Yesterday I couldn’t help but laugh every time a car passed me on my short little three mile run. Armed with multiple layers and ski gloves, I had pulled the drawstrings of my sweatshirt around my chin so tightly that only my eyes and nose managed to peek out from the tight hole. Yes, I would be back in 28 minutes, and yes, this was Kentucky, where it never gets cold enough to warrant such ridiculousness. I’ll blame it on my West Coast roots.
All this to say that while I was running my measly three miles I remembered that one year ago at this time, I was training for a semi-marathon and running ten to twelve miles on a regular basis.
My friend Val, who was studying abroad in France while I was doing my teaching assistantship, and I had decided to train together to combat the effects of all the delicious French food we had become so used to eating. We were both runners, but had never done long distances. When we found out about the Nuits Saint Georges semi-marathon, however, our interest was piqued.
13.1 miles through the gorgeous vineyards of Burgundy seemed appealing, but neither of us could deny the real draw: talk of “wine tastings” along the way. At first we thought it must be an oral legend, a bit of Burgundian mythology that had spread over the years. We imagined a few runners nearing the end of their course and being rejuvenated by a winemaker with a beret and a sparkle in his eye. Years passed and word traveled; runners began knocking on the winemaker’s door for a little kick when their fuel ran low.
These are the kinds of things we hypothesized during long runs anyway. Laughing, and sometimes grunting, Val and I got to know each other over the miles. She was the faster runner, but I brought a strong dose of competition, so most of the time we stayed neck and neck. Once on our third tour of the Parc de la Colombière in Dijon, having just beaten our two previous 400m interval times, I pleaded for mercy, saying we should be careful not to injure ourselves beating the time on our third effort.
“We’re already going faster than planned for today,” I reminded her between gasps on the rest interval. “Let’s try to relax a little.”
Nearing the starting point, Val fingered her watch. I sucked in one last deep breath.
I don’t remember much but pain and the desire for oxygen when the timer was ticking. The big, shady chestnut trees that seemed so pleasantly encompassing on regular runs became a blurred tunnel as we whizzed by. I detested their solidity and I yearned for their stillness.
We beat our time again.
You can cover a lot more ground if you run instead of walk, and Val and I got to know Dijon and its environs pretty well. When we weren’t at Colombière, we ran down the Burgundy canal or around Lac Kir, dodging geese and arm-linked lovers, and on one occasion even receiving running critiques. (The lake’s 2km circumference made it conducive to multiple tours as we neared the end of our training, so sometimes we would lap Sunday strollers. One day a girl walking casually in high heels and black leather pants, her tapered Fergie ponytail whipping from side to side, told us that if we brought our knees up a little straighter we’d be faster. She repeated this comment each of the three times we lapped her.)
Needless to say, training was an experience. So much so that when the day of the race finally arrived toeing the starting line turned bittersweet.
The race is only so long, and once it’s over you realize it was never really about those two hours.
Race day was a cold and dreary one. We were ready and we were pumped, but conditions could have been better. The gravel path was muddy and slick thanks to rain and the hundreds of feet that passed before us. It was hard to enjoy the vineyard scenery because our attention was focused on the dense traffic along the trail and the numerous bottomless puddles that threatened to swallow our shoes. And, I had eaten dried apricots before the race. Never do that. Ever.
But there was wine tasting! After turning the loop around Clos de Vougeot, a little past the halfway mark, tables of wine and cheese and foie gras started cropping up in the villages en route. Yes, I said foie gras. How anyone could eat that stuff during a workout is beyond me, but hey, this was France!
Val and I took the more American route and gulped some water. That didn’t stop us from getting a real kick out of seeing people try to eat and run!
At the end of the race we came in right where we wanted to be, finishing a whole twenty minutes before the average rookie’s run time. Instead of medals we got bottles of Burgundy, which, we decided, were fitting for the occasion.
Last weekend, Val came for a visit to Kentucky, the first time I’d seen her since she left France. It was so good to run together again although it made me miss our Burgundy bouts. It’s not easy finding such a perfect running buddy, and Val really is second to none.
For never backing off when I said, “relax,” Thanks, Val. Miss you!