Run 125 : Italy – Salò

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 15th October, 2017

Time :  1h 03’20”

Total distance run to date : 1250 km

Run map and details :

Media : Giornale di Brescia

It was the second day at college and Caroline turned to me and said, “You should meet Nic. You’ll like him, he’s Italian.”

I’ve never known quite why she said that – perhaps because she had us both down as foreigners, a long way from our safe European homes*. (I lived in Geneva at the time and Nic lived in Padenghe sul Garda ; college was in the UK and full of a strange rugby playing tribe.)

Whatever the reason, she was right. Nic and I met shortly afterwards and we’ve been the closest of friends ever since. Through the hard times and the good*.

We bonded over music – particularly The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers – and our obsessive love of sport – particularly football and skiing. An obsession that eventually led to us creating Greatest Sporting Nation – the annual ranking of the world’s best sporting nations (based on results from 1250 events across 176 different tournaments and 83 different sports). Highly recommended if you have any interest in sports and statistics.

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Nic and I weren’t the only members of the college international brigade. Our numbers also included Josh, an American, who subsequently spent most of his post-college years globetrotting on behalf of the IMF. (Eagle-eyed readers may recall Josh from the Run the World India blog – at the time he was a special adviser to the Indian government and my host for a 12 hour visit to Delhi.) And Daud, a Pakistani who similarly globetrotted on behalf of the FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation).

The four of us hadn’t all met up together since an eventful week staying with Daud in Rome, [redacted] years ago. The Italian connection prompted me to drop Josh and Daud a line, mostly in jest, suggesting that they joined Nic and me in northern Italy for the Italian leg of Run the World. To our mutual astonishment, we all managed to overcome the various logistical hurdles and meet up in Brescia on the eve of the run for a memorable reunion dinner.

Now, over the years, and largely thanks to the hospitality of Nic, Gabri (who hosted the reunion dinner – thank you!)  and their families, I’ve got to know Italy and kind of fallen in love with the place.

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However, even an Italophile such as myself would admit that not everything always runs smoothly in Italy. Of course, that’s also true of many other countries (including the UK) but Italy has its own unique approach to life.

For example, there have, I believe, been 65 different governments since WWII. And more turbulence, scandals and crises than the long suffering locals probably care to remember: ranging from Berlusconi’s bunga bunga sex parties to the Brigate Rosse’s 1978 kidnapping and subsequent murder of Aldo Moro (former Prime Minster and leader of the Christian Democracy party).

But much, if not all of this, is in the past and, as the hordes of tourists will testify, none of it really matters when you’re a visitor. (Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world after France, the US, Spain and China and just above the UK.)

Italy has 53 World heritage sites – the most in the world – and the most beautiful city in the world – Venice (below). And countless other cities, including Florence and Rome, that would be in many people’s Top Ten. (Rough Guide polled its Twitter and Facebook followers and Rome was voted the most beautiful city in the world, with Florence second and Venice only 7th. But what do they know?)

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Italy also has fabulous mountains, beaches, lakes, islands and landscapes. Plus great food, an endless supply of history and culture, an inimitable sense of style, Romanzo Criminale and, the odd mafioso and Venetian aside (tourists can be so tiresome..), friendly people.

And it’s one of only two countries in the world to boast both top class skiing resorts and football clubs that have won the European Cup / Champions League. (The other one being France – but only if you count Marseille’s victory in 1993). Admittedly, this isn’t a generally recognised criterion of a great country – but it should be.

Anyway, that’s enough about my Italian love affair. Time to get back to the story.

Feeling a little the worse for wear after the night before, the four of us came out to Salò, on the Lake Garda shoreline*.

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Historians amongst you may recognise Salò as the de facto capital of the Republic of Salò – Mussolini’s second and final incarnation of the Italian fascist state. The reason we were there was because the lovely Camilla (Nic’s sister) and her husband, Stefano, live there.

Stefano is a businessman and politician – and one of Salò’s leading lights. He’s also a runner (below).

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And he’d been good enough to arrange some local PR (Giornale di Brescia below) and for me to run with the Salò Runners.

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We all met at the Stadio Lina Turina (picture at the top of the blog) and sauntered once around the track before the more prudent members of the group – possibly including one or two people I’ve known since college – took a ‘well-deserved’ break and segued into a cheerleading role. The rest of us jogged the short journey down to Lake Garda.

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It’s hard for an amateur wordsmith such as myself to describe how exquisite it was. Ophelia was battering the western reaches of the British Isles, which apparently sucked up all of Europe’s bad weather and meant that Italy was bathed in glorious sunshine. The skies were a spectacular blue ; the surrounding mountains tumbled down to the lake cloaked in a soft green ; and the yacht sails created triangles of white all over the lake. Salò – a tourist hot spot – was looking its best and the promenades were full of happy people.

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The run, led by Max the Rock, went straight into my top 5 most beautiful runs to date – right up there with Rio and Madagascar. We ran around the lake, back through the town and round the lake some more – with frequent photo stops to try to capture the surrounding beauty. Including one in the local pasticceria which just happens to be run by a friend of the Salò Runners.

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We had something of sprint finish as Josh and Daud suddenly rejoined the run, at pace, with 400m to go. Max the Rock and I tried to catch them…

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…but to no avail.

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As they later pointed out, it’s not where you start, or even the journey you go on, that counts. Its where you finish.

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It only remains for me to say grazie mille to Nic, Stefano, Josh, Daud, Camilla, Gabri, Max the Rock, Francesco (paparazzo extraordinaire), Dave the Double, Angelo, Georgia, Vasco, Diego, Silvia, Claudia, Roberto, Mauro, Fabiano and Said.

