Running In Strasbourg
December 31, my senior year of high school, I made two resolutions. One: Take a year to travel. 2) Never run again. Weeks earlier, at the Northern California Sectional Cross Country Championship, I’d shaved my head, laced my flats, sprinted across pavement and grass, and finished sixth. The top five went to the state meet, and I’d been passed in the last twelve meters. One second ruined my four-year career.
Fast forward eight months. I’d spent the day along the banks of the River Ill in Strasbourg, enjoying Alsace’s overlap of French and German culture and eating bacon for the first time. It had been pleasant to wander around ornately shingled beerhouses, Parisian-style cafés and apartments, but I hadn’t seen much of the city I’d soon have to leave. I decided to break my resolution, just for a day.
The sun had disappeared, but my host family said I could run to Strasbourg Cathedral. It wasn’t far: just follow the tram tracks from the house to the church. September was approaching; I felt cold and ridiculous in my zip-off cargo shorts and t-shirt, but my legs felt free. My watch showed it was later than I thought, already nine o’clock. Everything looked different under the moon.
After ten-minutes steady progress the tracks split unexpectedly. There was no one on the streets to ask for directions (not that I would), but I had a fifty-fifty chance and could always retrace my steps. I headed left.
Fifteen minutes later I looked up, winded, and saw the Cathedral’s dark spire well away to my right. I didn’t backtrack, but decided to cut across through a tall row of offices, one bridge and then another and then a broad deserted street. My sweat turned cold and my knees ached. The buildings stopped looking postcard-worthy and there was no site of the Cathedral—the city’s assorted church bells struck ten o’clock.
Sounds of a highway traffic emerged and I found myself standing before an overpass. Strasbourg is a city of almost 900,000 people. I hadn’t realized that. I turned 180 degrees and tried to run back the way I came. Nothing looked familiar. At eleven o’clock I rediscovered the tram tracks, but didn’t know which way to follow them. I stopped running, rested my hands on my knees and debated the relative merits of looking for a way home versus sleeping under a bridge. My breathing came fast and shallow; my brain labored to the point where it didn’t notice a small Peugeot rolling along the tracks.
A horn honked—my host family’s car. I got in the back sheepishly. “I am so, so sorry” I said in bad French and tired English. They laughed. “It’s ok. We thought we’d never find you.”
We rode in silence for a while. My shirt and shorts stuck to the seat, as I looked out at more recognizable sights. Before he parked the father asked, “So, how was your run?”
I took a deep breath. My chest hurt like after a race.
“You know what?” I said. “It was great. I think I’ll go again tomorrow.”