Never Say Never!

Running In Strasbourg

NASA Satellite View of 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.”




Running in China

This story was a submission to’s first ever “Best Running Story in a Foreign Country Writing Contest” – April 2011. Our story’s author, EY Contributor, Martin Mudry, an avid traveler and runner, is currently filming a documentary in Kenya called “Where Dreams Don’t Fade.” You can follow his latest project on a special facebook page devoted to the movie.  Or check back here for more stories to come!

Carl had just arrived in China. Wade, Megan and I picked him up at the airport in Kunming, the city he’d be spending the next 4 months in for his study abroad. While Wade, Megan and I had been traveling around China together for a few weeks, Carl should have been tired, jet lagged, and ready for bed. So what did we do? Immediately upon returning to the hostel we made him take a shot of one of the strongest and foulest drinks known to man called Baijiu. At $.50 for the equivalent of 5 shots, it also must be one of the cheapest drinks available anywhere.

The rest of the first night was pretty tame. We walked around a bit past some empty stores, through the big square where our hostel was located and then went to bed. The next morning we all went out to breakfast together before bidding Wade and Megan goodbye, as they flew back up north to the city where they are both teaching.

Once they left, Carl had quite a bit on his plate. He had just arrived at altitude, (Kunming’s altitude is 1,800 meters ~6,500ft); he was with someone who has a dairy allergy but doesn’t speak any Chinese; he was adjusting to a 13 hour time difference from where he had just come; oh yeah, and this was his first time traveling outside of the United States, EVER!

So as a good friend, what did I do to ease the transition? Take it easy for a few days? No! Carl and I immediately headed out to the city outskirts and hiked into the nearby mountains where I had previously seen a few hotels. We hiked up to an even higher elevation at which point the real fun began- watching Carl barter for a room with people in Chinese. The problem was, aside from Carl not having practiced Chinese for a few months, he also had to speak to people who barely knew Mandarin- the only dialect he had been taught.

We checked out one place, which seemed nice, but the price was a bit high, so we decided to check out another knowing we could always come back and try to drive the price down more.

At the second place, the guy showed us rooms but opened each door by sliding open the room window first and then unlocking the door from the inside with his hand. But the price seemed right after a little negotiation, so we made the decision to stay and asked for the room key.

What? The guy didn’t seem to understand. “The key to the room” Carl said again in Chinese. He seemed very confused and reluctant, but took a key off a key chain that appeared to hold only the master keys. We went back to the room, where I took a closer look at the window- thinking: “Great, no lock, so the key is useless per his little trick to get in.”

As I debated whether we should leave our stuff in the room while we went for a run, I realized that there was a key to the bathroom and if we locked our stuff in there, chances were he wouldn’t be able to get past that second door.

So with our passports and cash secured behind one door with virtually no lock and behind another door as flimsy as balsa wood, we went out for a quick walk and then a run.

As we were leaving with our backpacks to explore the area, we ran into the guy who had given us the room and key. He asked us for the keys. Carl tried to tell him that we had it, but he kept asking for it. I, of course, didn’t know what he was saying, although it was pretty clear that he was motioning for the keys. Finally Carl told him for the 4th time that we were just going for a walk; that we would be coming back; and that we were taking the key but would give it back before we checked out.

On the run we went through small villages, down single track trails and came upon some kids. They appeared utterly terrified and I’m sure the youngest thought the foreigners were going to kill her and leave her dead in the forest. We tried to tell them it was OK and the older ones actually start to laugh, but one of the youngest continued to run in terror.

We ducked by some houses and got back out onto a main road. A few more times we took trails that came to dead ends. One looked nice but quickly ended at a small temple in the hillside. Another led us down a path toward a village but soon we were surrounded by huge German shepherds, which while chained, were barking furiously, giving us the clear message about which way to go (back the way we came). We wandered through more fields, before finally coming to a trail that led down a steep path and crossed a beautiful hill of tall grass.

It reminded me a lot of the hills on the coasts of Northern California, with little halftrack trails. Carl was out running in front when all of a sudden he slipped. The image flashed before me of Carl tripping and tumbling a hundred feet down the steep slope. Luckily he caught himself.

Feeling like my mother, I warned him: “Be careful Carl.” “I know” he said. A few minutes later, he tripped again, and then again. I felt at a loss, and could picture having to call his parents to tell them how he slid down a hill in rural china. Again, with a little luck, we found a way up and over and finally were on the path heading back to the hotel.

We planned to go out to eat, but after a shower Carl was exhausted and just wanted to call it an early night. I didn’t blame him. When Wade Megan and I first arrived at altitude, we took it really easy. With Carl, I’d had him hiking, running, and translating from day one and maybe the jet lag was finally catching up with him. I read for a bit then lay down as well and we both dozed off until 9:30 pm or so.

We were both awake and talking when we heard a car pull in and the doors slam. Then, all of a sudden, loud piano music. It sounded so real – could there be a piano somewhere??

