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Swimrun Bologna

A statue in the nearby town – we needed strength like this!

When I saw that there was an Ötillö merit race in Italy, I knew I wanted to go! Having spent years learning Italian I like to grab my chances to visit a place where I can ask questions and successfully interpret menus!

It was near Bologna and after an hour’s drive we turned into a particularly steep drive and arrived at our B&B. The lady who greeted us didn’t speak English so I was straight into my best attempts at Italian whilst Izzy followed and smiled! We were in the perfect place – a whole apartment complete with mini kitchen, terrace and cake for breakfast and just 20 minutes walk from the race HQ (or longer by the scenic woodland trail).

We had a couple of days to explore and try out the water. The most dramatic event was a snake slithering over Izzy’s legs as we innocently looked at the view from a pavement …

 

We didn’t need this wrapping itself round Izzy’s legs pre-race..

Registration and logistics were as simple as can be. A cheap swim hat, a nice t-shirt that wasn’t white or black and which actually fitted (right priorities!), our number written on our arm and leg. No timing chip, no bib, no compulsory kit! It was HOT so we didn’t even need a wetsuit and the race course zig-zagged around a fairly compact area which I guess made it easier to marshal and provide safety cover.

On race morning we both felt a bit sick. I put it down to nerves and once we actually got started I was fine. We agreed to stay off the tow for the first run in the mêlée, straight up and down a hill. Izzy set a good pace and we were soon at the first swim. I wasn’t sure where to go but followed others and enjoyed the feeling of cool water on my skin.

The first climb

Next run was up and down again (a much repeated pattern!). Izzy seemed to find this leg harder and after some previous experiences, I was anxious not to tow too hard on the downhills. Into another swim and now we faced the longest leg of about 7km. It went uphill more than expected, then into an extended downhill on a mixture of wide tracks and winding woodland trails.

The further we went, the slower we seemed to go. I was getting frustrated but did not say anything. As another female pair ran past us, Izzy slipped and when she was up, took the tow off. I could tell by the way she did it that there was no arguing. However, after this we started going at a much better pace, catching the girls back up as we got to the longest swim.

An early transition

We had clear instructions here: aim for the church high on the hill, then you’ll see a blue iron pier, aim for that, then the landing is just to the left. Off we went, I could see the church, then the pier. The closer we got, I kept looking for a flag to the left and could see something green I hoped was a marshal vest. We were with two other pairs and a kayaker came over and seemed to be trying to tell us something. I paused and looked around – darn, the green thing was a tent, there was a buoy and a flag way over to our left! I abruptly changed course and we landed.

The next run was a short 1.5km along the shoreline and it reminded me a bit of the trails we’d had so much fun on in Spain. I wasn’t sure if Izzy wanted the tow on or off as we seemed to be making tentative progress. I was wondering whether to ask when the girls overtook us again. At that moment, Izzy crashed to the ground, tripping on a tree root.

When you realise you’ve aimed for the wrong thing

She cried out that her wrist hurt and was thoroughly miserable sitting on the floor. A couple walking asked if she’d fallen and looked a bit bemused at us. I was assessing the damage. Izzy was still putting weight through both hands so I decided the wrist couldn’t be broken and probably the best thing to do was get the tow off and wait and see what happened next. She got up and started moving. We made it to the lake and hooked back on. I told her if she couldn’t use her arm then to be as streamlined as possible! I wasn’t sure if I could tow a one-armed swimmer, but I’d give it a go! As it was, she had been able to modify her stroke slightly so it didn’t hurt too much and I didn’t notice any difference from normal.

Out the other side and I knew racing bets were off. I took the tow off to allow Izzy to go at her own pace without pressure from me. We were over halfway through but had the long run to do in reverse, up and up the hill through the woods. We walked and sometimes jogged and walked some more. I went through many emotions and thoughts in my head but mostly said nothing.

Swimmers crossing the lake

Eventually we came out onto the road and we knew the climb was nearly done. I gave Izzy some encouragement for toughing it out and knew we’d finish now. I even attempted a few ‘jokes’ to lighten the mood 😀 . It was about here she told me she’d been feeling super sick since the first swim. We pondered why: too much caffeine or cake at breakfast? Not used to the tap water? Something we swallowed in our test lake swim? The ice cream? Snake shock?! We didn’t really come to a concrete conclusion but kept plugging away.

