In Australia, one of the highlights of my weeks was having a latte with my cycling friends on a Sunday morning. In the summer, we’d meet at 6am in order to get home before the heat of the day. In winter, we’d wear jackets and sweatshirts and gloves and leave later, but while it was still dark out. My friends were all well-equipped with fancy bikes with a huge number of gears, and they wore clip-on shoes and slick fitted riding shirts and padded bike shorts. The routes would vary, and my favorite part was always riding on the flat lanes by the side of the Brisbane River, before there were too many people out, seeing the sun’s reflection on the water.
I was always last, on every ride. I rode an Apollo bike that I bought at a yard sale for $15. It had gears, but I am not sure how they work, so I suffered along as best I could. I wore tennis shoes, a regular t-shirt and whatever shorts i could find that weren’t particularly dirty. I may not have been the most stylish, but I was able to keep up – mainly because they stopped at particular points on the route to drink some water and wait for me to catch up.
Really, my main interest in these Sunday morning excursions was the chatter over coffee with interesting and clever people. They were all amazing over-achievers with high-powered careers, juggling families and husbands and office politics like nobody’s business. We laughed and compared notes and escaped from the mundanity of life as a 21st century woman, letting ourselves admit that we could never have it all. At least we had that.
Now in France, I have discovered a new activity – parkrun. It is a 5km run every Saturday morning organized by volunteers in various sites all over the world. Started in Britain, there is a branch in our village that makes a loop around the little lake. Although it is mostly English-speaking expatriates, the instructions are always in French. Many of the runners have participated in marathons or half-marathons, almost all are very fit, and the course is beautiful no matter what time of year.
As I have already admitted, I am not a fitness freak, so the reason I participate in any physical activity is really the draw of coffee and a chat afterward. Running is a sport that I am particularly bad at. I got a varsity letter in cross country in high school, not because I won any race, but because I participated as part of the team. The highlight of the season was my final race, where I managed to beat two people for the first time. (Although whether the people I passed were actually race participants at all is a matter of some dispute and may never be resolved for lack of witnesses).
At the beginning of each event, I look around to see if there is possibility I could beat someone. (I know this is not the point, but I can’t help my competitive streak). Sometimes it may be a 70 year old overweight man, or a 6 year old wearing plastic sandals. There is the man pushing a stroller for two. I think maybe someday I will beat him. Alas, as the runners depart, it becomes clear that many normal septuagenarians have a walking pace that is faster than my slow jog, and clever children manage a run-walk (even in sandals) that outpace me.
So the first events I ran resulted in some disappointment, but I discovered an enormous advantage to parkrun. At the end of the parkrun when you are bringing up the tail, everyone else is already standing around chatting, and they will pause their conversation to clap for you. There is wonderful motivation in having total strangers applaud your once-a-week effort to get off the couch. It makes me smile and run slightly faster for the last 50 meters at least.
There are always a few people who meet for a coffee in the village square near the church and war memorial. Often there are parkrun « tourists » who do this run when they are in Geneva on business or a holiday. There is a cheerful woman from Iceland who sent her 14 year old son to go back to her car to get her wallet, and he got lost. There is a bald Scottish man with tattoos on his legs, who leaned over to someone just before the start of the race to tell him in a thick Scottish brogue, « You’re looking mighty frisky today! » There are UN employees who have to miss a couple of weeks at a time because they are travelling in India or Mozambique or China. Everyone has a story. So on this beautiful autumn day, this is the story I would like to share.
Since this story was written, on one occasion I finished in front of the lovely man with the double stroller. When I expressed my pride and amazement, my (ex) husband said, “Well, he started 10 minutes late!” Now that I am in better shape, I only come in last when I volunteer as Tail Walker!
parkrun du Lac de Divonne
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