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In Which I Become Fake Athletic

Posted on Monday, August 11, 2014


One day last September, sitting alone in my office on a rainy day, I made a kind of rash decision. Perusing my Twitter feed, as one does, I came across a post about the registrations for the Paris half marathon, which were opening that day. Though I'm not quite sure why, I clicked the link, and before I knew what was happening I was joining the online queue of people waiting for their chance to register.

For the sake of full disclosure, it's important to note that in the twelve months prior to this rainy September day, I had probably run a total of ten miles, over three or four runs. Three or four runs in a year, three or four runs which were completely unenjoyable, and yet here I was in some weird e-Line To Sign Up For A Giant Race. I'd run cross country in high school, but anyone familiar with my high school knows that being on a sports team at Villa does not an impressive athlete make. During college I had a couple of phases of "being into working out," but all good intentions fell by the wayside with the advent of senior year and its non-stop festivities. Though I managed, between graduation and moving to Paris, to get into pretty decent shape, I didn't keep it up once arriving in Paris. I signed up for the FPFP, the French Person Fitness Plan, which involves eating whatever I want whenever I want within a fairly liberal margin of reason, and also sometimes taking the stairs instead of the escalator in the métro.

So it was that I found myself doing something kind of extreme (how out of character!) and signing myself up for the Paris Half Marathon last year. I hesitated when I saw the 45€ price tag, but then clicked through to the confirmation page anyway. 

I didn't tell a lot of people about the race at first, because I figured that that way, if I chickened out, then I'd have lost nothing except the money I'd paid to sign up. Between that rainy September day and January, I didn't do much training. Paris was cold and dark, and I was very lazy and way more interested in eating oatmeal in my warm bed in the morning than ~*hitting the asphalt*~. But coming back from holidays in the States after January, I decided to actually do it. I ran. A lot. And I started to really love it, much to my surprise. I loved not only the running and the getting in shape part, but loved too the routine and the different perspective of Paris I gained on my runs. I learned not to run through Place de Clichy unless I wanted to be catcalled or stared at. I learned not to run through the Boulevard Saint Michel on a sunny weekend unless I wanted to trample (or be trampled by) tourists. I saw new parks in Paris I'd never seen before, I joined my fellow runners as we went around and around the Parc Monceau, the Jardins du Luxembourg, the Champ de Mars. (Side note: If you are a tourist in Paris in the near future, or a fellow resident, please do yourself a favor and observe the running clothes favored by many in these parks. Khakis, button-down shirts, polos, skirts (??!??), you name it! It's one of the more amusing parts of the sport.)

What I realized, once I'd kind of set my mind on doing it and started to work towards the goal of completing the race on the day, is that I'd been living in a kind of apatehtic in-between for quite some time. What I mean is that for the longest time, for years before now, my goal was to move to Paris. And well, once that was accomplished it was tough to think of new ones. In comparison to having achieved my primary goal, any others paled in comparison. Once I landed on this new one, haphazardly though it was, everything changed. I swapped long nights out for quiet nights in (well, sometimes). I favored early bedtimes in bed to watching Netflix before closing my eyes. I was motivated to do something for the first time in a long time, and it felt pretty good. Race day came, and when I crossed the finish line I miiiight have had a little tear in my eye. I was proud, and so glad to have done something I'd set out to do, and I admit I'd forgotten the pleasure that it brings. I decided to keep it up. 

Running has afforded me much-needed time for introspection and reflection. When I leave my apartment, no matter which direction I head I revisit my story over the past two years and beyond. I run past a bakery where I used to buy a pain au chocolat and an espresso every morning before class in 2010. I run through parks where one bottle of wine has led to another and to another with the sweetest friends on a warm summer afternoon. I cross the bridge where I'd kissed a boy as the Eiffel Tower sparkled. I pass my old tiny apartment, and take stock of how far I've come since living there. I huff and puff up hills that I'd previously wandered down, feeling lonely and homesick on a blustery fall day.  From the top of the Buttes Chaumont, I run with Sacré Coeur rising over the city behind me, and remember how breathtaking the view from the top is every time. I watch the sun come up over the Seine and sometimes pause on the quais to take in the beauty up and down the river. I ran by the river the day after the French Independence Day, and saw some sleepy-eyed patriots opening another bottle of red wine as the sun came up. I ran at the Château de Versailles and imagined Marie Antoinette sauntering through the gardens in her glory days. 

I'm never going to be one of those insane (but awe-inspiring!) triathalon addicts, and I surely will encounter extreme lacks of enthusiasm despite my current gusto... But for the moment I'm enjoying the enthusiasm I've managed to find. The quiet Paris that feels all mine in the morning is one that I'm so glad to have discovered, but ultimately it's a process of self-improvement and not of urban discovery. Over the hours I've spent criss-crossing the city this year, I've identified my own high points and low points. I've realized what still needs work, and what needs to change. I've recognized the people that are worthwhile, and others that might not be. I've learned to be very hard on myself, but also the importance of being kind to myself. Even when it's hard, the rewards are always there.

And if nothing else, the smell of croissants baking in the morning is worth getting out of bed for... Most of the time. xx 

P.S.: (Thanks, Heather!) Maybe one day I'll run this wine-fueled marathon... Any takers?

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Clotilde Herve said...

Wanna do the 20 Kms of Paris in march ?? Reading you actually made me want to go for a run tomorrow morning:)