What is a land based running cruise?

Now that is an oxymoron if I have ever heard one. I have talked about our trips with John Bingham and Jenny Hatfield many times. I have links to their website runningcruise.com all the time in my blogs. I devoted an entire blog entry called, how not to go overboard on a cruise ship.

We started going on their ” running cruises”, several years ago. Our first trip with them was The Alaska cruise and they still do that one each year around July. That was a very memorable trip and we have been hooked ever since.

We have been on their Caribbean cruise 4 times and this is our second trip to Florence. This one is land based and will go into more detail as the trip unfolds over the next 7 days. We have also done two river cruises with them. The first was along the Danube where we started in Budapest and finished in Germany.

Mariah was touring Europe at the time so she joined us. The second one was last year called the Southern France cruise which went up the Rein river starting in Marseilles and finishing in Lyon by water with a land based extension in Paris. That trip was epic and that is the same description Catherine gave to Antarctic.

I have written about all of our trips with them over the years and this will be the second time I will devote the entire blog entry to this trip with them. They have limited this trip to the first 50 who signed up so you can say this is mostly an alumni trip. The last Caribbean there were over 250 of us and the usual trip size is about 150.

Some folks arrived a few days early and I am sure many will hang around after the week is up since it is quite a haul to get here. We have a Facebook group set up for this trip to it is a great way to see what everyone is doing and or missing out on.

This is our 9th trip with them but there are many others that have 10 or more trips with them. Ernst has the most trips with 16. We are going to Hawaii for a cruise with them Sept 2018 and there are rumors of a new destination in 2019 but I have been sworn to secrecy, “Island”.

The cruise concept is that every time the ship stops the local running group puts together an 5k or 10 k ish race for us. They have different ways of picking the winners and I will go into that a bit later for this particular trip. This being land based so instead we will be using a bus to take us to different parts of the Tuscany region of Italy hence the name Marathon di Tuscany or MDT for short.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. What does Marathon have to do with 5 and 10k races. Well back in the day when this idea was first hatched it was thought why not have several races over the course of the week that would cover a marathon or half marathon distance. That is where Marathon expeditions started.

In some cases that is easier said than done. In Alaska it was easy peasy since they ran a sanctioned half marathon during that cruise in Juneau. Not so easy in the Caribbean due to the heat so not many get in 26.2 miles anymore.

Since I am now fully recovered from my surgery two weeks ago Catherine and I are planning on getting in a many miles as possible. She has decided to finish up the last 5 states to get all 50 in so we have two planned this November so we really need to get serious. I am ten behind her but only going to do halves to complete all 50. We have run at least a half in 23 different countries so far, so I am good letting her get another leg up on me. The other one being her fastest marathon time is 8 minutes faster than my fastest and if you have not noticed. I am not getting any faster.

We got here a day before the official start of this Adventure but all we managed to do was wait 90 minutes for our room, not sleep longer than an hour, shower and have dinner with Ernst. We should be fully rested and ready for a nice slow shake out run this morning.

Some in the early arrival group are meeting up at 7am but no way for us. Since we are on the road all the time sometimes we just do our own thing. I am sure there will be plenty of coordinated activities this week so no big deal.

We finally got out around noon and walked back to where all the tourist are and near the hotel we stayed at the last two times we were here. It never gets old and it was nice to get a good long walk in.

Where we stayed in 2011

Never gets old

After stopping by the local store to pick up supplies, wink wink, we were back in time for the welcome reception. This is what delicious treats they had to offer.

Pizza margarita or ham, potatoes Torelli with gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and crispy bacon, slice of beef with rocket salad and grana cheese, pecorino with honey, octopus with potatoes, carbine with pistachio, mousse of cod with tomatoes, tiramisu, wine, coffee and soft drink.

With our bellies now full and spent some time catching up with folks we had not seen in years or were just on the last trip in the Caribbean it was time to try once again to get adjusted to the new time zone. For some strange reason it is taking longer and much harder than it usually does.

