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A dawn run in Florence, The FT Magazine

‘…down the shuttered Via della Vigna Nuova and into the Piazza Della Repubblica’s deserted canyon.’

The Westin Excelsior stands on Florence’s Piazza Ognissanti, the River Arno on one side, Botticelli’s tomb in the Chiesa di San Salvatore on the other, and in the basement, a gym. Not finding gyms a tonic, I ignored it. But after a greedy wedding party week something was needed.

The something was a small map next to my complimentary bedside chocolate. It showed two runs through Florence, 5km and 8km, chosen by Runner’s World magazine. I drew the 8km route on to a bigger map (the original one was too small to read while running on the spot, lost) and set off at 6.45am on a Saturday.

Florence was chilly but fantastically empty. Along the narrow Via Ognissanti on skinny Florentine pavements, over the carless crossroads of Piazza Goldoni, down the shuttered Via della Vigna Nuova and into the Piazza Della Repubblica’s deserted canyon.

The flat streets made a good speed simple. The emptiness gave time to glimpse the city without falling over: the grimily gorgeous Duomo cathedral; green and white Santa Croce church sedate behind its Piazza. Ha, this was easy!

But then I crossed the Arno. Four hairpin bends staggered uphill. ‘Running’, I breathed like an asthmatic cart horse. Then the top, the open Piazzale Michelangelo and ecstasy after agony: Florence, laid out at dawn, the Duomo a liner ploughing through a terracotta sea, village lights on the slopes beyond.

A pleasing jog down hillside steps then a longer, almost rural uphill run. The narrow Via di Belvedere, between the old, biscotti-brown city wall and fields, rose straight up. No moderating bends, just gradient. But at the peak, under Forte di Belvedere’s walls, the pink-skied panorama again.

The run down, past waking houses bedded into the slope, came out near the Ponte Vecchio. Keeping to the Arno’s quieter south side, and energized by no hills, I crossed the Ponte alla Carraia and attempted a sprint to the Westin. Wary of sweating all over the elegant lobby, I caught my breath outside: a run to pump the heart and lift the soul.

14 January 2006

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