Confession: when we Salty writers first discussed our #TBT series, I thought it would be a quick, easy narrative to write. I mean, it’s just facts, right? And these facts happened to me, so no need to do research or even have a discussion with anytone. But as I started my type-delete-stare at the screen cycle, it dawned on me that it’s more than just a retell of facts and (as always) it’s more than just the running. You, too?
In 2005, I broke up with a long-term boyfriend, graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and moved to France to teach. I had been to Paris once before, for two days. I had taken two French classes. What the heck was I thinking?
Settling in to Montlucon (Ever heard of it? No? I’m not surprised) one of my first actions was to find my comfort zone: the running club. I was immediately welcomed to join Montlucon Athletisme; the president even waiving the club fee for my colleague (another American) and me.
Immediately I gained teammates and even a coach who quickly laid out a rough plan for a cross-country season and a spring marathon. Slowly, I got faster during track practices. I learned Montlucon by foot, gaining several gorgeous running routes. I started to see people (students! runners!) I knew out and about.
I struggled, too. My watch died, so I went to a jewelry store and asked for a new batterie (drum set). I couldn’t come up with the French word for “toilet paper” so I helplessly let my poor teammate enter a toilet that was lacking. I saw one of my students in the grocery store and she responded to my English “How are you?” by saying, “I am from France.” Laundry for all my stinky running clothes cost about a million euros a load. #fail. #fail. #fail.
But back to the running: Before long I was lacing up my points, pinning on my dossard, and lining up at the depart for a series of cross country races. My teammates and I raced over mud, logs, sand, a flooded parking lot, and snow. I drank hot wine with my coaches post-race in Moulins. I missed qualifying for the cross-country championnat of France by 15 seconds.
I pushed outside my comfort zone in races in Limoges, Arnay-le-Duc, Dijon, Vichy, and Commentry. I lived outside my comfort zone in my job, at the grocery story, visiting the French doctor. But at the running club, I found a new comfort zone. Merci, mes amis.
When you first arrive in a new city, nothing makes sense. Everything’s unknown, virgin. After you’ve lived here, walked these streets, you’ll know them inside out. You’ll know these people. Once you’ve lived here, crossed this street 10, 20, 1000 times it’ll belong to you because you’ve lived there. That was about to happen to me, but I didn’t know it yet.
-“Xavier,” L’Auberge Espagnole