Press Room

When in Rome, run

Anna Smith

January 6, 2007

WE'RE doing what?" My boyfriend had put down his flip-flops and looked more than a little perplexed. With his holiday wardrobe strewn across the bed, I had apparently disturbed his packing momentum. "Sightjogging," I replied, hoping my nonchalance would convince him this is a perfectly normal, plausible holiday activity.

"I don't even know what that means, but something tells me I'm not going to like it," he said.

Some people argue that holidays are a time of rest: exceptional opportunities to abdicate domestic and professional responsibility, they should be cherished as a time for doing absolutely nothing. My boyfriend is one of these people - and from the furrow in his brow, it seems he's not for turning. Others view holidays as a chance to invigorate their exhausted selves. A time to rid the body of its sluggish lethargy: a window for taking full advantage of not being chained to a desk. I am one of these people, and therefore jumped at the chance to sample one of Rome's latest tours.

Sightjogging is a beautifully simple concept - in the mind of anyone up for exercise. A variation on the "walking tour" theme, it has all the requisite features of a tourist favourite - a well-informed, cheerful guide who knows all the important sights and how to reach them - the only difference being that this time you jog. Before your visit, you contact the co-ordinators in Rome and tell them how long you normally like to run for, which sights you're particularly interested in, and where you are in the fitness stakes. On the appointed day a jogging rep arrives at your designated hotel and takes you on a personalised running tour of the city. Fortunately, you don't need a partner, so on our second day in the Italian capital I left the lazier member of our party behind and met my running guide, Julia. The company gets full marks for both its organisation and health precautions - I was immediately fitted with a heart-rate monitor to ensure we didn't go dangerously over my fitness level - apparently my optimum peak pulse rate is 160 beats per minute. And then we were off. The Spanish Steps were the obvious choice for our first point of interest, given my hotel was around 200 metres up the road from the cherished landmark. A nice easy jog saw us arrive there in approximately 30 seconds. After a couple of circles of the nearby fountain - mustn't let your heartbeat drop - we were up to speed again, dashing through the back streets. It quickly became apparent that the Romans like joggers. Or rather, that Roman men like female joggers. If you do fancy following in my quickened footsteps, be warned: you will be watched, and the Italian men evidently have no shame in sharing their suggestive proposals. But ignoring the audience, Julia and I carried on to the Piazza di Popolo and down to the banks of the Tiber. Our route saw us rush past innumerable magnificent town houses and I was duly filled in on their history as we passed. From medieval family feuds to Vatican appointments, there was so much fascinating information to absorb that I soon forgot to breathe - and yet despite her running commentary, Julia jogged on energetically.

The lovely thing about sightjogging - and presumably the reason it has proven so popular - is that you almost forget the fact you're exercising at all. By the time we reached the Tiber, we had been running for over half an hour, at which point I would normally have to concentrate on kicking in my reserves. But with statues, churches and glorious architecture to take my mind off the pain, I felt that I could go on for hours yet. The Tiber, incidentally, used to be a central attraction filled with bathing Romans looking to escape the summer heat. These days, it is a murky, inhospitable flow you would be advised to avoid, but still there is a romance about an urban waterway, which remains as enticing as ever. Running over the Ponte Margherita in the sunshine, it was difficult not to feel captivated by this city. On the other side of the river lies a wealth of historical sights including the imposing court house, Palazzo di Giustizia, and the Castel Sant Angelo, a riverside castle connected to the Vatican via secret underground tunnels. "The castle was designed to protect threatened Popes, allowing them to escape an attack on the Vatican and enjoy refuge in the military bastion," explained Julia.

What she didn't know, of course, was that I am in fact an expert in the conspiratorial workings of medieval Italian leaders. I've read The Da Vinci Code. And seen the film. On we went to the Vatican, where we hit the hordes of tourists already queuing for entry. At 10am there was a line snaking around the entire Piazza San Pietro, and halfway back round again. We ran around the square in front of St Peter's - the magnitude and grandeur of which is breathtaking. By now, the temperature was rising and my energy levels had begun to sag. A quick check of the heart-rate monitor showed that my pulse had risen to 180 - above the recommended maximum - and although I assured her my heart rate is naturally rather high, Julia decided it was probably best for us to call it a morning. "You don't look dead, but better not to push it," she laughed. A fly past Piazza Navona and the Pantheon and we were back at my hotel. Despite the sweaty mess which greeted my slovenly boyfriend when we arrived there, the hour-long tour was certainly the most enjoyable run I had taken in a long while. And note to interested parties: flying solo at the start of your holiday is certainly the way to go. Then, on top of the health and fitness benefits you will get the smug pleasure of acting as the local expert for the rest of the holiday. Priceless.