Running a marathon is largely a solo challenge (to be clear, those blisters were very much mine), but I couldn’t have done it without my family’s support. I was overcome with excitement when I learned that a whopping nine people from my roster of family and friends had decided to travel with me to Rome, Italy, to enjoy the city and cheer me on.
I figured if all went well, I would be running for less than four hours, which would leave most of our time free to explore the city together. And fortunately, 99 percent of the work was done before I even set foot on the plane. All the long-distance training runs in all types of weather were over.
My body was prepared, and I felt confident in my training. Now, my job was simple: relax, enjoy the city, and keep my legs loose by going on a few short runs. And what better way to see Rome than on some easy runs through the city?
To be fair, I had to think about my body first. I couldn’t go on all-day adventures or stand pondering paintings for hours, but luckily, there’s plenty to do in Rome that doesn’t involve straining your legs.
So how do you rest, but still enjoy your international marathon trip, before the marathon itself? Rent a Vespa. Not only is it a blast to ride, but it’s far better for your body than being cooped up in a car. Zipping around the streets of Rome made me feel like I was part of the city, and experiencing Rome like a local is much more fulfilling than waiting in line for museums.
Everyone in my family had their own adventures, from exploring the grandeur of the Vatican to reconnecting with our Italian roots. We tasted the amazing local food, spoke the language, and left our stress behind. By race day, I was pleasantly relaxed.
However, on the morning of the race, nothing could have prepared me for the beauty around me. With the Colosseum as my backdrop, I could feel the sensation of being surrounded by such rich history. Hearing the thousands of fellow footsteps around me, anxiously scratching and tapping against the ancient ground, was a spectacularly communal feeling, a unique bond I instantly felt with complete strangers. I couldn’t help but play Hans Zimmer’s “Gladiator” soundtrack on my iPod to deepen the already-epic experience.
When the gun went off, I was completely immersed in this uniquely Roman moment, acutely aware of and extremely grateful for everything that had come together for me to be here — my health, my family, and my hard work. It was one of those life moments I knew I’d never forget.
The course was a circuit, which made it perfect for seeing my cheering squad. On normal point-to-point races like New York or Boston, you’re lucky to see your family and friends once. But on this course, I was able to see my family four timesthroughout the race, thanks to my brother’s sharp navigational skills and execution. Talk about adrenaline boosts. When reviewing my performance after the race, I could immediately identify the mile — err, kilometer — markers where I passed my family, with splits 10-15 seconds faster per kilometer each time I saw them.
I honestly can’t describe the feeling of seeing my family’s faces in the crowd or hearing their voices. Sure, there were other Americans in the race, but there was no bigger fan base than mine — no sign larger than my father’s, and no yell louder than my mother’s.
At the halfway mark, I passed the Vatican and it started to downpour.
Queue the music. This was truly epic; I can only compare it to a scene from a movie. I unclipped my iPhone from my armband and recorded a video. I never do that, but I just had to capture the moment. Roughly halfway through the marathon, it gave me the energy, confidence, and inspiration to pick up my pace and finish strong.
Not only was my family cheering me on from the sidelines, but I also had some help running. My uncle — who raced the New York City Marathon in 2011 — flew from Lyon, France, to Rome for the weekend and jumped in to run the last few miles with me as a surprise. Having his energy and camaraderie during the last stretch propelled me forward.
With my amazing support network backing me, I finished the 20th Rome Marathon in 3:34.13, 21 minutes faster than my marathon four months earlier in New York.
At the finish line, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I broke down in tears and found myself cheering, “We did it!” “We?” Yes, “we.” That’s what impulsively came out of my mouth, and it was the absolute truth. It was beautiful.
With my arms pumping up and down, I shared the moment with everybody who had come with me. It was never “I.” It was always “we.”
After picking up my medal and reuniting with my family and friends, there was only one way to celebrate finishing a marathon in Rome: with a heaping plate of homemade pasta at a local trattoria and a bottle of Chianti.
I ran this race for my legs, my health, my happiness, and the challenge, but I also learned that training, traveling, exploring, and achieving could bring my loved ones together. I will always remember the city and feel grateful for the experience. It gave me memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Now, when people ask for my advice on a great trip, my answer is simple: Run a marathon.
Article originally published by Runner's World.