Running through Vineyards: Saint Emilion Snapshots + Half Marathon Recap

semi marathon de saint emilion
There were no safety pins for our race bibs, but there was wine at the finish line. #priorities
saint emilion lussac
chateau haut piquat
saint emilion lussac
plaid scarf fuzzy sweater fall outfit
colorful ivy saint emilion

My race bib was barely holding on. 

It was no complicated formula--my shirt was drenched with sweat, and my bib was attached to my shirt with tape. It was a pretty predictable predicament. 

I wasn't faring so well either. 

That should've been predictable as well--the university doctor I had seen to be cleared for the race (you need medical clearance for all road races in France!) had warned me about the rolling hills. I cringed a bit at the time, but thought little more of it. After all, the elevation maps on the race website didn't look so bad. 

Oh, they were bad. Within the first few miles, my ready-to-PR pace had dramatically slowed to opposite-of-PR pace (PW--personal worst?). My goals and sub-goals slipped further and futher out of my reach. Let's aim for a PR--1:43, let's go! Okay, how about close to a PR--1:45. A little bit slower, say 1:50? How about under 2 hours? No? Can we finish?

The landscapes were beautiful--the misty vineyards and quaint wine chateaus couldn't have made for a more picturesque setting. But they were no distraction from the punishing climbs and the unanticipated biting cold temperatures. My body protested violently, gasping for breath with each throbbing step. Every kilometer was an uphill battle--literally--and I was losing.

Eventually, I stumbled across the finish line in 2 hours, 4 minutes, and some seconds that I don't remember. I quickly cleared the time from my watch, and I didn't bother to look up the official time because I didn't want to know. 

I ran the half marathon in my full marathon pace. I finished in a time 20 minutes slower than my personal best, and 13 minutes slower than my previous slowest. 

Running is a fickle thing. When I PR, I feel unstoppable. When I run a bad race, I feel ashamed. I feel almost as if I've lost a piece of my identity, as if I'm no longer a legitimate runner. 

The situation was drastically different from my PR race, sure--the weather was ideal last year at Hartford, there was incredible energy from the spectators, the course was relatively flat, I was loaded with adrenaline after coming off of a long battle with injury. At Saint Emilion, the race much smaller, there were few people cheering, the hills killed, I was in a foreign country, and I had already been blessed two milestone training seasons this year (yeah first full marathon and olympic-distance tri). 

But that's okay. I gave it my best that day, and that's all I can ever ask of myself. 

It was both satisfying and discouraging to feel as if I were doing all I could--satisfying because at least I knew I was trying my best, but discouraging because my best was not as fast as before. 

And that's okay too. We're constantly changing as individuals, and it does absolutely no good to wallow in comparison to past versions of ourselves, just like it does absolutely no good to compare yourself to other people. It is, however, so valuable to learn from people who know what they're doing, and to learn from situations that don't go as well as you'd hoped (next time there will be no races with hills. Or I'll train for the hills...or maybe I'll just take the flat race).

Duality is my favorite thing--every unfortunate circumstance has the potential to become something positive.

There is no triumph without disappointment, and I'm going to keep chasing that forever-fleeting victory.

post signature

Travel: Dordogne, France + Midsemester Reflections

sarlat-la-caneda dordogne
sarlat-la-caneda dordogne
sarlat-la-caneda dordogne
study abroad style, college fashion
la roque saint christophe
chateau de beynac
chateau de beynac
chateau de beynac
la roche gageac
la roche gageac
la roche gageac
la roche gageac

The stark inconsistency of my ipad vs. DSLR photos couldn't better illustrate the wildly contrasting emotions I experience weekly.

During my travels, I am soaring, invigorated by the breathtaking landscapes and fairytale scenes. I am content to just be--to lie in the grassy hills overlooking a medieval village, to admire the intricate architecture of historic landmarks, to browse the countless trinkets at bustling markets, to smile at the gentle sun and open blue skies. 

