I speak French. Not nearly as well as I would like, however. Duolingo tells me that I’m 48% fluent. My conversations with Parisians tell me otherwise. (My tutor is helping me with this!)
It’s a foggy morning, a Normandy foggy morning. You need a knife and fork to cut the air (un couteau et une forchette). Dan and I walk to the Caen Parc des Expositions where I catch the bus to Pegasus Bridge, the start of Les Courants de la Liberte half marathon (it also happens to be the first bridge liberated by the Allies in Normandy.) It also happens to be just a few days after D-Day. It’s always fun to see and feel the excitement of race day. Even in another country, it’s the same. Some are dressed in goofy outfits, some are stretching, some look really serious, some are cool and joking around. I say goodbye to Dan and get on the bus. I’m surrounded by people, but can’t follow any conversation. So, I kinda feel alone, on a bus, in France to go run 13.1 miles in a foggy abyss. I’m refusing to text Dan as my battery is running down and I need it for my running tunes! Thanks to those of you who chimed in on Facebook and gave me suggestions for good running songs.
Here We Go…
We arrive at the start about an hour before the race. Great, I’ve got loads of time. There’s a lot of chatter, again, too fast for me to understand anything. But, there are loads of lines at the porta potties. There’s a universal language! One woman walks out of the porta potty and is mortified as she only then sees the line and realizes that she just budged in front of all of us. I wonder what the word for “budge” is en francais? She gets a lot of chuckles. It’s all good lady.
10 minutes to the start and as I’m in line, the announcer is trying to jack everybody up with clapping and high fives. I can barely see much of Pegasus Bridge. Did I mention the fog?? The gun goes off and away we go. It’s a bit of an incline at the start, so I can see everyone in front of me. Yeah, I’m slow, so there’s plenty of people in front of me. I’m taking it all in. Spectators cheering us on. Check. Little kids with posters with messages to Daddy, “Papa, tu es très vite!” This I understand! (In English, “Daddy, you are very fast!) Check. Quintessential stone buildings that tell you, “Hey, you’re running a half marathon in France.” Check. Feeling like you are part of something really cool. Definitely, Check. At that moment, there’s a shift and I have this moment of clarity…runner’s high already?! My thought, “we’re all the same.” (Relatively speaking, of course.) We’ve all trained for this day on some level, no matter how easy or hard this may be for any of us. Spectators flock to support those cruising through their little village. Yep, we have this at home. Oh, look, cute kids wanting high fives, yep, done this before. Love it! I ran all over the course to make sure I slapped every hand of every little kid and that one adult looking for a high five.
People are splitting off into twosomes, lots of singles. Some are walking already. Some listening to music, some chatting, giggling. I’m running this alone, but with each step, I don’t feel that way at all. This race prints the name of your country on your bib if you aren’t from France. I’m the only one from the USA as far as I can tell. Still don’t feel alone though. We run through more villages with more spectators, more kids, more inspiring posters… there are even bands at a few villages. Amid the constant sprinkling of spectators whether it be in villages or on a dirt path in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, I experienced my favorite memory…picture this, a driveway that appears out of the woods, hosting a cute little old Frenchman with his wool cardigan and cap, calmly yet continuously clapping his hands and saying, “Bravo! Bravo!” I’ve never received an authentic, “Bravo!” before…you know, doing something actually “Bravo!” worthy while I was in France. Definitely did not feel alone. And then I see an older gentleman go out of his way to make a fellow runner not feel alone. He takes a quick zig to the right, pats a guy on the back who is walking and just zags back to his spot. Heart melts.
And now I’m 10 miles in and I think, “oh, I got this”, now it gets fun because I’m feeling good. The long downhill stretch didn’t hurt either. We’re back in town, leaving the poppy fields and cute Frenchman behind. Hello, cobblestone. You are super fun to run on. Ha! But the energy is awesome. In Europe, they often print your name on your bib, so people are yelling your name. Your name! “Allez, Jessica!” So cool. I slap some more 5-year-old hands. I make eye contact with a few people as I have a huge grin on my face and I see the same spread across their face. I come around the corner and it’s almost over…”What? No! This has been so fun!” I’m trying to look at all of the spectators lining the very packed last third mile of the race. Everyone is so into it…and so am I.
We Are One
The thought never left me that how ironic it is to do something that is just you, it’s all you. This isn’t a team sport, running (at least not always). Yet, here we are, people from the US, France, Poland, the UK. We are all here for the same thing, our love of putting one foot in front of the other. The love of where those feet will lead us. The love of how they got us here in the first place. And all the fun along the way. We might be from different places, with different political views, different colors, but we are all there to do the same thing. Despite my need to work on my French, I never felt alone. If you don’t want to feel alone, try a race in another country.