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I feel most myself when I'm training for a race. I thrive on a workout schedule and look forward to long runs that clear my mind. So when I planned a solo trip to Italy that fell just over three weeks before my upcoming race, the Boston Marathon, my first thought (aside from I can't wait to eat gelato twice a day) was how long will my run be? Paging through my calendar, my heart dropped when I saw it: 24 miles. (Related: 26.2 Mistakes I Made During My First Marathon)
I was immediately anxious. My longest run of marathon training was looming, and it was happening on the one weekend while I was abroad. Scary? Understatement. But having come out on the other side, finishing the run in just over 3:36:00, I can say without a doubt I'm better for going outside my comfort zone and tackling this one across the pond. (Speaking of running abroad, check out these women breaking barriers to run in India.)
Here are my seven biggest takeaways from hammering out a long training run in a foreign country:
1. Pack the essentials.
Running long means you need a lot more items than your typical 4- or 5-miler. I had to prep for the long run over a week in advance while packing my suitcase, making sure to load up on must-haves like CLIF energy gel, anti-chafing spray, sweat-wicking socks, go-to distance sneakers … the list goes on. Just like I would lay my gear out the night before a race, I placed my running necessities alongside everything I was stuffing in that suitcase to make sure I didn't miss a thing. When your usual running specialty store isn't down the block (also: you're not surrounded by people speaking your same language), being prepared means a lot less anxiety.
2. Get feedback from locals.
On my first couple days in Florence, I would go out running and felt as if the locals looked at me like I was insane. I couldn't believe that no one else in the city was the running type. Determined to find out where the real runners pounded pavement, I asked the hotel concierge at the Four Seasons Florence for some tips about where people get their stride in. To my excitement, I discovered that there's a large park where a huge chunk of the annual Florence Marathon takes place, similar in shape and design to Central Park in New York City. Clutch, because outside of the park much of the city's streets are uneven.
3. Plan a full route.
With the new intel from my Four Seasons friend and Google, I was able to map out a majority of my route, including distance totals. Before I even put on my sneakers that morning, I had a general idea of a loop that would keep me in very public, safe areas. The mission: Do the 12-or-so-mile loop twice, and then I'd complete the run.
4. Activate your GPS.
I wanted to disconnect, but on a run, you need to think about safety first. With an app called Maps.Me, I was able to use GPS even without data, should I end up off the planned route or a tad lost. It was an extra security blanket of sorts that made me feel confident I could handle any wrong turns.
5. Think about your water situation.
Unlike back home, I didn't know exactly where I would bump into public water fountains—or if they even had them. So I found two stores along my route, before even leaving the apartment, that I could stop in to snag a bottle of water. I remembered to bring along some euros for said hydration (also: ID and a credit card, just in case).
6. Unplug, if only for a little.
This was something that was very different for me than my typical weekend long run. I'm big on listening to podcasts and music while I log miles. I knew that at some point over the course of the 24 miles, I would dig into that. But for the first half, I committed to running sans earbuds.
Not only did being more alert help me get a better lay of the land, but it was also so enlightening to hear the sounds of the city around me at different points. At mile three, a pack of 12-or-so runners sprinted by me, and I could only imagine that their conversations mimicked ones I might be having with my friends. At mile 12, I ran by a jazz band playing on a street corner and couldn't help but smile.
7. Running is a universal language.
Where I live in New York, you don't see a whole lot of runners waving at each other. But in Italy, I was reminded of my suburban Connecticut upbringing—nearly every runner who passed another would exchange a wave and say "ciao!" By the second mile, I was exchanging runner waves with everyone I passed, which made my long run abroad all the more special. One I'll remember forever.