Les mystères de la France, #3

This post would more accurately be titled “les effets mystérieux de la France”, since it’s less about a mystery in France and more about a mystery from France. Something I can’t explain, but that I’m choosing to credit to my time in France, even though there are probably a dozen other reasonable explanations.

It’s this: since I’ve returned from France, I am a better runner. I am running farther and faster than I have before. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that generous quantities of rosé and chèvre have given me bionic abilities (although that would be something…).  All I know is that when I left for Villefranche I was, as I’ve ever been, a struggling runner who did not enjoy running. Ever. And now that I’m back, well, things have changed.

A bit of background so you can appreciate this transformation:

I’ve always hated running. As a pre-teen softball player I was given some constructive criticism by a coach, which a sibling of mine (who will remain unnamed) translated into, “Kathryn runs funny.” So I avoided running for years, until I decided, sometime around 2005, that I wanted to do a triathlon. (For those of you who care, I promise I’ll get around to talking about my tri experience one of these days…) I joined the local running club and participated in their “Walk to Run” program. I realized something important during this program: with the rare exception of a few graceful, beautiful, gazelle-like people, everyone runs funny.  Flailing arms, hitches in their gait, bobbing heads – you name it, I saw it. So I lightened up about my own running style, such as it was, and just got on with it.

For the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve just been surviving my runs. I’d manage 3 or 3.5 miles, slogging along around a 10-minute mile pace.  I never enjoyed the run itself, it never seemed to get easier, and I never got any faster. I read Runner’s World and tried to do fartleks and tempo runs and long runs and all the things you’re supposed to do, but nothing much changed.

Then I go to France. I brought my running gear thinking I’d need to do something to work off all the bread and cheese I expected to eat. Villefranche was very hilly, and running in and around the town was too much for me. I found a relatively flat route out-and-back on Boulevard Princess Grace, a busy road on one side and a lovely view of the sea on the other, with a monument to the late Princess where I’d often stop to pay my respects. And by “pay my respects” I mean, of course, “try to catch my breath while appearing to gaze thoughtfully at the sea“.  I probably only ran about 5 or 6 times during the month I was there, and I didn’t feel particularly fast or strong during those runs.

I come home to Boston, and a few days after returning I head out to do a 3 mile loop in our neighborhood. I notice that the effort is easier, and when I check my GPS I see that I’m running a sub-10 minute mile. Huh. That’s interesting. But then it keeps happening. On my shorter runs, I’m going faster. And just today, I did a 5-mile run (which is long for me, at least), and felt great. I probably could have kept going.

So do we give France the credit for this breakthrough? Could it be that the few pounds I lost in France made a difference? I was considering writing a diet book, “Eat Chèvre for Breakfast and Still Lose Weight!” or “Drink Your Way Thin with Rosé!”, but I think someone has already got that covered. Could it be all the hills I climbed in Villefranche, strengthening muscles I hadn’t paid attention to? Whatever the actual reason, I’m happy to see this improved performance as yet another souvenir – hopefully a lasting one – of my French adventure.

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