During the week, I am feverish--sometimes both physically and mentally. I am inundated with schoolwork, my stomach protests the weekend's overly-indulgent menu, I am antsy from the long hours in class, my sleep-deprived body clunks about during my workouts, I meticuously plan for and edit my daily instagram posts as if they're class assignments.

Sometimes, I come down with a virus and find myself shivering in bed, wishing I were home. Other times, I'm locked out of the house on accident, the bus is broken, someone attempts to follow me home, my shower graciously bestows upon me only cold water, the transaction refuses my American credit card, I say something stupid in front of someone important due to a language nuance, my cooking is unappetizing but I feel compelled to eat it anyways, I wonder why I ever decided to make life so complicated for myself.

This week is the halfway point of the semester, and in another couple weeks, I'll have reached the halfway point of my stay in France. 

Today, a fellow exchange program student lit up upon hearing that two months remained. She was exhausted from juggling all the complicated logistics--from phone plans to sports injuries to meals, everything is a whole lot more difficult abroad. 

You can't just have a 4-month phone contract--you have to top-up your sim card each month, and sometimes you can't do it online because the site doesn't like your credit card, so you have to go to a convenience store that only accepts cash that you forgot to take out. You can't just go drop in to see the sports med team at your university gym--you have to make an appointment weeks out. And if you make an appointment with a non-university doctor, you can't just show your insurance card--you have to deal with reimbursement forms. You can't just rush into your dining hall for a quick bite for dinner because the university cafeteria only serves lunch and you're a half-hour commute from campus anyways--so you have to grocery shop, plan your meals, attempt to cook them, make faces while you eat what you cooked, then wash your own dishes. And so on.

So while we may be waltzing about idyllic landscapes, study abroad is far from a fairytale. I'm incredibly grateful to have this opportunity, and even incredibly grateful for the challenges, but boy, it's a lot sometimes. 

Before I left the U.S., I spoke with a friend's mother whose husband had passed away the year before. She told me that her husband had often wistfully remarked that he didn't have any stories to tell--that he had followed all the rules, and had done exactly what he should have done. I realized then that that was exactly what I feared. 

I was tired of doing what was safe and practical. I didn't want to look back and wish I had been more adventurous. I wanted stories to tell. And frankly, struggle is an essential element of a satisfying story--and there is no shortage of struggle here. La galère!

We will overcome. Cheers to the remaining two months and the stories waiting to unfold.

post signature

Finding Audacity: Maroon cowlneck + Rust Blazer

study abroad outfit, college fashion, fall transition look
study abroad outfit, college fashion, fall transition look
study abroad outfit, college fashion, fall transition look
study abroad outfit, college fashion, fall transition look
study abroad outfit, college fashion, fall transition look
brown ankle books with lace
Blazer, Forever 21 | Cowlneck, DKNY | Dress, Kohl's | Boots, Target | Necklace, Macy's
(How long before Lily ends up in the same exact location, posing exactly the same? Not long.)

Vous faisez du vélo souvent? Do you bike often?

It was a conversation starter that never left my head.

For me, solo travel means lots of people-watching. As I waited for the train this morning, I couldn't help but notice the stranger to my left--a ruggedly but tastefully dressed man gripping a well-loved road bike and bearing a hiking backpack the size of a small child, He seemed like an intriguing adventurer. What better opportunity to practice French conversation? 

After speaking to over 20 strangers for my social psych experiment last spring, you'd think reaching out would now be a breeze (to refresh your memory, my partner and I began conversations with strangers in public locations, classified their reactions, and discussed with them their perception of stranger interactions). 

But I was afraid. 

When I speak in French, I feel almost as if I adopt a new persona. I'm more timid and less interesting. It requires a lot of patience to speak with a language-learner in general--I often fail to catch jokes, trail off in the middle of sentences because I have no idea how to say whatever I'm thinking, and stumble over conjugations. 

So I made excuses to keep quiet. It's too noisy--we wouldn't be able to carry a conversation even if we wanted to. It's not culturally acceptable--remember that suspicious look that girl on the bus gave you when you asked if she played violin? (she was carrying an instrument case). It's weird to talk to random guys near my age--what if he thinks I'm hitting on him or something when all I want to do is talk in French? 