We had a choice for a 4K, once around or 8K twice around the Lucca wall. This area became famous for us the last time we were here back in 2011, when 3 ladies ended up on the opposite side of the wall when it came time for us to meet up for the bus ride back to the hotel. When then named them the lost in Lucca girls for the rest of the trip.

The way we found them still astounds me since Face Book was in its infancy back then but they had posted they were in fact lost and someone on the bus went to their pages and found out where they were.

Since I had not run in about a month I decided to take the two laps slow but it did feel good to once again fill my lungs with fresh air but my legs did in fact feel like the were 100 pounds each. Catherine and I were not last but the couple who also crossed the finish hand in hand one that stage of the race since they were within seconds of their predicted time. We were only 1 minute slower than I had predicted which was not bad for the first time out in a while.


Not bad after a month off

Each of the stages along the way have winners and each of them receive a yellow hat. Similar to the Tour de France with the difference being you don’t have to give them back if you don’t win the next stage.

Lucca is a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region. Catherine and I mostly ran along its renowned Renaissance walls, the broad, tree-lined pathways along the tops of these massive 16th and 17th-century ramparts that encircle its historic city center and its cobblestone streets.

After the run/walk we were given a private guided tour of Lucca, where we discovered the living testimony to past times, kingdoms and dominions which lies in a green valley just northwest of Florence. This almost perfectly preserved jewel of medieval architecture and buildings, emanates charm and shows layers of history from every corner of its narrow winding streets. No visit to Tuscany would be complete without seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

This is where the curse of the Lucca girls rose their ugly heads. Our instructions where to meet at the gate of Pisa but someone, who will remain nameless, Jenni, thought we were to meet back at the bus. To make matters more interesting after the reunite at the gate a few took a much longer route, got lost, on the way back to the bus.


Last time we were here in 2015

The next morning we once again opted for the 10K versus the 5K run event in the beautiful Parco Delle Cascine, a monumental and historical park in the city of Florence, along the Arno river. They were having an outdoor market along about 1/2 mile portion of the route so as time went on we had to navigate without running over some of the local bargain seekers, four times.

After the run/walk, Elisabetta, our tour guide, took us on a walking tour of Florence. That evening we tried our hand at becoming famous Italian Pizza Makers with a Tuscan Cooking Class and dinner. My role was wine distribution and it did look like everyone had a great time. We learned the secret of making the perfect pizza from scratch and sampled local wines.

The winners for this stage were the fastest man and women for each the 5 and 10K. Finally, Brit Tony, was able to get his yellow hat for the 10K. He has come so close in the past and actually lost the last time because he did not take the shortest route in France.

It really surprised me how out of shape I got in a month. I was getting my wind back but my legs still have not gotten with the program. It might have to do with the fact that we have been doing a lot of walking while here. So much to see and so little time. Even though this was our third time here the sights never get old.

Some of the empties

Catherine looks cold

Finally Brit Tony won

Rumor has it that we overachieved when it came to wine consumption. Remember I was in charge of wine distribution so I must have done a fantastic job.

Off we go the next day for the infamous amazing race. A 60 minute, (Tony rule), has been applied due to our affinity for using that race as a pub crawl which have been known to last much longer than 60 minutes. I really like the new format and Catherine and I did a 60 minute run together while everyone else did their best to find all the places on the map.  The winner for this stage had to get the most number of points without coming in a second late.

Others teamed up and run/walk a 60-minute Amazing Race through the medieval city of Siena. Afterwards, we took a guided tour of the many sites that make Siena one of the most visited cities in Italy. We had time to explore this magnificent city on your own. Later that afternoon, we where treated to visit to the village of Monteriggioni. In 1099 the village was fortified with city walls and later, it was constituted as a Commune.

We have put in a lot of miles so far and Catherine and I welcomed a day off. As I have mentioned many times when you are on the road all the time so we really do enjoy a well deserved day off no matter where we might be.

For us it a great opportunity to recharge and after only 3 weeks since my surgery I really needed the opportunity to sleep in and of course do our laundry. There was a great self-service laundry only blocks from the hotel.

