By Taylor Chase (MEdu ex10)
People often ask how I got the idea to write A Runners Guide to Europe (website) as a CU graduate student. But for me, running and travel have always gone hand in hand so much so that I literally became a runner the day after I became a traveler. It was Monday, Sept. 6, 1999. I awoke at 5:17 a.m. (clearly still jet lagged) in a strange bed in a strange house somewhere on the opposite side of the world from my home in Denver.
I was sixteen years old, and had decided to spend my junior year of high school as an exchange student in Charnecles, near Grenoble, France. And, according to my calculations, I had to stick this decision out for another 43 minutes, 18hours, 24 days and nine-and-a-half months.
I lay in bed, eyes wide open, sheets pulled up to my chin. For the next two hours I contemplated my situation. It didnt look good. Id already exhausted my paltry French vocabulary during the bonjour, ca va? conversation Id had with my host family upon yesterdays arrival. I didnt really know where exactly in France my new village was or when I would have to start school or how I could possibly begin integrating into this new world. I lay in bed, paralyzed with uncertainty about what steps I should take next.
But then an idea occurred to me. A lot of people I knew back in Colorado ran in the mornings, and it seemed to be something they enjoyed. It seemed like something I could do too, and it seemed like a legitimate excuse that would allow me to escape the house for a bit and come up with a plan of action.
I threw the bed covers off my body and jumped out of bed. I pulled on my shorts and strapped on my shoes, and before I lost my nerve I opened my bedroom door and walked out into the main room. Only then did I realize I didnt know the French verb for to jog. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a caring, open-minded, athletic host mother who understood my intentions. She gave me a key to the house, a few simple directions and a hand-drawn map. With that, I stepped out the door.
I couldnt have run any more than a mile that morning. But as I crossed the main road and pushed up a hill and down the other side, the early morning fog lifted. I was surrounded by acres of fertile brown farmland and engulfed in the pink-gold glow of the rising sun. In the distance the Alps loomed purple, stark and powerful in the light.
I suddenly realized I was in a land far from home, a place where mountains rose to the east that would dwarf the Rockies if they stood side by side. I stopped running and my breath got caught in my throat.
I will never forget my feelings that morning. I was awed, I was overwhelmed, I was astounded and I was scared. And I was also slightly curious about what adventures awaited. I didnt realize it then. But at that moment I became hooked on running and travel.
Forty-three minutes, 18 hours, 24 days and nine-and-a-half months passed. I returned to Denver, finished high school and set off on the next stage of my life. I had no idea that my running and travel adventures had only begun.
Less than one year later I would regularly run up and down Edinburghs Royal Mile. I was working two jobs in Scotland, but I did my best to make time for these morning jaunts. For me, running became a way to get into everyday Edinburgh culture. Not because people ran, but because when I ran I cruised the quiet morning streets, watched proprietors sweep the front of their shops and passed by early-morning pedestrians heading across the bridges to Princes Street. I wasnt separate from the city; I was part of it.
Less than one year after that I found myself running along the rocky beach of the Gulf of Finland, with the stark Soviet high rises of suburban St. Petersburg casting long shadows over me. Six months after that I was training on the hills of Tuscany, and the gung-ho spirit of the Italian people guided me on. About two years after that my daily hill-climb culminated atop the Center of New Zealand (a peak at the center of the country), and left me fantastic views stretching out to the oceans at the end of the world.
After so much time overseas I moved back to Colorado in 2006 and started graduate school at CU-Boulder in 2007. It didnt take long for this Denver girl to settle into life in Boulder. In fact, I quickly came to consider a day incomplete if I hadnt strapped on my running shoes and set off for the Flatirons.
But it wasnt just the mountains that I loved. In every run I took and every run I take today — I conjure up memories of every run I have ever taken. Each stride on the hills of Chautauqua or along the Boulder Creek Path is taken with memory and love of the strides I have taken along the hills of Scotland and Italy and the paths of Russia and New Zealand. Each time I go east to Boulders open space to watch the sunset behind the Rockies I am reminded of that first run in the Alps when I watched the sun rise.
Running allows me to connect with myself and my surroundings. It also fills me with a deeper love for all the places I have run, all the people I have run by and all the people I have been.
Thats the story of A Runners Guide to Europe. At first read, it looks like an active travel guide that tells you about good places to run and interesting things to see in different cities across Europe
But within the pages and between the words are stories of epic dawns on the Danube River, flashes of light-blue as a sprinter dashes through downtown Moscow, tales of runners swearing each other to secrecy about runs along the Adriatic coast and the light that shines in old runners eyes as they speak of glorious runs on unforgotten paths in places that will never disappear from memory.
The connection of ones self to ones body and ones body to the world is something to be celebrated. When I see people run, in Budapest or Bulgaria or at sunrise in Boulder, my heart beats a bit faster, and I long to join them.
Taylor Lynn Chase (MEdu ex 10) is a Denver native, Boulder resident and current masters student at the CU-Boulder’s school of education. She graduated from Bucknell University in 2005 with a bachelors in comparative humanities and Russian language, spending the 2008-2009 academic school year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, Russia. At the end of last shcool year, she spent two months traveling through Europe researching and writing A Runner’s Guide to Europe, which will be published by Running The World in the spring of 2010. She helped organize World Run Day, an annual event that connects runners and encourages them to positively impact their communities.