Without getting too spiritual about it, running is a way for me to keep balance in my life. It gives me a chunk of time in the middle of the day to focus on myself, in silence, and outdoors and it helps me exert stress, stay physically fit, and sleep better.
When I decided to spend a year studying abroad in Paris, the first thing I researched was their running culture. Everywhere I have lived has been either surrounded by forested hills or vast expanses of corn fields, so the idea of living in a cobbled city had me stressed.
But once I arrived, I immediately started to sense a good runners vibe. First of all, there are parks everywhere. Now, most of which, if you were to run in them, you’d have to loop the park 29 times before clocking a mile, but some are true running gems. As it turns out, I was placed with a host family that lives next to one of them. Le parc Buttes Chaumont is nestled amongst towering apartment buildings and is home to seemingly out-of-place waterfalls, man-made caves, and this touring cement mountain structure that overlooks all of Paris. Another favorite place to run is in the Bois (forest) de Vincennes. Only a 30 min metro ride from home and I find myself running through miles and miles of forested trails.
Running groups are a trend in the city and I’ve been trying really, really hard join one of them. Try is the key word here because for two reasons it hasn’t been as easy as expected.
Firstly, you have to speak French. It can be intimidating to intentionally put yourself into environments where you are completely isolated from the anglophone world and in which you are totally reliant on your French skills and the friendly, empathetic help of the person running next to you. Said friendly, empathetic neighbor turned out to be a lifesaver when I took a (few) wrong turn(s) along the way. She would come running after me to guide me back onto the right route and eventually decided just to stick by my directionless self for the duration of our workout!
Running through the steep, cobbled streets of Montmartre for the first time – in the dark – is highly inadvisable…unless you make a friend, in which case, I couldn’t encourage you enough to give it a go 🙂
And secondly, you have to speak French. I have yet to figure out how these people organize but it must be telepathically, and to be completely honest, my french telepathy skills are in rough shape. Either that, or they decide at the end of a workout. In either case, the likelihood of me misinterpreting the times or addresses is just so high. This has happened so many times to me that I can say that I’ve missed the team more times than I’ve actually run with them. The upside is that I’ve discovered some really sweet routes and have had some quality personal time…though making French running friends would definitely be cool. Cooler. In fact, that is the whole point really. What with all this stress, it would be so much easier to just get lost running through these damned cobbled streets alone. But we’re trying to be positive here…
Long story short, I’ve “found” the running culture of Paris and there is a lot to be said about getting involved in activities that are familiar to you despite the foreign backdrop. Perhaps at some point I’ll share more about running in Paris for those of you interested. But for now, reflecting on the importance of seeking out what you need to be happy and healthy in unfamiliar places is at the forefront of my mind as I begin to fall into some semblance of a routine here in Paris. It is both a way of getting out of your comfort zone and a way of encouraging yourself to be challenged by getting involved in ways that are familiar. Whether you do theatre or play a sport or like dancing to obscure underground music, you are bound to find people with similar interests wherever you go. And even if you don’t share the same mother language, you can at least bond over the same passion, and that’s a guaranteed way to start making friends…so long as you can find them 🙂