I don’t know that I would call myself a runner. I can run, but I often don’t. Instead, I jog. Daily. During the past year at the UW, while balancing work and classes, this meant getting up at 5:00 am. I managed- and it’s become a daily ritual since (though not the super-early part). Every (almost) morning that I have been abroad, I have gotten up to go jogging.
The feelings I get from these experiences are indescribable. I have felt the wind and the rain coming off the North Sea as I’ve made my way over the cliffs around Scarborough. I’ve watched the sun rise over Venetian canals, pounding over eerily empty bridges at the near-dawn hour. In Budapest, I have yelled with Hungarian runners from the tallest hill in the city, celebrating our morning uphill run and our victory over the steep slope (that’s my translation of what we were yelling… everyone else was speaking Magyar, but still, the camaraderie was there). The Sonian Forest of Belgium was magical in the way that story tales are magical- for the first time since I was six, I believed in fairy tales again.
In Italy, especially in Milan, running doesn’t seem to be popular. In fact, most Italians think it’s strange. Still, some of my best Italian experiences have been while running. I’ve run with the Hash House Harriers, a group of ex-pats who refuse anything to do with competition. I struggled to fourth place with my classmates and professors through the Bocconi Run, an 8K race put on by the university (much like the Dawg Dash back home). My running community is amazing- and I don’t mean just the runners. The tabacchi shop near my house has an early-morning breakfast crowd, always ready to cheer me to my finish and often, to buy me a cup of espresso after. I have been offered more rides home by well-meaning Italians (who fear I am only running from necessity) than I can count. In their generosity, when they realize I truly mean to continue jogging, I am often given a water bottle (or in one notable case, a beer) to help me on my way. At first strange, I have come to realize this generosity is just part of being Italian. I’ve learned to accept it, and return it when I can.
In a way, I feel like I’m back at home when I jog. It doesn’t matter that I often don’t speak the right language- all that’s needed are nods of acknowledgment, easily given smiles, and the ability to high-five anyone and everyone. The rules of running (or in my case, jogging) don’t change from country to country. The feeling of camaraderie is always there, the belonging. Some are more willing to accept me as a foreigner, some encourage me to run with them (as they insisted in Germany), but for the most part, these are passing relationships that start my day off right by reminding me that though I am far from home, I am never far from a friendly community that exists everywhere.
Next Sunday, I’ll be running my fifth marathon- though my first abroad. In Athens, it’ll trace the original route of Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens to declare the Greek victory in battle, and then died. I’m hoping to avoid the death part. Understandably, I’m nervous, but I know that I’ll be racing in a running community. Even though they speak Greek, the language of running won’t change that much.