Carl and I were like what the ??, until the background music started and people started singing karaoke in Chinese for the next few hours. The music randomly went from loud to unbearable at no discernable intervals.

The absurdity of the situation – high up above Kunming, on the border of mountains and farmland – people were blasting music and singing as if their sole goal was to break glass.

Hours later the music stopped. Then we heard footsteps coming downstairs to where our room was. Then there was someone at the door trying to get in. We tried to say hello, but then the window slid open. I quickly got up to turn on the light as Carl yelled “What do you want?? We’re in here” in Chinese. As I turned on the light, whoever was there left quickly and that was the last we heard of them.

The next morning, we got up early and caught the sunrise on the hill. It was completely quiet and we were the only people. It was a complete 180 from the day I had discovered the place with Wade and Megan.  That day it was New Years and there were hundreds of Chinese people in high heels, suits, and dress shoes, miraculously scrambling over the rocks and shouting to each other across the valleys. This time we were alone and the light was perfect.

We hiked around a little more before returning to our room to gather our stuff to leave. Our friend who was so worried about our keys and maybe was the one trying to come into our room the night prior was no where to be found.  We left the keys with his wife and headed out.

We had 20 miles to hike and many more memories to be had before the day was up.  It may have only been Carl’s first few days in China, but it was important that he learn the rules to successful travel- do it while you can, push yourself, and don’t forget to go for a run.


Location of the Sniatyn Raion (District) in Ukraine

Chance Encounters of a Good Kind

Location of the Sniatyn Raion (District) in Ukraine

This story was a submission to’s first ever “Best Running Story in a Foreign Country Writing Contest” – April 2011. Our story’s author, Tammela Platt, is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a town in southwest Ukraine. She writes “I have been in Ukraine since last September and at my permanent site since December.” She heard about the contest from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Runner, Oberlin Graduate and EY Writer: Samantha Kyrkostas.

This is a story about an incomplete run. An incomplete run thanks to the incredible openness and hospitality of the Ukrainian people.

Sniatyn’s stadium in winter. There is a cement track around the soccer field.

While doing a speed workout at my town’s stadium – 100-meter repeats, sprinting down the straightaway and jogging back – on the first day of February, I kept running by a woman taking a toddler for a walk – rather, he was walking her. On one of my recovery jogs, the woman called me over and asked me something – in Ukrainian, of course – about my running that I didn’t quite understand (upon reflection I think she asked how fast I run 100 meters; that day was not an especially fast day). When I told her I didn’t understand (Я не розумію/“Ya ne rozoomiyoo” – probably the first three words I mastered in Ukrainian), she said, “Oh, are you Polish?” It’s the blond hair and blue eyes. Or the assumption many Ukrainians make that anyone here who doesn’t speak fluent Ukrainian must be from Poland. When I told her I’m American and talked a little about the Peace Corps and why I’m here, she asked me to wait until her daughter (mother of the toddler) came back and then invited me directly to their apartments in the building across from the stadium. “Right now?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. What could I say but yes? Sure, I would have liked to finish my workout, but it would have been stupid to refuse this offer from such a genuine woman.

Zhenia & Tanya's Apartment -To the right, behind the fence, is the stadium. Far center-right is the apartment building complex where Zhenia and Tanya live.

So off we went, Zhenia (Женя, short for Yevhenia (Євгенія)), the not-so-old grandmother, and Tanya (Таня, short for Tetiana), her daughter, guiding me across the street and up the stairs of their building, chattering the whole time about how glad they were to meet me and how I would be welcome anytime and must come see them. They showed me around their apartments and then, in typical Ukrainian fashion, sat me down with tea – despite the fact that I was sweaty from my run and surely did not smell sweet – and offered me some delicious cheese pancakes (called сирники/“syrnyky”) as we talked for a while about Ukraine and America. When it started to get dark I pleaded work to do and, full of snacks and happy feelings, jogged slowly home. Meeting Zhenia and Tanya was a great cap-off to what had already been a great day: I had talked with my 11th Form about Romanticism in art, had sung “My Favorite Things” to my 3rd Form, and had gotten three boxes in the mail. Days like that make spending two years in Ukraine a little less daunting.

And it all started with a run.

~ Tammela Platt~



Joe Schubert in China

Kunming locals love to wryly say that the “mountains are high and the emperor is far away”, explaining the often devious and alternative history of their city.  Sure, some say our world is now flat, and that China is flat and better connected, meaning Kunming now submits (usually) to Beijing’s watch.  But, regardless of how flat Thomas Friedman thinks China is, the mountains and elevation have done a great job of keeping China’s pollution away from this six million person city in China’s Southwest.

