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Italy’s Straneo Aiming For The Podium In New York

The Italian mother of two makes her New York debut on Sunday.

The Italian mother of two makes her New York debut on Sunday.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — On Sunday, Italy’s Valeria Straneo will make her ING New York City Marathon debut, something the 37-year-old mother of two has been looking forward to since the race was canceled last year because of Hurricane Sandy. Coming off a 2:25:58 silver medal performance at the IAAF World Championships Marathon, Straneo is ready to hit the road running once again.

“New York is the marathon with a big ‘M.’ Everybody knows it and everybody would like to participate. I really feel proud to be here,” Straneo told Race Results Weekly here yesterday.

Sunday’s race through the city’s five boroughs will be Straneo’s first marathon since August’s IAAF World Championships, when she surprised many to finish second behind Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, the defending champion. After earning Italy’s only medal from the World Championships, Straneo returned home to a hero’s welcome. In an instant she had become a national celebrity and a running icon.

“People now recognize me. In my town everyone is so sweet and nice to me, making many signs,” a glowing Straneo said, giving a thumbs up.

In the weeks and months after the World Championships, Straneo was invited everywhere: she made appearances at dinners and parties, granted many television and radio interviews, and even was a guest at a fancy political gala.

“That was a really big evening — I was dressed in an elegant dress with heels. I don’t usually wear those kind of shoes. Running shoes only,” said the Nike-sponsored athlete with a laugh. “Everything is new. I liked to do these experiences.”

Though Straneo’s notoriety has grown, she remains grounded and focused on what really matters: family and training. She doesn’t own any makeup, doesn’t drink coffee or wine, and still does housekeeping duties at home.

“It’s nice [to be recognized]. But I always train with my coach, I have my children, things to do at home, housekeeping,” she said. “Nothing much has changed.”

Asked what her goal is for Sunday, Straneo answered without a moment’s hesitation.

“Podium,” she said in an affirmative tone. “But I know it would be very, very difficult. Who knows. I think to be first is impossible, to be second it’s really hard, and third place is affordable. I hope so. It would be — what can I say — the last thing of the year and it’s my goal. A dream.”

Since the World Championships, Straneo has trained with this weekend’s race in mind. Now on everyone’s radar, one would think Straneo would feel an added weight on her shoulders, trying to match her Moscow performance. The opposite is true.

“I don’t feel pressure. I feel comfortable. I have nothing to demonstrate, and so I’m just happy to be here and run this race which I always wished to run,” she said. “Last year it wasn’t possible. It was my dream to be here and now they invited me and I’m so happy to be here.”

Straneo doesn’t have a specific strategy for Sunday other than to run by feel, exactly what she did at the World Championships and at the 2012 London Olympics, when she finished eighth.

“I just run and feel my sensations and just keep going. If I feel good I keep on running,” she said. “If they start very fast I don’t think I will be there with the first [group] if they start at 3:20 per kilometer because it’s impossible because it’s not my pace.

“I have no strategy. It’s elementary,” she added with a laugh. “Just feeling.”

If she finishes on the podium, Straneo believes the reaction back home in Italy would match what happened after the World Championships.

“I think it would be like the Olympics or World Championships. The level is like that,” she said. “It’s so important to be on the podium here because it’s a really hard race. If you finish on the podium you are one of the best.”