Running Nostalgia–How Getting Locked-out Changed My Life

Running Nostalgia–How Getting Locked-out Changed My Life

Last night after a nice run with my colleagues, I had some nostalgia of when I used to run in France. My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Montpellier, France. It was by far the best experience of my life to that point. When I studied abroad, I lived with a family in the little suburb known as Castelnau-le-Lez. At this time, jogging and running for recreation weren’t really that popular in France. You could always tell the Americans a) by their builds and b) by their white socks. As I was traipsing through the woods on an only partially planned “adventure” I thought about two experiences that I had while running in France.


The first adventure I thought about was the running park in Castelnau. When I got home after the run last night, I did a little Google Maps journey of the area. From my street, I took Chemin du Mas du Diable (the hill on this road definitely made it feel like it was from the Devil ), to Chemin de Substantion, to Chemin des Aires, to Chemin des Aires Prolongé, to Chemin des Buissonnets (I’m pretty proud that I remembered some of that without having to look at Google Maps). After all that, about a mile and a half from my host family’s house, there was a system of dirt trails and “stations” where athletes could practice their push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Fun fact, MapMyRun has maps of France, which allowed me to get a better gauge on the distance. But, I digress. Back to the story, every so often I would run up to the park with my Discman in-hand (hey, pre-iPod era), jamming to some Flogging Molly, and run while enjoying the scenery. I was so spoiled when I studied abroad. My runs used to involve vineyards, rivers, and mountains. So.Lucky. Toward the end of my stay in France, I decided to go on a “long run”. My study abroad era was PSR (pre-serious running). At this point in my life, I ran to look hot at the beach, so I didn’t know a ton about the ins and outs of preparation for these “long runs”. On this 45-minute jaunt (my longest to that date), I didn’t hydrate before I went. It was May. In the south of France. It was hot. By the time I got home, I was so dehydrated that I could not get off of my bed. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was dehydration and thought that I just wasn’t in shape. Looking back, my muscles had approximately 0 moisture in them and they forbid me from moving. Well played, muscles. Well played.

Painting by Frédéric Bazzile of Castelnau circa 1868. Not much has really changed.

Painting by Frédéric Bazzile of Castelnau circa 1868. Not much has really changed.

The second memory I had of running was the time I got locked out of my host family’s house. One day, I had a later class and my host mom went out to her gym. I didn’t know that she was going to be going to the gym, so I didn’t bring my key. This was bad. As a result, when I got back from my run, I had no way of getting into my house. Thankfully, winters/springs are very mild in the south of France, but I still had to get to class at some point and wanted to shower and grab my things before I did so. Not knowing what to do, I went over to the neighbor’s house to see if she would call my host mom. What transpired over the next 30 minutes is kind of hazy because a) it’s been nearly 10 years and b) the event has a naturally dream-like quality because it was all in French and my French was only so good at that point. In that time waiting for my host mom to return from the gym, I sat with my neighbor lady, whose name I seem to have forgotten, and discussed her life. I wasn’t a great conversationalist, but I could understand a lot of what she was saying. Mme. Claude (I’ll call her that for the sake of argument) was a pied-noir, a European born in North Africa. She had grown up in Algeria before independence and was actually Italian by origin. As she spun her tales of growing up in Algeria and then escaping during the war for independence, I was fascinated. Parts of it were gruesome, but I began to see a path for my future. Again, it sounds strange, but that random conversation with Mme. Claude led me to my current life. Had I not become fascinated with terrorism (I’m morbid like that), I never would have applied to the University of Maryland, and thus never would have come to the East Coast and I would not have the life I had today.  It’s a true (to me) example of the butterfly effect. To this day, I am in awe of the fact that the simple act of leaving my key at home changed the whole course of my life. At the time, I was very annoyed that I was locked out. However, I am so glad that I was because I am beyond thankful for the life I lead today.

The dreaded hill on "my" street in Castelnau-le-Lez

The dreaded hill on “my” street in Castelnau-le-Lez



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