Now we repeated some early parts of the course and finally just had the first run to do in reverse. We came down the hill and into the finish, had our time recorded and stopped. We were second female pairs, but there hadn’t been a lot of competition and looking at the time of the winners (who we’d been with at halfway) it was clear that our travails had cost us at least 20 minutes.

However, we had avoided a DNF and had persevered. And now we just had to bag a sun lounger and investigate the post race food! Two kinds of pasta, loads of cake with lemons to squeeze over, beer, soft drinks, sun, shade, chat from other racers … It was a great atmosphere!

Full results here. This race is really good value for money, simple and fantastic to race without any need for a wetsuit 🙂 Even though the weather was hot, the frequent swims keep you cool and there is a lot of tree cover. The Italians seem to come out in force in their matching club strips, so there is a lot of buzz about the place. The t-shirt and post race food were excellent and we got some fun prizes. I’d like to come back and fly round the course! Recommended!

This couple were delightful and kept trying to persuade us to race in Italy again …

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Abbiamo fatto le vacanze in Sicilia!

{We went on holiday to Sicily!}

It’s been two … now five (!) … weeks since we got back from Italy, but I am still excited about our holiday there. I’m not feeling ‘as if I never went away’!

Part of my excitement was due to the fact that I hadn’t been abroad or on a plane for about 4 years before this trip. I had chosen something both Andy and I would enjoy: a hiking trip on some of the volcanoes in Sicily.

This was an organised tour, so we didn’t have to worry about too much, other than making sure we got on the right plane at the right time 🙂 .

I am not naturally very brave with strangers, but I wanted to try out some of my Italian on holiday so I could experience talking with people other than my classmates and teacher! I decided to start the holiday as I would go on, and marched into the Hilton at Euston to ask if we could leave our bags as we were staying at Hilton Gatwick that evening. It worked! So we were free in London for a few hours, which was the one bit of holiday planning I left to Andy. This meant we ended up going for good coffee on Store Street, visiting a photography gallery and having an excellent meal at Mildred’s.

The rest of the journey to Sicily was uneventful. Once we got there, highlights included:

Walking up Vulcano and hearing and smelling sulphur steam huffing from the yellowed rocks. Did you know Vulcano is the original volcano? Named after Vulcan the god of fire, all other volcanoes are mere imitations.

Sulphur fumaroles on Vulcano

Sulphur fumaroles on Vulcano

Swimming in super clear seas (only warm enough for 20 minutes at a time though!) including a fun trip from the beach to our boat. This garnered much admiration from our holiday pals, who were easier to impress than our triathlon pals 🙂

Clear seas from above on one of our walks

Clear seas from above on one of our walks

Snorkelling for the first time. Saw all sorts of fish, a few jellyfish, a possible seahorse, luminous orange things on the rocks, spiny anemones and big sluggy things. No, I am not a marine biologist!

Speaking Italian: translating menus, ordering food, checking veggie status, translating snorkelling instructions, chatting with a random shopkeeper about Scottish whisky and even Making a Phone Call to a restaurant.

Seeing the lava flows on Etna that looked like industrial wasteland. The trip up Etna got rather more ‘exciting’ than planned. One misstep would have seen us sliding off the edge of a cliff and into an enormous caldera. Luckily we survived to tell the tale 😀 .

The 'lower' slopes of Etna

The ‘lower’ slopes of Etna

Making new friends.

A group shot of most of us on Etna

A group shot of most of us on Etna

The scents that hung in the air as we brushed past spring herbs and flowers in bloom.

Flowers

Flowers

Food highlights included cake for breakfast, ice cream, Colomba cake, pistachio pesto, hot chocolate you eat with a spoon and the paccheri alla norma on our last night.

Andy was also happy taking in the views, discovering a new-found interest in geology and putting his camera to good use. He also seemed to become a bit of a group joker … most of the time! (Just don’t ask about Etna).

I had a relaxing time whilst still staying active. Because it was a group tour, there was always someone to chat to and people to go with in smaller groups during free time.

One of the biggest things for me was the confidence I found in speaking to people in Italian. I wasn’t saying anything too complex or probably any more difficult than last time I was there, but the intervening years of study meant I could handle situations better. Only once or twice did I fail to understand what people were saying to me, and I still coped!

I’ve come back enthused about returning and plotting future trips 🙂 .

Here’s a few pics, courtesy of Andy and Anna.

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