We also used the time to go by the train station to pick up our tickets to Venice on Sunday. Surprise, Surprise we were also able to find a Irish Pub near the station and of course we had check out their wares.

Creamy Kilkenny is the best

The next day we were to hike along the scenic and famous Cinque Terre, a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colorful houses and ancient vineyards cling to steep terraces. The hiking trails offer glorious views of this unspoiled stretch of the Italian Riviera.

Unfortunately the route that we had planned on hiking was closed due to the rain the hit the area a few days prior to our arrival. Instead John and Jenny were able to adjust our schedule on the fly and the area that we ended up hiking was fantastic.

During our 1 hr 45- 2 hr to Val D’Orcia area and Montalcino we took a short stop at Monteriggioni half way down in the Siena area, a lovely fortified hamlet. In Val D’Orcia we met our professional Italian trekking guides just outside of Montalcino to begin the trek. We arrived S. Antimo by foot from the road near Montalcino Distance 9km 2-3hrs.

The characteristics of the trek was unpaved roads mostly on the flat with some downhill ish, very panoramic Crossing the little medieval villages of Villa A Tolli and entering into forest trails with a view of the Abbey of St Antimo, visit the beautiful Abbey.

Perfect fit

We took a lunch break. trattorias : `mixed antipasto’s/ fresh homemade pasta with ragu or fresh tomato sauce , homemade desert all accompanied with the local wine produced by the restaurant owners. Coffee and water. The meat was wild boar and it was plentiful.

They are plentiful in the region and if you rub the nose of this one it is good luck

Photobomber Dawn

On our way home we stopped at Bagno Vignoni to visit the hamlet and its antique sulphar baths in the middle of the hamlet and the Roman ruins. Drive threw The Unesco world heritage site of the Val D’Orcia and see Pienza on the top of the hill as we made our way back to Florence.

The next day we had one more morning to walk through the Cascine, walk along the Arno River, or find your favorite cafe for a cappuccino or espresso or arrange a tour. In the evening we gathered and celebrated our week together with a traditional Italian lunch featuring three kinds of pastas, antipasto, salad, dessert, wine tasting, and we received our finisher’s medal!

Some did a morning run/walk up to the Michelangelo statue. Catherine and I have been there several times before so we opted to do a 5 mile run along the Arno river.
My legs and lungs were now starting to respond better and the outdoor market was not set up so no dodging and weaving was not necessary.

View from the Statue back down towards Florence


I thought they said rum

The restaurant that held the cooking class let up back for the awards ceremony and the night was kicked off with a champagne toast. John and Jenny selected some special awards and they ended up giving me another yellow hat for the come back award. It brought tears to my eyes and was overjoyed to once again achieve my goal to participate during this trip so soon after my surgery.

Once again John and Jenny hit this trip out of the park.  The bus rides were a bit long but there was so much to see so it was well worth it.  We all got our medals and all told Catherine and I put in over 50 miles if you factor in all the sightseeing along the way.  So we ended up crushing the marathon milestone.

Wine bottle stopper, Duh

Many headed back home but once again we slept in for our 1:15pm train to Venice. After two nights there we are to get on a Windstar two-week cruise down the coast of Croatia to Athens Greece with my sister, Gwen and sister-in-law, Joan.

We leave them there as the cruise takes us back up through Sicily up the west coast of Italy to Rome. From there we take a train to Lake Como for a wedding of my niece, Anna. Catherine and I continue on to Milan for a few days and Amsterdam for a week.

We cap off this 53 day trip in Madagascar where we will run a half Marathon with marathontours.com. I think I should be ready since that race is still a month off. We went for a 5 mile run today and I felt great. We stopped for a picture at the end to send to one of dear marathonexpeditions.com friend Thomas (Tom) Campbell Farnam, who had just recently lost his lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. #walkingTom was used to moralize him as many had done this week.


A little shopping before the cruise

Our home for the next two weeks

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