The noise eventually died down, but I kept resisting. I fought the opportunity, and then the opportunity walked away--literally. I must've been so lost in my mental battle that I failed to notice I was staring a little too intently. The adventurer man rolled his bike several meters down the platform, and waited at a new location. Whoops.

The train ended up being late, and I finally mustered up the courage to start a benign conversation with a woman next to me (fittingly, about the trains and whether they were often late). It didn't get much further than that--the train arrived a few minutes later--but it was a start. I sensed no hint of aversion, disgust, or impatience. 

Perhaps it's time for social psych experiment, part 2, France edition? 

post signature

La Vie Quotidienne: Peter Pan Collar Lace Top and Polkadot Pants

study abroad outfit france, college fashion
study abroad outfit france, college fashion
study abroad outfit france, college fashion
study abroad outfit france, college fashion
study abroad outfit france, college fashion
study abroad outfit france, college fashion
peter pan collar lace top
vintage coach brown crossbody bag
Top, Forever 21 | Cardigan, thrifted H&M | Pants, Macy's | Shoes, DSW | Bag, vintage Coach via Poshmark

The connection was bad, and it wasn't just the technology.

Phone glued to my ear and eyes glued to my laptop, I struggled to make out the fuzzy facebook group call and the equally fuzzy skype video. 

Nothing was working that night. 

The normally-obedient ethernet cable had decided to rebel. Even better, its protests aligned perfectly with the anticipated catch-up session with my home university friends. 

The skype call took nearly half an hour to connect, and once it finally did, it graciously bestowed upon us incoherent sound and blurry video that rivaled even the most impressionist of impressionist paintings.

So on my equally poor data connection, we tried talking through facebook messenger call, complemented by wild gestures through a mute skype video. That failed. When we learned that my voice was transmitting fine through skype but theirs wasn't, a friend resorted to transcribing the conversation on the other end through skype chat while I spoke normally. That failed too.

Eventually, the internet's resistance waned, and we found ourselves with coherent, albeit still sub-par, connection. But while the quality of our skype call improved, the quality of our conversation did not. 

Over the months we'd been separated, I had collected tidbits waiting become conversation--observances that reminded me of the crew, questions about new developments, anecdotes that I thought they'd appreciate. I envisioned hearing all about thesis writing, vacations, orientation week, class schedules, the new rhythm. I imagined announcing that I had been to a bar, that I now only use one toothbrush--not two, that life was novel and exciting here but that I often yearned for the resonance and familiarity of Amherst. 

Instead, we found ourselves discussing whether or not to reschedule the call for a day with better internet connection, and ultimately deciding it was too much effort. We made light small talk, stale like a baguette that's been left out overnight, and about as deep as a kiddie pool. People came and went. Others busied themselves with the interwebs or work. 

Eventually, it was time for dinner over in the US, and time for me to sleep in France. With a casual goodbye, my school family trickled out of the room, leaving me with an empty laptop screen and an unsettled heart. 

I struggled to name a concrete reason for the lackluster call, especially after several uplifting catchup sessions with other friends. Maybe it was the internet issues. Maybe it was the size of the group. Maybe it was academic stress. Or maybe we had already drifted.

Some bonds are perhaps woven by circumstance, and frayed by their very creator. But the ephemeral nature of many connections can't dilute the potent impressions they've made. For instance, I've rarely communicated with my grandmother for the past several years, but I nonetheless consider her one of the closest friends I've ever had. I still carry the resonance we shared--resonance that is but warm memories from her long-term stay in the US in my middle school days. She has her own life across the world in China, and I have mine. But somehow, she's always with me--through her infinite compassion, through her patient insight on my frivolous adolescent dreams, through her undepressing realism and heroic humility. 

My home university friends and I may now exist in separate spheres. Our connection might be unstable, internet-induced or not. But regardless of what happens, they'll always be with me--their genuine empathy, their eclectic intellectualism, their carefree energy. And even better--I don't need an ethernet cable for any of that.

post signature


© imperfect idealist. Design by Fearne.