At the beginning of November I participated in a very hilly 20 kilometers race from a small Tuscan village called Abbadia ad Isola to the Cathedral's square of Siena (Italy). I ran on a very ancient and narrow dirt path known as the "Via Francigena". The path extends, on and off, from Northern France to Southern Italy. Its main claim to fame is that the Archbishop of Canterbury traveled on it at the turn of the first millennium and left a detailed written account of what he saw.
A lot of rain muddied the trail at the beginning of the race, but I managed to keep a fairly even footing at what felt like marathon effort. I ran conservatively mostly because I had no idea of how steep the hills ahead would be. It proved to be a wise strategy. The sun came out around mid-race and brightened the Tuscan countryside and my soul. The hills were emerald green and the harvested vineyards yellow. The cypresses looked black in contrast with the pale green color of the olive trees... Tuscany is my favorite region in the world. I'm often tempted to leave the gray North behind and settle there for good.
After the first hour I picked up my pace to a half-marathon effort and vowed not let anyone pass me from then on. I usually go out way too strong, die in the middle and resurrect toward the end so I seldom experience the thrill of running negative splits. This time I certainly would have if only the kilometers had been marked.
I entered the northern gate of Siena again under a heavy rain. Siena is a gorgeous medieval town that fills up with tourists twice every year for a traditional horse race known as the "Palio". The race itself is very short (three loops around the "Piazza del Campo", a largish central square), but it is worth seeing because of the great show of medieval folklore around it. I ran down the "Via di Città", a street that was paved for horses more than for human beings, successfully losing the runner who had been trying to catch up with me for the previous mile. I eased my pace a bit while skirting a group of foreign tourists all dressed in red. I made it by a whiff between two umbrellas. I passed Piazza del Campo and glanced at the bend where the Palio's jockeys whip their horses, each other and everything that moves and where I saw four horses fall down together at a Palio several years ago. I was tempted to leave the main course and end my race right there in the Palio's square, but I brushed off the thought and dutifully ran on up to the Piazza del Duomo with its gothic cathedral. I crossed the finish line still feeling strong, which means I probably ran too slowly.
This time I shared my "morning coffee" with many people instead of drinking it alone. Nothing unusual, actually: in the area of Italy where I'm from we sometimes drink our coffee mixed with grappa in even portions from a covered wooden bowl with many spouts. We call it the "grolla" or the "friendship cup". We take a long sip and pass it around the table so that everybody can have a sip. Everybody should drink from a different spout, but there are usually more people than spouts. Also, the bowl ends up going around the table several times until everybody is tipsy from the grappa and wired up from the coffee.
Which is more or less how I felt at the end of the race.
Giorgio Pogliano’s morning coffee doesn’t come in a cup, but he can still find it everywhere. Running each morning is his daily “coffee” – it gives him the surge of energy, something good to reflect upon during the day, and a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Just like the different types of coffee found around the world, Giorgio finds different surroundings as he runs.