August 11, 2012

The Flaws of Paradise

We have been living in our new home for three months now, and we love it every bit as much as we thought we would.

Kid n°1, with no uses of a garden and despite our best endeavour to turn him as an outdoor kid, spend the first 2 1/2 years of his life trying to levitate rather than risking touching the grass barefoot. Two days after we had moved in, he was running in the garden not only sans shoes but in the rain. That in itself probably justifies the lifetime mortgage. As for Kid n°2, she is lucky enough she will not need to know the meaning of the word "apartment" for the years to come. 

Another reason for buying a house was that we thought it would be easier to invite scattered friends and family without having them stay squeeze in the office-cum-laundry-cum-ancillary-library-cum-fitness-room-cum-bedroom-for- baby-n°2 and accommodate them in a proper guest-room instead. This has worked beyond our wildest dream, since it has barely been a week without any visits since we moved in, and we may soon need to ask for advance booking. 

Talking about fitness room, we are now the proud owners of a mazot. Mazots are little wooden huts located in the main house’s garden, where people used to store the household's valuables in the event of a fire on the main house. Well, our mazot will definitely carry on serving its initial purpose since we intend, as soon as we have some spare time (famous last words) to refurbish it and house in there our dearest valuables: turbo trainers, bikes, weights and yoga mats and use it as our in-house fitness centre. 

There is no rush though, since the main selling point for our new home, especially that time of the year, is this:

A (beautiful, can I say it again) mountain, steep single trails, direct access to said trails from home. In other words, the perfect training camp literally on our door step. 

If you're fit. 

Because nothing, I repeat, nothing around here is flat. Not a single metre of trail. And this is tough when motivation is high but stamina inexistent, the result of several months of flat pregnant running followed by a couple of months of running-less post-partum (me) or weekends spent working in the house (husband). 

Initially, it was not all that bad. As I started running again, I was only allowed ridiculously short runs, and had managed to design a loop doing figures of eight in the fields which did not involved climbing Mt Blanc twice elevation-wise. It is now that I have been able to increase speed and distance than the issue has risen, since any hour-long run around here involves at least 700 vertical metres of climbing.

I guess the answer is: get fit. FAST.

Then, as I discovered, paradise can also be scary. Why, because every house or farm I run past seem to have at least one big, bad, barking dog which has waited all day that I pass by to start running after me with an unmistakable interest for my calves. Did I tell you I was s***-scared of dogs?  

I then decided the way to go was to go away from the fields and houses and in the forest on the hills. So far, the route I am doing on my hourly evening runs involves some steep, stony trails as well as a stretch of single trail snaking amongst brambles and high grasses. 

In other words, the perfect place for runs, and for snakes, and for me to walk on said snakes. And did I also tell you I was s***-scared of snakes? And here you start thinking that it is a bit rich of me to make fun of Kid n°1 for not being outdoorsy enough, and you'll be right: I am a sissie.

As if my fight against wildlife would be stopping when I by miracle come back alive from my runs. But it isn't so: we also fighting a hopeless battle in our own garden against moles and field mice. Our garden is in a state which reminds of the most vivid descriptions of WWI battle of Verdun. I spend every morning trying to fight molehills and mice’s holes, flatten the former out and fill the later with soil from the former (knowing they'll both be back minutes later), filled with a rage that will soon make me lose all credibility when telling my kids violence is never the way.

Three months here and I have found the secret: paradise is only for the Fit, the Fearless and the Fighter. For the others, there's purgatory first, paved with steep hills, barking dogs, biting snakes and omnipresent moles. The good news is, I think I can deal with purgatory for a few years.

August 09, 2012

Good People Run

Well, some don’t, and probably not all runners are to be found in the good people category either, but that’s not the topic of this post, in spite of the (therefore misleading) title.

Today was a special day. I went for a run. Any chance for a run is good to take these days, following Adam Smith’s principle that what is rare is dear, but what made this run special was that it was a group run. And not any group run, but my first group run in… 4.5 years!

The last 4.5 years, over which we starting to live in Annecy, were not very conducive to being both a social and a running animal, between an ankle still on the mend (year 1), a baby on the way (year 2), a toddler to take care of and a demanding job (year 3), re-a baby on the way (year 4). On a side note, and for those wondering why no group runs in years 2 and 4, you may have gathered from previous posts that pregnant running is not exactly common here (I am actually still waiting to meet another Frenchie who ran while pregnant). I therefore did not want to push my fellow runners in a corner where they would have felt they had to chose between immediately reporting me to social services for acts of torture on un unborn child, or calling 911 for the inevitable premature labour that my run would induce. Hence the lone running.

Until this week that is. Having “met” another runner-cum-blogger-cum-Annecy-dweller online, she suggested I joined the GoodPeopleRun’s Wednesday night group run. First thought was: “small world”. I had actually come across that website only hours earlier while doing some work related (yes, really) research. Second thought was : “thank you, but no thank you”, since the run started at 7pm, which, in Mum’s land, is pretty much the worse time I can think of for a run, between cooking dinner for kid n°1 (everyday), breastfeeding kid n°2 (everyday), giving baths to both kid n°1 and kid n°2 (should also be everyday but is not)… in a nutshell, pick your choice and the chance is it needs to be done in the 7-7.30pm slot.

