Cultured Running

Yesterday’s run through Angers, the French city that I call home this year, didn’t seem especially cultured: the only difference between a run in France and a run at home, between a French run and an American run, was that I ran under the rain instead of in it (the literal translation of the French phrase “sous la pluie” is under the rain).

I still finished sweaty, smelly, and looking slightly drowned, rather unlike the put-together French woman that I had run past—and rather uncultured. My dance workshop that night, traditional French Breton dancing, now that was a cultural experience! It can best be described as line dancing, with a touch of River Dance, and a little “je ne sais quoi.” It made me think about why I dedicate a few hours each week to running, instead of visiting museums, sitting in cafes, and conjugating irregular verbs while sipping wine and eating cheese, or one of the many things I’m sure people were thinking of when they told me to “make the most of this opportunity.”

I dedicate time to running on nearly every trip I take, and as a result I’ve seen places that I never would have seen otherwise. Some have been exciting; running with my dad Out West, breathing like chain-smoking asthmatics in the thin air and trying to carry on a conversation loud enough to keep the bears away, before giving up and hoping that our gasping was sufficient; or running on a small island in the Turks and Caicos, and deciding to take the road less traveled—which ended in the town dump. On our way out we passed a group of wild horses, a lone cow and were followed by a pack of dogs which roamed the island.

Other running discoveries have seemed quite extraordinary, on some back country roads I have seen more cattle than people, and the roads close to home that I have run hundreds or thousands of times are ordinary by definition. But all have still been worth exploring.

Each time I run in France I get to know my neighborhood better; I have discovered bakeries, parks, the TGV tracks, more bakeries, seen parents picking up their children from school, older women shopping, young couples holding hands. I have gathered all of these memories and thousands more, most of which I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been outside getting sweaty, smelly, and “uncultured.”

I am a runner. A runner living, for a short while, in France. It’s an adventure that I always dreamed of and now it is here. I will make the most of it; I will learn to dance, converse more easily in my second language, and appreciate cheese with black fuzzy mold on it. I will visit museums, tour the country, and find the best bakery in all of Angers. But I will also sweat, and be rewarded.

By: Megan Carter

From the November 2011 Outdoor Athlete

Megan Carter is a fifth year senior at Grand Valley State University, studying abroad as a recipient of GVSU’s Barbara H. Padnos Scholarship. A former member of GVSU’s women’s track and cross country teams, she was a marketing intern at Outdoor Athlete in 2009. She now sends us photographs of the French countryside and of pastries. We forgive her for that.

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