that sense. In Italian road races, there is a rule that stipulates water stations at least every 5km’s, which was perfect for a warm day. In true Italian style, the people manning the tables were as friendly and convivial as ever.
There were also plenty of spectators especially given that the race went through some really beautiful historical sites within Palermo. We were even fortunate enough to run through Palazzo Abatellis (also known as Palazzo Patella) which is actually a palace, located in the Kalsa quarter of Palermo. It is home to the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, the Gallery of Art for the Sicilian region. Mauri took e to visit this gallery on my first visit to Sicilly, so it was wonderful to run through it with the lovely Sunday morning sunlight bouncing off the ancient stones we were running over.
Of the other sites, I found myself wishing I had a slightly better memory so that I could recall more of the history and information about the rest of the sites that I recognised and which Mauri had told me about whilst on our little jaunts. There is something wonderful about walking anywhere with Mauri. He either knows the entire history of a place including how it got it’s name and how that was derived from Greek or Latin or the Normans or the Byzatines etc, Otherwise, if it’s somewhere he hasnt visited before, he generally has a pretty good idea of what it is all about just because of the vast travelling library in his brain which he carries around with him. I think it is also a common trait of runners that they are explorers and love to travel to new places and experience the essence of a place by foot.
Palermo is definitely a most beautiful city full of surprises. I am always struck by how you can arrive at an 11th or 12th century building, with almost no (signed or visual) announcement or introduction. In England such an ancient site would probably have ropes around it preventing anyone from going too near and you’d almost certainly have to pay an entrance fee. But here in Palermo these buildings are dotted around the city, often in the most unexpected places, eg right next to a derelict building, or a very modern building or just next to an ice cream shop. In a way, they almost feel MORE authentic because you can imagine that they probably haven't changed much for 100s of years, and the experience is definitely a visceral one, if you allow yourself to feel! You can even touch the stone walls and stand as near to them as you like! Perhaps a bit like how Stone Henge used to be before they built designated pathways around the stones and installed ropes so that not only can you not go near the stones, but their view is obscured by these crowd controlling ropes as well as spotlights to make them more ‘visible’
The race snaked around some of these beautiful sites in the old city with the route backtracking on the same roads, so that, in this part of the race, you could almost continually see runners coming towards you and away from you. Again, this definitely facilitated more joviality and animation amongst the runners, and that part of the race wizzed by.Before I knew it, we were already on the road headed back to the stadium. There was Monte Pelegrino again, and it felt comforting to be running along it’s side, watching the sunshine warming the majestic rocks.
By this stage, I was suprised to be still feeling quite ok, not at all needing to walk and managing to keep a steady pace. Although looking at the Marathon markers, I did think to myself that a marathon at this stage would require walking and I dont think I am ready to be away from Babacino for that long, yet. I focused on enjoying the last bit of my Half Marathon.
The week before, we had happened to be at a press conference held in a beautiful building and surrounding gardens, just near to the Chinese Palace.We’d had a lovely walk through the gardens and the palace grounds, again a fascinating little gem of Palermo.Here you can see some information and photo's about the press conference: Supercoppa Italiana 2013 WheelChair Basket. Press conference This is one of the many amazing things Tata is involved in, in Palermo.
Mauri had said the gardens would be part of the race route so I knew we still had this to do before heading back into the stadium. Once again, I found myself trying to remember all the bits of information Mauri had told me about these places, and thinking how lucky I am to be able to walk around and enjoy these places with both Babacino and Mauri and then, a few days later to be able to run along the exact same paths. What could be better!
Finally, I headed for the finish, and the Half Marathon Story was saved into my heart, waiting to be written. Excited to find Mauri and Babacino and Tata again, off I went in search of our little family, and I found them! I gave Babacino his medal and a BIG hug and Mauri too, and ciao to Tata, and then we had the rest of our family day!
And Babacino is now officially italian and english at the same time! Guarda!