Running During the Lockdown in Italy

From their balconies each day, Italians are collectively demonstrating solidarity during the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown: at noon with a heart-felt applause for health care workers, and again at 6 p.m. with a sing-along that features a different song each day.

This has become a sort of balcony block party in my apartment complex, where everyone lets loose in a liberating moment of responsible social togetherness, blasting music from speakers, banging on pots and pans, blowing a horn, greeting neighbors across the way, whatever it takes to make the day feel a little bit more normal.

Italian runners on the other hand, are anything but united, divided on the appropriate behavior to take during the lockdown and whether running is a valid reason to go outside, like shopping for food, or walking the dog, or simply a selfish act that puts others as well as themselves at risk for contracting the virus. Under the current decree, anyone who leaves their house for whatever reason is supposed to carry a “self-declaration” form prepared by the government, that states why you are leaving your house. Police are on the streets stopping people, asking why they’re out and liars face fines and jail time.

While running or going out for a walk or bike ride is not prohibited under the current law if it is done alone and not in a group, many, including other runners, are saying that those who want to go out for their daily run or workout should put their own pleasures aside and stay inside, a small sacrifice to make for the well-being of the country. The runners still getting in their miles have argued that there is no more risk of them running alone than the there is of the person who goes out to buy cigarettes or to the person who goes to the supermarket more than once in a day to buy food or a favorite snack.

Running in the time of COVID-19 is seen by many as frivolous even though the medical experts say that physical activity increases endorphins which help to reduce the stress that many are feeling now.

Before the nationwide lockdown went into effect on March 10, 2020, signs were already there that the running life we know and love it in Italy was about to change. At the end of February, the National Indoor Masters Championships scheduled to be held in Ancona, was abruptly canceled days before the start, followed by many road races including the famous Huwai Roma-Ostia Half Marathon scheduled for March 8, the race that Galen Rupp won in 59:47 in 2018. While tracks in Rome were still open, there was uncertainty as most races on the calendar were being annulled, until the lockdown went into effect and definitively suspended all sporting events - professional and amateur - and shut down gyms, pools and other places of congregation, including the parks of Rome, until further notice.

Runners who had been training all winter for indoor championships as well as for spring races, both on the track and off, suddenly found themselves without their goal race or other arena to test their fitness.

Marathon runners in the eternal city were only three weeks away from the start of the Run Rome Marathon, when it too got postponed to a later, as yet undecided date. The problem for these runners is finding another marathon as most European spring marathons have all been canceled or postponed as well.

Paola Tiselli (third photo), 46, an international level master’s runner, specializing in the 800 and 1500 meters and current Italian age-group record holder in the 1000 meters indoor (3:01:14), said that she had been training all winter for the Italian and European indoor championships, which have now both been canceled.

“I’ve returned to the preparation I was doing about two months ago to stretch out the (training) time”, said Tiselli on how she has had to reorganize her training in view of the fact that there are currently no races on the immediate calendar.

She’s added more strength training sessions to her usual routine of twice per week and has added longer hill repeats – up to 300 meters – as well as an occasional long run of 12/13 kms, interspersed with faster intervals, something that she had eliminated as she was focusing on the 800 meters for this indoor championships.

“In this period of emergency and with all of the races canceled, I’ve re-formulated my preparation with a goal of (maybe) the Italian Masters Relay Championships in July in Catania and the World Masters Athletics championships” at the end of July in Toronto, Canada. “So, let’s say that I’m practically back to a winter preparation”.

Anna Micheletti (second photo), 67, another age-group record-holder with numerous Italian and European titles from 100 meters to 400 meters, echoes Tiselli’s current training focus, adding that it’s not easy in the lockdown but it can be done.

“At home we’re (she and husband, sprinter Claudio Rapaccioni) trying to maintain the workouts. For us sprinters that means to maintain the strength in our legs, with exercises” adding that as a former middle-distance runner “if you don’t also maintain your resistance you won’t be able to run, in my case, a 400. It becomes impossible”.

Micheletti, President of Romatletica Footworks, the current Italians women’s masters team champions, is doing many of her workouts at home and on the grounds of her condominium and avoids contact with others as best as she can.

“We all have to try and do everything that we can to maintain the shape we’re in and we should keep up our activity, with respect for others,” she said referring to current running norms adding that “unfortunately this is something that we’re missing in our society”.

Rita del Pinto, the sprint and middle-distance coach of my team, Liberatletica, of which Tiselli is also a member, recommended her runners to follow a circuit training program that they can do either outside or in, depending on their circumstances.

“The sprinters repeat the program twice, while the middle-distance runners should repeat it three or four times” said del Pinto, who oversees the training of many of the top masters’ sprinters in the country.

For the moment, though, each runner must decide what the best way to stay in shape is for the races they hope to run when life in Italy returns to normal.

In the meantime, we’ll all put our different opinions to one side and enjoy the music from our balconies!

posted Tuesday March 17th
by Carla van Kampen (in Rome)