When I came to France in March to visit Mlle Geller, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her (at the time) current Lyonnais host family and her former Provençal host family. Sarah, the Provençal mother is quite an active woman who loves talking to people on a wide variety of topics. We got to talking about marathons since they are one of her particular passions and she learned that I had also run a marathon. (She invited me to go on a 13 mile run the next day, but I had to decline since I didn’t have the appropriate attire and, quite frankly, I simply didn’t want to waste a couple precious hours.) The talk turned towards a couple people she knew who took marathoning to a more extreme level—long distance races that last all day. We’re talking a hundred miles or more. While running a marathon to Sarah was a perfectly sane exploit, she thought that carrying it to such an extreme level gave them an unhealthy and escapist attitude. “What are they running from?” she asked.
It was a revelatory question—one that has stuck with me and one that I probably think about every time I go on a run now. I say think about, but I don’t suppose that’s accurate. The sort of thought that running provokes for me isn’t really a logical, analytical thought. All the thoughts I have just float in and out of my consciousness. Mixed in with them is the focus on rhythmic breathing and the vague sensation of my legs slowly getting more and more tired. Sometimes I’ll remember something that I had been meaning to do, and, if I’m lucky, I’ll actually remember to do it once I’m done running. But almost without fail this question will float into my consciousness: “What are you running from?” –“Nothing,” I answer, “I just like running.” (Which I don’t fully understand either, but for which, I suppose, the credit or the blame goes to Dan, Kyle, and Patrick.)
While running through the heights at the periphery of Coulommiers, my reverie was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a large, private mansion or estate, all gated and well-maintained—the sort of place in France which we call a château. I actually stopped. (Stopping is pretty much against the spirit of the whole enterprise.) There was a sign; it said that it was constructed by the Lord of Such-and-Such and Coulommiers in the 17th century, who was the father of some woman, who was the mother of the celebrated French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine. The sign said, as of course it would when it doesn’t have to cite its sources, that he would often come to the château for his literary inspiration. So cool. So unplanned. That’s why I was running.
In addition to this sort of errant running reverie, I have also developed an urban ambulatory one which I have alluded to several times throughout the course of my posts so far. I think the question Sarah would ask is this: “With all this walking, what are you looking for?” Hopefully, like with running, I’ll know it when I find it.