Not facing the pollution that inhibits most running in Chinese cities, I spent 5 months running outside (and a mile high!) in Kunming.  The traffic, however, posed a problem that even the mountains couldn’t keep away.  I started my afternoon run how I did many in Kunming- slipping into the Moped lane.  True to congestion in China, the sidewalks are impossible to run on (and nearly so just to walk on).  Weaving around and with the slew of mopeds, I received the usual funny stares and laughs.

Then the run picked up.  A flashy black and neon green moped sped up next to me, and a young driver, cigarette dangling out of his mouth, gave me a wink.  I assumed my usual weaving.  He began weaving.  I picked up the pace, he picked it up more.  I dipped off onto a side street.  He slipped onto the side street. For twenty minutes we “raced” through Kunming’s busiest streets and quietest back alleys.  As our race ended, he asked me a few questions in Chinese/English (where are you from, etc.), gave me a cigarette, and continued on his drive.

And there I stood.  Realizing I was lost in Kunming and wearing only a pair of short shorts, and a singlet, I gazed down at my cigarette- my race medal? I stashed it behind my ear and decided to keep the run alive and slowly tried to find my way… and then I saw it.  A track.  … and a fence.  Deciding a fence shouldn’t keep me from such a unique treasure in China, I hopped onto the other side.  Ahhhh.  The relief and meditative peace of mind treasured by track runners soon took me over.  Twilight approached and I completed my first four, five, six laps.

And then, indiscernible Chinese yelling filled the air and I saw flashlights and a car on the other side of the fence.  No cherries and berries but I made out what seemed to be the figure of a Chinese police officer.  And so I ran.  Down the track.  Faster.  Over the fence.  And just kept running.  “Woah woah woah, I just ran from the police, the CHINESE police, the CHINESE AUTHORITARIAN  police, what if they catch me? I have no identification. They don’t still have re-education camps?  Right?” So I ran faster, and faster, dodging through alleys and side streets as much as possible.

Eventually my pace settled down.  I began to take note of my situation and pondered whether it was actually the police (or was it a security guard, or some old man who wanted to say hi?).  Regardless, I was really lost.  And it was dark.  And I just had short shorts, a singlet and that cigarette, somehow still tucked away behind my ear and hair.  And then it clicked.  “TAXI!!”  In nervous Chinese, I explained I had only one cigarette as fare and I was a lost foreigner and hey, my shorts don’t even reach my middle thighs.  For whatever reason, maybe out of amusement, the taxi driver agreed. Soon I was back in my old, decrepit Chinese dorm room, showering, eating fried veggie-noodles, and soaking in the best tempo workout of my life.

~ Joe~

Joe enjoys a hard earned meal after an incredible workout

SHOES WORN DURING THIS KUNMING RUN:  ASIC GEL 1160’s.    Runner\’s World on Asic Gel 1160\’s

SHOE OF CHOICE FOR WINNING CONTEST:  VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS MEN’S KSO TREK:  Think you might like to try them?  Then you need to find the perfect size…

Running Story Contest 1 Writing Contest

April 8, 2011 – AND THE WINNER IS…Joseph Schubert for his Kunming China Running StoryJoe wins a new pair of his favorite running shoes (Vibram Fivefingers Men’s KSO Treks) – a $150 value!

The entries were amazing and the decision was very close.  We had a tie for 2nd place:  Eli Terris for his Czech Running Story  & our own Megan Ritchie for her Poland Running StoryOur 2nd place winners have received checks for $75. 

Other notable entries included:  Tammela Platt for her Ukraine Running Story, William Kennedy for his Strasbourg Running Story, & Martin Mudry for his China Running Story.    Look for  our favorite entries to be posted on this site, then DECIDE for yourself who the winner is!


SEEKING THE BEST RUNNING STORY IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY is launching our FIRST EVER* writing contest.  It all started with a comment by Martin – an avid runner, globe trotter and EY Contributor, in response to an article written by Sam, another avid runner, globe trotter and EY Contributor (see Take the Blessing and Run).

Martin suggested a contest for Best Running Story in a Foreign Country.  We loved it and we said YES – Let’s Do It!

We’ve not only invited all of our current Contributors to submit, but we’ve also opened the competition to other writers/runners too.  Any takers?  If so, submit your Best Running Story in a Foreign Country (in English please) to

With your permission of course, we’ll post our favorites and select a winner.

Now – about the prize – how about a new pair of shoes? Along with your story, tell us your favorite type of running shoes** and if you are selected as the winner – you’ll be sporting them on the trail and on our Homepage!  To qualify for the shoes, submit your entry by Friday, April 1, 2011.  Assuming we receive some entries,  the winner will be announced and their article featured on our website, one week later, on Friday, April 8, 2011. Supporting pictures are welcome and may increase your chances of winning!

Any questions?

Now all runners…On your marks…

*We’ll see how it goes and if it is a success, then it could be the start of a new tradition.

** 1st Prize is a pair of running shoes of your choice! Maximum prize value up to $150 retail, including taxes and the cost of shipping the shoes to you.  Include your Full Name, Address & e-mail with your entry.