“Kilian Jornet! Les chaussures de Kilian!” One of the other guests at the hotel excitedly pointed at the red and white S-lab shoes I was wearing. I smiled as I struggled to carry my new shoes and clothes across the bar area. Not to judge a book by its cover, but the man admiring my shoes didn’t exactly look like an avid trail runner – and yet, he was able to immediately identify my shoes as the iconic pair worn by Salomon’s greatest athlete, Spanish mountain runner and adventurer, Kilian Jornet.
In my last blog post, I wrote about heartache, the search for “more”, and the reason why I run. You always worry when you put your words out there for all to read whether it will come across as narcissistic, self-indulgent, cliché, uninspired… but every once in a while you strike a chord. In the four years and 100 posts since I’ve started this blog, this was my most popular post ever – it received over 1000 hits in the first 24 hours alone after being shared, emailed and tweeted by runners and non-runners alike. I was overwhelmed and so touched by the slew of messages, both public and private, that I received afterwards (if I haven’t responded yet, it is coming!). Some were pure messages of support, others were messages of people’s own experiences with heartbreak. Many commented on the role that running played in their own lives. I realize I took a bit of a risk opening up the way I did, but I’m glad I took the chance because it gave me the opportunity to learn from so many of you. Thank you.
Once it really sank in that life had thrown me for a loop, I wasn’t sure where to go from there. But I knew I needed to move forward. Knowing that it would take a while to get back into the job scene, I figured learning a language in the meantime was a logical and smart decision. However, just because my head said ‘yes’ didn’t mean that my heart followed. Nothing has felt quite right for the past couple of weeks, from my internal organs to my external decisions, so I really wasn’t sure that venturing out ‘alone’ into the world so quickly was the greatest idea…
Well, I’ve only been here a day now, but from the moment I got in the cab from the airport I knew I made the right choice. (My handsome and overly-complementary cab driver named Arnaud didn’t hurt. Thank you universe.) It has always been a dream of mine to get my French language skills back, and now is the perfect time to do it. And a perfect time for a little Steph reinvention. I was reminded by a dear friend in New York to just make this experience my own – it didn’t have to be a “recover from breakup” story. It could be a “finally meeting one of my dreams” story instead. A “reclaiming my own life” story. A story of a new beginning, rather than an end. I knew I needed to change the narrative running through my head and start focusing on the incredible – and endless! – possibilities right in front of me, rather than the loss of the life I believed I had…. Yes, English me was sad and pathetic, but French me was going to be seriously cool.
I realize am in danger of verging into Eat, Pray, Love territory here – y’know, the story of the broken-hearted woman who went to Italy, India and Indonesia to rediscover herself (and love). I admit that running off to a foreign country might be rather contrived, but who cares – I think it works. Perhaps my story will be Drink, Run, Dance or Sing, Draw, Write… not sure. Maybe I’ll do three “F” countries (France, Finland and Fuji?) instead of three “I” countries. Who knows. But bit by bit, I’m starting to get excited about the possibilities again, and that has come much earlier than I ever anticipated it would. Typing out this blog post in Garibaldi square in old Nice might have something to do with it.
Sometimes, I think we all need to hit the reset button. Running and races do that for me, as I have written about before. But of course, running is not the only way to do this. I’m a firm believer in jumping into the unknown and seeing how it changes you. Without that, I think we are all in danger of drifting through life without actually taking the time to figure out where we are in the present, and where we might want to be heading, right? So, my trip to France will hopefully be the first of many, many more reset buttons to figure out who I am again on my own. She isn’t far away, but she’s definitely retreated into a corner over the past little while. Time to bring her back in full force, French style.
French me – Stephanie with a precocious accent of course – hums French songs in the morning while making tea. Rather than sleep in until the last minute, she gets up early to enjoy breakfast on the balcony as the sun rises. Stephanie-with-an-accent has cooler clothes and walks with a bit more of a strut. She drinks red wine instead of white. French me stays up late debating the ridiculousness of French politics (and intolerance towards minorities) instead of heading home early to fall asleep spooning her laptop. She strolls the streets of the old quarter near her apartment taking photos of arched windows in stone buildings, Euro-clad youth, and boulangeries in the morning. She allows herself to contemplate the possibility of a completely different life from the one she had planned – or the one she was convinced was there. French me gives herself a break every once in a while. French me does yoga every odd morning. Okay, she doesn’t go that far (I mean, seriously, what is the translation for ‘downward dog’ in French anyway?).
Yes, French me will be awesome. I’ve taking her for a test drive, and initial impressions are good. I cannot WAIT to get out for a run tomorrow night after classes, unless of course Stephanie decides to grab some wine with her classmates instead.
Perhaps we don’t always need a big reinvention in order to hit the reset button. I think it is possible to do this in small ways simply by switching up your routine. For instance, if you have a daily running route, why not try heading down a different road or trail without knowing where you’ll wind up? If you go running in the evenings, why not try the mornings? Or take the weekends off and head out with your head torch on a Wednesday night instead? I’m a huge fan of mixing things up, even when you don’t feel like it. I wasn’t feeling like coming to France – at ALL – but I am already really glad I did.
Eat, Pray, Love. Swim, Bike, Run. Or, in my case, Drink, Write, Walk at the moment… whatever it is, do something different.
As of tomorrow, I am saying goodbye to English Steph and saying bienvenue à Stephanie française… English is not allowed at the school at all, even during breaks, and those who break the rules are subject to a 2 EUR fine per incident (this goes into a champagne fund for the end of the course – how cool is that?). I’m both nervous and excited. Who knows what this month will bring? Now THAT is a good thing….