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Student Snapshot

Luca Sanwald is in his 7th semester of Medical studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). He is from Italy, and has a long history of running marathons in various countries. Luca would have participated in the Rimi Riga Marathon, which was to have taken place this week (16-17 May), but has now been postponed until further notice. Here he gives an insight into how social distancing has affected his training, his studies, and his family back in Italy.

Tell us about running marathons - when did you start, and what's your preferred distance?

Marathons have never been my only priority. I actually started as a swimmer back in Italy and started participating in triathlons. My first experience was when I was 12. My father, who has been passionate about triathlons for the past 30 years, convinced me to try. Triathlon is an Olympic discipline that consists of swimming, cycling and running. Before I started studying at RSU, running had never been my favourite discipline out of the three. My focus shifted towards running because I had less time available for training due to my studies. I like long distances in general, but my favourite distance is probably the half marathon (21,1 km). My goal this year would have been to run the half marathon in the under-1h 20min group at the Riga Marathon.


Luca and his father at the 2019 Rimi Riga Marathon

How many times have you run the Riga Marathon?

I've run the Riga marathon twice, in 2019 and 2018. My father joined me both times, but I could not let him win. There is definitely some competition between us, but he has no chance!

How are you training while self-isolating?

Because of the situation in Italy, I considered the possibility of a similar scenario regarding the spread of COVID-19 in Latvia quite early on. This convinced me to buy a stationary spinning bike which would allow me to maintain my physical fitness as much as possible even if I had to spend weeks in isolation. Nevertheless, I still run outdoors in the most isolated places possible and, so far, my workout routine is pretty much the same as always: free-body exercises at home, spinning bike and running. The swimming pools are unfortunately closed, but I understand why.


Are you able to train as planned, or are you worried isolating will affect your results?

Of course I am worried, but I think that the current situation is new and difficult for everyone. It has never been as fundamental as it is now to postpone individual interests for the good of society as a whole.

It is the first time where we, young people, actually have to take on a certain sense of responsibility. We have to understand that even our most simple and innocent actions could have a devastating impact on the weakest individuals. I therefore try to train as much as I can whilst adhering to the current preventive measures. 

How is your marathon routine different from your normal workout routine?

When it comes to training routines, I usually get plans and advice from my coach in Italy. He follows me through my watch that tracks all my training and, based on my performance, we decide on subsequent training sessions. 

The key component to my training regimen is variety. My training consists of running at least 3 times a week with each session looking different. For example, on Mondays I prefer pace-training where I maintain a steady elevated heart rate, on Wednesdays HIIT and on Saturday longer runs (sometimes with Jaakko Nieminen, the Finnish beast). By alternating my workout it forces my body to constantly adapt and change as it prepares me for different scenarios in the race. It’s important to maintain a routine throughout the year.


Approximately 2 months before a race, I shift my focus mainly to running and I do not lift weights as much, because every gram of weight I put on is additional weight I will have to carry during the run. The same goes for my diet. Sometimes it is not easy at all to combine the will and the lifestyle necessary to compete with an active social life. The best way to keep myself motivated is to sign up for a race. It gives me the focus I need to train consistently.

How has isolating affected your studies?

I am lucky to be in an amazing group that I am constantly in touch with. Every morning, we receive different theoretical questions and clinical cases from our teachers. We are very close to each other and we always try to discuss and solve all the issues together through video-calls.


Working in a team alleviates the burden of isolation and contributes to maintaining a feeling of normalcy in such extraordinary circumstances.

I genuinely appreciate how quickly and thoroughly RSU was able to respond and cope with the new situation.

How are you keeping in touch with your family in Italy?

I believe that I am lucky all this is happening in this particular moment in history, where I can get in touch with my family whenever I feel the need to. Video calls make everything easier. This is of great value to me personally, because I am quite worried that the epidemiological situation of Italy might affect my dearest ones, especially since I am aware of the fact that some of them are exposed to a greater risk due to their occupation or health status. Checking on them regularly calms me down.

What are your opinions on how Latvia has responded to the crisis?

I am glad to see that the Latvian government has taken important restrictive measures in a timely manner, compared to other European countries.

It takes courage to make certain decisions and I am confident that these actions will be extremely beneficial for Latvia over the coming months.

Other than the political statements and regulations, what ultimately counts the most is the behavior and attitude of the general population. Everyone can contribute with their actions. I personally am willing to volunteer my time to help in the hospital if reinforcement is needed.