In spite (or because?) of this the little voice started working: 

 “Sure, 7pm is not very practical a time, but wouldn’t it be nice to run at a civilised time of the day, and with other people, for a change.”
 “Actually, if Martin, just that one day, could leave work a bit earlier that he’s supposed to and take over at home, I could probably just about make it.”
“… and if dinner is ready and baths taken (or skipped), this should be pretty stress-free for him and consequently pretty guilt-free for me.”
 “Well, it is only for 10kms anyway, so it is not like I am going to be away from home for hours.” 

Here the little voice had become so convinced that my going running at 7pm was the best thing since sliced bread that it had switched from conditional tense to infinitive.

The little voice was sold and so was I.

So here am I, on Wednesday evening, ready to fly. Martin has done his bit by being home at 6.15pm on the dot and Meije has done hers by nursing later than she normally does, meaning that I had a chance to be back on time for “dinner” without worrying too much about her being starved. As for Malo, he has cried a bit but only because he “wanted to go running in Annecy by the lake too”, which was not so convenient but made me pretty happy because any signs he may become a true runner, one day, is good to take. 

As I park and jog to the meeting place I am quite curious to see who will turn up, since a group run organised via a social media is not something I would necessarily associate with the French way of doing things. Clearly I have been away too long or am the only one stuck in the 20Th century, because the buzz has clearly worked, and a good 20 people are there. 

Tips for always being at the front on group photos : be a girl, or better, be a short girl. I am very good at both.
Introductions, on the other hand, are done the way I remembered introductions to work in France, meaning there are none. As we set off, I resort to silently refer to my new running buddies as Runner 1, Runner 2 and so on. As I will eventually gather all my courage to ask his name to the guy running on my left, he will seem a bit shocked.  First group run, and a 50-something guy thinks I am hitting on him. Way to go and make friends, girl… 

The unbreakable Thou-shall-never-ask-your-fellow-runners’-name-on-a-social-run rule aside, some other things will never change. Like... me, for instance. Me being worried terrified I am either going to be the one lagging behind (bad) or (much worse) the one making the rest of the group slow down because I can’t keep up the pace. And I am wearing a skirt, meaning I am at risk of being mistaken for the-girly-chick-who-jogs-but-cares-more-about-appearance-but-performance. Horror.

  “Which pace should I start at if there are several pace groups”, am I debating with myself. “I mean, there is no point in starting too slow, because I can do slow on my own, and today’s group run may be the only one for a while. On the other hand, which pace am I able to hold for 10 kms, these days?”  There I realise that, 4.5 years after moving back from London, I can still only talk about pace in min/mile. This immediately spices up the debate by having me trying to decide the pace I can hold without incurring death nor shame while simultaneously trying to do the miles-to-kms conversion. 

Bottom line is, as things indeed never change, I end up being in the leading pack. At first, we’re only “leading” at 12km/hr (or, as I calculate while running – thanks Dad for all those hours of mental arithmetic - roughly 8min/mile). That’s slow, slower than my usual runs in fact, but I remind myself this is supposed to be a social run, so I refrain the temptation to start like I am running for my life be a total arse and I stick with the other-runners-whose-names-I-still-don’t-know.

At the turnaround point, we suddenly accelerate. I swear I did not do it but truth be told, I am one happy bunny. A check at my watch tells me we’re now doing 14.5km/hr… Quick mental math again. 6.5min/m? Well, it starts looking like my kind of group run. If group run = social run = chatting while jogging along, then I am not the most social runner, but surely we can do the talking later, can’t we?

Obviously, as we speed up, the little voice comes back. “Hey, it is getting faster, and I’ve not done fast for a while. I am going to look really stupid if I can’t hold the pace until the end or make the others slow down.” By now however, a competing little voice is also saying: “ helloooo! I am pushing! I am sweating! My legs are working! I am getting in the zone! I am feeling strong! I AM HAVING FUN!”

It looks like if I finish red-faced, it won't be because of shame anyway, because we're back to our starting point and I have not caved in nor have I held anybody back. I am elated, not dead.  Sure, I have been faster and for longer, but it now feels like it can all come back if I want it and try hard enough... and go to group runs. Which is fine by me, because I am ready for the next one.

And there I realise I have missed them, the group runs.

I love running. On my own. With my man. Trail running for the scenery, the ever-changing pace, the feeling of wanting to throw up when it gets real steep. Road running for the regularity which allows these “meditation runs” by the lake, lost in my thoughts, or even sometimes free of any. But I also love running trying for sheer speed. That, I have missed over these past few years because the “group factor” was missing, and I never push myself as hard as when I run in a group (and am scared of slowing everybody down or being labelled the-slow-girl-in-the-running-skirt). And isn’t that also “social”, after all, enjoying the company of other runners while using each other to push ourselves? Which is probably what the GoodPeopleRun’s “making running a team sport” motto means…