When I arrived in Praiano and saw the stairs, I assumed there was no way I would run while I was here. I was a serious cross country runner in high school and have run many different places on different terrain and in different conditions, but the stairs and winding roads still seemed too daunting.
One day during our first week at Casa L Orto, we decided to walk into Vettica (the town center) after a sweaty and exhausting morning weeding and stringing up tomatoes on the terraces. On our way back toward Casa L Orto we stopped at a trattoria to look at the menu. I felt so exhausted that I sat down on the cement against a railing. Somehow, in that moment of total exhaustion, I decided I should run back to the house to shake off the haze of heat and fatigue that was hanging over me.
To run from Vettica back to Casa L Orto requires running up what we call “the Vettica hill”—a hill that just keeps going up. It starts out steep and then it doesn’t flatten out until the top where it suddenly becomes a downhill. I ran up the hill—slowly—and was so happy to start going down the other side that I didn’t notice that there was a stretch of road where they had spread new cement. I ran right through. I left footprints that Jordan and Hallie saw as they walked by—wondering who had been silly enough to run through the wet cement. My plan had been to run straight back to the house, but instead I began running down the steps toward the beach at La Praia.
The route I took down to Praia feels a bit like a labyrinth—down 3 flights of stairs, sharp left, sharp right down another flight, sharp left, sharp right down another flight, left, more stairs, left, and then switchbacks down to the beach. Once on the pebbly beach at Praia I left my shoes on the stones and ran into the water.
When I was pleasingly cool again I got out, put my running shoes back on, and ran back up the labyrinth. I would run until I felt my legs couldn’t take it any longer and then I would walk up a few stairs, then run again.
After that first run I had to run every night. I extended and varied my runs a bit; sometimes I would run a long ways out the main road toward Amalfi before heading down to Praia, but my runs almost always ended with a swim at Praia and then the climb back up. I always ran late, beginning around 8 or 8:30 and so it was always dark by the time I got to Praia.
My favorite part of each run was turning the last corner on the cement path down to beach and seeing the water—completely clear under the lights from the restaurants. When I jumped in, I was in a magical pool—kissed with gold light on the surface and clear underneath. I would swim out a few strokes, but where the lights no longer shone it was dark and the water felt more foreboding. I would test myself to see how many strokes I could swim past the light before I got scared of getting stung by a jellyfish and turned around.
Sometimes I would float on my back and look up at the cliffs above Praia. As our friend Maurizio explained to me, for every beach along this stretch of coast there is a corresponding valley. When I looked up I didn’t see the valley—only the oval outline that the tops of the cliffs cut into the sky. With my ears in the water, all the sounds from the restaurants disappeared and I was suspended —suspended until the moment I took my head out of the water. Once I lifted my head out, all the noises, even the ones I hadn’t noticed before, came rushing in my ears: silver ware on plates, television broadcasters talking about soccer, glasses clinking, wine pouring, and children speaking in high pitched Italian. Then I would get out of the water and head back up the labyrinth.
When I reached the gate of Casa L Orto I would often see the same elderly woman out on her balcony, her tiny wrinkled frame bent over her railing. She would always great me with a smile, “Ciao bella.” Though clearly unsure why or where I had been running she was amused by me and my nightly routine.
A few days ago I noticed a slight pain in my left hip flexor. I had to miss my senior year cross country season because of a hip flexor injury and so as soon as I felt the pain I knew I had to take some time off from running, as much as I didn’t want to. For the past few days I have been resting my leg by training at the gym but there has been a missing piece in my days at Casa L Orto. After a few days of rest my leg is feeling better and tomorrow I think I will be able to go back to my nightly routine.