With the London Summer Olympics in our midst, I thought I’d share a story I wrote about embracing life while running in different countries. In this piece I discuss jogging while pregnant, noticing that there weren’t many babies or expectant moms in Austria (because of Europe’s national decrease in births), and watching the world learn to love this favorite sport of mine. This was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners book in 2010.
Footprints around God’s World
“It’s elevating and humbling at the same time. Running along a beach at sunrise with no other footprints in the sand, you realize the vastness of creation, your own insignificant space in the plan, how tiny you really are, your own creatureliness and how much you owe to the supreme body, the God that brought all this beauty and harmony into being.”
~Sister Marion Irvine, 2:51 PR and 1984 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier
“You’re going to wear that out in public? You must be jokin’!” six-year-old Helen Rafferty asked me in a lilting Irish brogue as she watched me unpack my running shorts and tank top. I could tell that her mother, standing near the lace curtains, was thinking the same thing.
Oh great! If they really don’t wear running gear here in the Emerald Isle, then I’m going to have to spend a titanic amount of my Guinness money on a sweat suit. At least then I won’t stick out while running the next few months.
And that’s just what I did. Like a banshee, I scoured Dublin that fall day in 1986. I finally found a turquoise warm-up suit. It wasn’t my style, but at least now I was ready to hit the cobblestones. Even though Dublin had a small marathon at that time, I deduced that the Irish hadn’t been bitten by the running bug. It seemed like I was the only runner out there during the entire semester I studied abroad. And so it didn’t really matter what running gear I wore, because regardless of what I threw on, I stuck out like a fitness freak anyway.
I found it curious that the running craze hadn’t reached this island yet. Jogging had been so popular in America ever since Rocky hit the big screen in 1976, when I was ten and had become a runner myself. Even on cold days a person couldn’t drive around my home state of Minnesota without seeing people running through neighborhoods, along the banks of the Mississippi or on paths around our numerous lakes. I pondered: Had the running craze bypassed only Ireland, or had it leapfrogged the entire world, only to be popular in the United States?
It’s been twenty years since I first wrestled with that query. I have traveled the world with my husband due to incentive trips he is blessed to win. In the early nineties, at our vacation destinations, the only people “hitting the road” were my triathlete husband, some of his American co-workers and yours truly. The locals looked upon us as alien creatures come to seize control of their sidewalks, paths and streets.
The place I got ogled the most was Vienna, Austria in 1995. I had an hour to kill before my presence was expected at a meeting, so I laced up my sneakers and decided to run through Stadtpark. During my three-mile course I didn’t encounter any other runners. I noticed the same phenomenon on other days. Obviously, the jogging bug hadn’t bitten in this part of the world either. As I rounded the Johann Strauss monument, I noticed a very gentrified man staring at me. I recalled reading a book before our trip that stated the Austrians were in the midst of a national decrease in births. I read that there would not be many expectant women or babies in Vienna, and the author was right! I’m sure I looked rather goofy to this dapper gent as I approached him in a bright pink T-shirt and matching Spandex shorts. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the prettiest set of running clothes I owned, but it was the only thing I could find to fit over my large, pregnant belly. So you see, I looked very much the outsider to him… an expectant mom and a jogger all rolled into one!
My husband and I have trotted God’s globe from sea to shining sea on these business trips. From the lakes of Minnesota to the hills of Hong Kong, we’ve created extraordinary memories along happy trails. When we commune with nature in this remarkable way, we feel God’s pleasure. As we’ve carried forward (even after my husband’s diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis in his late thirties), we’ve wondered: If running is so beneficial, why aren’t people all around the world getting hooked on this exuberant sprint for life? Even my husband’s specialists are saying how healthy exercising is for everyone: to persevere and just do it!
And so, we do keep running all over the place. If we’re not dashing after our seven kids, we’re making tracks along the beaches of Mexico or the mountains of New Zealand. Why shop in different nations when there’s so much glory to see as we run?
It finally happened in Barcelona in 2000. My husband accompanied me as I went for a slow run (more like a waddle since I was eight months pregnant) and we actually saw Spanish people out there jogging along the sea! I could tell they were avid runners because of the athletic gear they had on. It was wonderful. The running fever wasn’t just in America anymore. And further proof that the Spanish attitude had reconditioned was the fact that when we neared the hotel, after our morning jog, instead of strange looks from the doormen, we were handed a cold bottle of spring water from an ice bucket and a moist towel with which to wipe our sweat. Now there are road races all over Europe. There are marathons in Africa and Antarctica.
In a few months, my husband of seventeen years and I will travel to Ireland with his company. I’ll pack my tank top and running shorts, and not the turquoise sweat suit (I left that in Ireland back in 1986). I can jog in my regular running clothes because I know I won’t get odd looks from the locals; Ireland has joined the U.S. in a running craze. The Dublin marathon has grown from 2,100 participants its first year in 1980, to 10,000 entrants this year. In fact, when we were visiting the Emerald Isle in 2004 we actually came across a bloke training for the Dublin marathon. This young man left hobbled prints by the River Liffey; he had pulled his Achilles tendon. But the thrill of the upcoming race was evident in his freckled face. I noticed he was wearing soccer gear, but heck… he was a runner!
(Please read my blog titled, My Pro-Life Running Stroller, too!)