A Trip to Italy (and maybe some runs) Part 6, Lucca and Me

The Walls of Lucca

Unguided trips come in three types: the free for all, the tightly run ship, and the flexi-schedule. We were on the flexi. John had planned a few excursions and made them pillars of the itinerary, but at the same time there were some days that were wide open for individual variation. Today, Tuesday, was open.

For most everyone, this meant a day to sleep in (wait, I thought they did that most every day) and hang out at the pool. While the pool part sounded okay to me, the sleep late thing just isn’t my scene. This morning was designed to do one thing: run the wall in Lucca.

The first fortification to protect Lucca was built by the Romans in 180 BC. That sucker lasted until 1118 when Lucca became a Comune (roughly translated: a municipality) and a second set was added. Two hundred years later as the city grew even more it was clear the walls would need to be expanded. As often happens in politics, however, the job didn’t get accomplished until much later with

The tunnel was cool and kinda spooky

construction beginning in 1504 creating what we see today.


The walls were, frankly, just kind of cool. It’s sort of a Roman testament to Robert Frost’s idea that “good fences make good neighbors.” Plus, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” right?

So the wall was my destiny. I had read that there was a trail on top of the wall that surrounded the city. You could walk, run, bike there and it was 5K (3.1 miles) in length. I imagined it to be awesome.

I decided to park outside the wall at a nearby soccer stadium. I chose this venue for three reasons: 1) it is right across the street from the wall, 2) easy to find upon completion of the run, 3) it was free (and with free came not having to navigate a Luccan parking payment machine). As you approach the city walls, it’s clear they were fairly serious about keeping

One of many alcove sculptures

folks out. The wall is maybe 12-15 feet high and extremely fortified. To enter you must go through tunnels. These two features made the wall pretty protective. You weren’t going over it easily AND the tunnels were designed to make it easy to “surprise” enemies on their way through. Now, I only went through the tunnel in one location, but it also had some pretty cool sculptures in some of the alcoves. I’m guessing they were not part of the 1500’s version.

My goal was simple: three laps at 3.1 miles and I would get in my longest run in a very long time, over 9 miles. My knee had been fairly cooperative on the trip and this would be a good test. From the get-go I sensed a bigger problem looming and that was the heat. It was 8:15 am and we were already pushing 29 degrees (85 Fahrenheit) and I had no plan for carrying water. Undaunted, I made my way to the trail. Here’s where things became somewhat different than what I had envisioned: the “trail” was wide, and I mean WIDE. It was easily wider than nearly every street I had driven in Italy, wider than the track in Rome. It was like running the road in Wash Park in Denver. And people were everywhere. 

All of a sudden, my vision changed. I was no longer running atop the Luccan walls, I was just another person doing laps on the “road” in the park. It was a tough pill to swallow. I thought it would be really cool, and now I had to consciously think about where I was running for it to be cool. As my mind’s master, however, I was barely able to hang onto threads of coolness.

The first lap was easy and uneventful until just before it was completed. It was then I noticed that this was NOT 3.1 miles, it was barely going to be two and a half. Now, I am really disappointed. Who are they trying to kid? My Garmin isn’t always right but it isn’t this wrong? Well, NOW how many laps do I have to do? (math, math, math, math….). Needless to say, I pressed on despite my total contempt for every person who had referred to this as a “5K trail.”

The “trail” on the Wall

Lap two was run in the same direction as lap one: counter-clockwise. I decided that I liked the familiarity of repeating, it might make the lap go more quickly and easily. Then I could change directions for lap three and finish the abominable partial lap four however I please. 

I was right, lap two was nice.

Lap three, however, brought about two issues. The first was that once again I was irritated by the many references to a lap being 5K (math, math, math). Second, it was getting hotter. Clearly over 30 degrees by now and oh yeah, there was that third thing: I was getting tired. Lap three, if the truth must be told, was long and slower (if that was even a possibility because I am SLOW). Maybe it was longer and slower because I was tired and hot ORRRRR…. maybe it was this clockwise direction where the road was measured to be 5K. Hmmmmm, conspiracy theory….. think about it.

Finishing lap three after 7.8 miles, I must trudge another 1.2 (still irritated about that). I decide to go out and back and track down what I had thought was a drinking fountain. YES! Found it! Doused my head, drank a bunch and finished the lying 1.2 miles without suffering heat collapse (small exaggeration). 9 miles in the books. Temp at finish: 34 degrees (just a little over 93). Total time: never mind.

In the end, it all came down to this: I ran 9 miles on the walls of Lucca. It was cool.

Now, bring on the pool.