Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baby Steps in Germany

A younger, more
glamorous me.  (Ha!)
Reading a post on the blog Tall Mom on the Run got me thinking about the very start of my running career.  The question posed in that blog was: Have you ever run in a country other than your own?  Boy, did that bring back memories.

In the post "For love or running," which I wrote several months ago (my second blog post ever), I alluded to the fact that I had started running about eight years or so ago.  But that is not entirely true.  If I want to really trace the origins of my current running obsession, I have to go back several years more, in fact about five years, to when I was living in Erfurt, Germany, on a work exchange.

I had just finished grad school and a year of classwork towards teaching certification when I landed a Fulbright scholarship to teach English at a Gymnasium (high school) in the former East Germany for a year.  By the time I moved there, the wall had been down for a good nine years - and I had lived elsewhere in Germany for a year previously - so the culture shock was not that great.  In fact, Germany to me was like a second home.  I felt very comfortable there. However, living in a new city and not knowing anyone, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands.

At the time I lived in a huge, non-descript student housing block.  The building was temporary home to many and more technical college students, and it was all but deserted on the weekends when said students headed home to their respective communities.  I lived on the top floor in a two-person apartment alone, and rattling around in that building when it was empty was enough to drive anyone to run.  I held no love for that apartment.  In fact, I resented it, feeling I was paying too much
Somewhere in Erfurt, Germany
given the small stipend I received, and eventually I would abandon it in favor of a three-person Wohngemeinschaft (WG), or co-op, across town.

While still living in the apartment, however, the weekends were mine, and mine alone, and it drove me crazy.  In my first couple of months in Erfurt, I still didn't really know anyone too well; the two other Americans I had gotten to know during orientation lived clear on the other side of the city, a good 45-minute commute that included tram transfers, buses, and a lot of hoofing it.  My building's house manager was nice enough, but she worked nights and there was only so often I could drop in for a beer or coffee with her to pass the time.

Student housing at its best.
I don't know if it was anxiety-induced energy that needed burning, boredom, or simply the need to move that got me running those first steps, but somehow I got it in my head to take up running.  Now, this wasn't a very organized endeavor (how do these things ever get started anyway?), but it was semi-enthusastic.

I would put on a pair of cotton sweatpants and a t-shirt, lace on my tennies, and head outside.  I didn't carry water, of course; I didn't have a plan.  I simply headed down the multiple flights of stairs, out the door, across the major road, and out into the country.  Being situated on the far edge of town, it wasn't long before I was out in the fields surrounding Erfurt, heading down some walking path or other and jogging away.  To be honest, I don't remember much from those first efforts.  I remember they were hard. I had to stop and walk a LOT, and I don't remember getting too far.  Mostly, I remember the feeling of contentment that washed over me.  I was happy out there.  I liked being out of the city, doing something challenging; at a time when things were mostly out of my control, running gave me a modicum of empowerment.  About the time I started thinking I might get lost if I continued, I would turn around and trot back to the dorm.  

As I said, this was not an organized effort.  In fact, it was hardly anything at all, more something to do on the weekends to help kill the boredom I was feeling.  By the time I moved into the smaller apartment across town, I had made friends and had a lot more to do on the weekends than just head out running, like go to parties and drink beer see the sights, take in the cultural treasures, and travel with my new friends.

Throughout that year I lived abroad, though, I did still find time to head out for an occasional run.  I think running had started to grow on me even back then.  Living in the WG, though, my routes didn't take me out into the fields anymore.  Instead, they took me through an older, residential part of town, across a river, and into the woods along the river.  I never did get to a point where I could run very far, and in my new locale there were more witnesses to my discomfort. One time I even had two young lads shout out Streichholzbeine to me as I ran by.  Translated as "matchstick legs," I remember being mortified at having been called attention to in such a way.  (It's funny what a difference a decade and a half makes; nowadays, I might even take something like that as a compliment.)
River path
Home sweet home!
As other things took over in my life abroad, running got pushed more and more to the back burner until it finally just fell off the stove altogether.  I never gave it up completely, but I didn't embrace it either.  Despite that, though, I believe it was those first efforts in Germany that set me up for running several years later, when back in the States, having put on a few pounds after the sedentary lifestyle of a full-time desk job set in, I started walking for exercise.  Eventually, making the leap to running was in all probability less odd because I had taken a stab at it before.

When I think back on those early attempts to run, I have to laugh at how hard I was on myself.  At the same time, I give myself credit for trying.  I remember all the reasons that brought me to try running in the first place and all the feelings that running brought me - both bad and good.

Running is such an amazing way to get out and SEE things when you are someplace new.  Little did I know that I would embrace it to the extent I have.  Now, I can't think of a better way to take in the sights while on vacation than by running.  I have been lucky enough to run in Germany, California, Boston, Hawaii, Michigan, Colorado and some other places while on vacation.  Hopefully I'll have the chance to expand on that as the years go by.  I don't see why not, seeing as we're now planning vacations around runs.

Sometime I'll have to revisit my first real exposure to running - also in Germany, but six years before my first running steps - when I lived with an American raw-vegan, health-nut distance runner.  Man, did I think she was crazy.  Little did I know....

Happy Running!

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting woman you are! Running early, this summer, for my long runs, has given me the chance to really see The surrounding cities with fresh eyes. I can only imagine what it would be like to run in a foreign city.