And thank you for listening to my ‘3 Things You Can Do To Combat Cancer’ speech (translated by Nic) and for your very generous support of Cancer Research. (We raised the best part of 1000 Euros on the day.)

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I hope you’ll join me in London on July 4th 2020 for the UK leg of Run the World!

*Semi-obligatory (for these blogs) obscure musical reference.

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Italy is a unitary parliamentary republic in Europe. Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. Due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With around 61 million inhabitants it is the fourth most populous EU member state.

The Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom, which eventually became a republic that conquered and assimilated other nearby civilisations. Ultimately the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean basin, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the leading cultural, political and religious centre of Western civilisation. The legacy of the Roman Empire is widespread and can be observed in the global distribution of civilian lawrepublican governments, Christianity and the Latin script.

During the Early Middle Ages Italy suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitous barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking, laying down the groundwork for modern capitalism. These mostly independent statelets, acting as Europe’s main spice trade hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy and wealth in comparison to the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe at the time, though much of central Italy remained under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of ByzantineArabNorman and Spanish conquests of the region.

The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanismscienceexploration and art. Italian culture flourished at this time, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths such as Leonardo da VinciGalileoMichelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers such as Marco PoloChristopher ColumbusAmerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery.

By the mid-19th century, a rising movement in support of Italian nationalism and independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval known as the Risorgimento, which sought the formation of a unified nation-state. After various unsuccessful attempts, the Italian Wars of Independence, the Expedition of the Thousand and the Capture of Rome resulted in the eventual unification of the country, now a great power after centuries of foreign domination and political division. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the new Kingdom of Italy rapidly industrialised, although mainly in the north, and acquired a colonial empire, while the south remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading the way to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in 1922. The subsequent participation in World War II on the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and an Italian civil war. Following the liberation of Italy and the rise of the resistance, the country abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, enjoyed a prolonged economic boom and, despite periods of sociopolitical turmoil (e.g. Anni di piomboMani pulite, the Second Mafia War, the Maxi Trial and subsequent assassinations of anti-mafia officials), became a major advanced economy.

Today Italy has the third largest nominal GDP in the Eurozone and the eighth largest in the world. As an advanced economy the country also has the sixth worldwide national wealth and it is ranked third for its central bank gold reserve. Italy has a very high level of human development and it is sixth in the world for life expectancy. As a reflection of its cultural wealth, Italy is home to 53 World Heritage Sites, the most in the world, and is the fifth most visited country.

The kidnapping of Aldo Moro (ItalianRapimento di Aldo Moro, also referred as Caso Moro) was a seminal event in Italian political history.

On the morning of 16 March 1978, the day on which the new cabinet led by Giulio Andreotti was supposed to have undergone a confidence vote in the Italian Parliament, the car of Aldo Moro, former prime minister and then president of Christian Democracy (Italian: Democrazia Cristiana, or DC, Italy’s relative majority party at the time), was assaulted by a group of Red Brigades (Italian: Brigate Rosse, or BR) terrorists in Via Fani in Rome. Firing automatic weapons, the terrorists killed Moro’s bodyguards, (two Carabinieri in Moro’s car and three policemen in the following car) and kidnapped him.

On 9 May 1978 Moro’s body was found in the trunk of a Renault 4 in Via Caetani after 55 days of imprisonment, during which Moro was submitted to a political trial by the so-called “people’s court” set up by the Brigate Rosse and the Italian government was asked for an exchange of prisoners.

Bunga bunga is a phrase of uncertain origin and various meanings. By 2010 the phrase had gained popularity in Italy and the international press to refer to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s sex parties, which caused a major political scandal in Italy.

It was allegedly taught to Silvio Berlusconi by Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was also the unwitting originator of the phrase Zenga Zenga.

The Italian Social Republic, informally known as the Republic of Salò, was created during the latter part of World War II, existing from the beginning of German occupation of Italy in September 1943 until the surrender of German troops in Italy in April 1945.

The Italian Social Republic was the second and last incarnation of the Italian Fascist state and was led by Duce Benito Mussolini and his reformed anti-monarchist Republican Fascist Party which tried to modernise and revise fascist doctrine into a more moderate and sophisticated direction. The state declared Rome its capital, but was de facto centered on Salò (hence its colloquial name), a small town on Lake Garda, near Brescia, where Mussolini and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were headquartered. The Italian Social Republic exercised nominal sovereignty in Northern and Central Italy, but was largely dependent on German troops to maintain control.

Around 25 April 1945, Mussolini’s republic came to an end. In Italy, this day is known as Liberation Day (festa della liberazione). On this day a general partisan uprising, alongside the efforts of Allied forces during their final offensive in Italy, managed to oust the Germans from Italy almost entirely. At the point of its demise, the Italian Social Republic had existed for slightly more than nineteen months. On 27 April, partisans caught Mussolini, his mistress (Clara Petacci), several RSI ministers and several other Italian Fascists while they were attempting to flee. On 28 April, the partisans shot Mussolini and most of the other captives.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Italy – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $1.85 tn    2016      $1.14 tn   2000

Population                                   60.6 m      2016      56.9 m      2000

Primary school enrolment*     101%        2015      103%        2000

CO2 Emissions                            5.27           2014      7.91          2000

% below poverty line***           NA                           NA

Life expectancy at birth            83.5 yrs    2015      79.8 yrs   2000

GNI per capita                             $31590     2016      $21820     2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

** Metric tons per capita

***The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Italy performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 10th

Per Capita Cup – 33rd

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive annual ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce an annual per capita ranking.


About Run the World

I'm running 10 km in every country in the world - a total of 205 countries - by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I'm doing the Run the World challenge to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity and to raise money for cancer research following the death of my mother from cancer. If you'd like to donate to Cancer Research - - then I know they'd be very grateful.
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