Monday, February 7, 2011

The Diplomat

I realize that I write a lot about running. I really do apologize. But humor me here. One of the things I adore about running are the people meeting possibilities it affords. I'd consider myself particularly lucky in that regard here in France with my training group.

On Saturday morning, as per usual, I schlepped myself to the Bois de Boulogne for an easy 18k. It's been a bit of a mindset switch to train in kilometers rather than miles, because I'm hardwired for miles, but I'm slowly getting into the swing of thinking of pace in kilometer per hour versus miles per hour. It's an uphill battle, but it's going. Nonetheless, I made it to the RER C Avenue Foch station right on the hour, accompanied by Iris who caught me on Metro 2 towards Porte Dauphine.

[On a complete and total side note, it's strangely loads of fun to ride around the Paris metro sporting nothing but running gear. You get plenty of weird looks and expressions. Always amusing.]

When Iris and I arrived we were greeted by The Diplomat. I mentioned The Diplomat in a previous entry, but he merits mentioning again. A die-hard proponent of barefoot running, he sported a pair of green Vibram five fingers and a beanie, and looked as cheerful and awake as anyone possibly can on an overcast morning in Paris. I hadn't seen him since before Christmas, as his job obliges him to travel every so often, and because I hadn't run the previous weekend.

Towards 9:33, the rest of our running herd arrived, and we took off out of the RER station and began our quest. I had started running with my usual group of ladies, but about 25 minutes in, felt a good rhythm and pushed the pace towards the front packers, which is where I ended up catching The Diplomat. We ran the Allee de la Reine Marguerite at a fluid clip, and at one point, he tripped on a curb, did a slick forward roll, and came right back onto his feet.

" Woa. Are you ok?" I paused. It had all happened so suddenly that I hadn't had time to process that he had ninja speed stumbled and recovered.

"Oh yeah," he responded nonchalantly. " I used to practice a lot of martial arts, and one of the techniques we were made to practice over and over was how to get off your feet. You're most vulnerable when you're on the ground."

Well, hot damn. The Diplomat is also a ninja, I thought.

I ended up sticking with The Diplomat for the remaining 1 hour and 20 minutes or so to nicely round out an 11.5 mile run. For once, it was refreshing to turn the iPod off and just chat.

We talked about everything under the sun. He began by talking about a diplomat dinner party he'd been at the previous night with Slovakians and the French, among people from other walks of life, until two in the morning.

"That's one of my favorite things about this town," I added. "No matter where you go, you will meet someone from any part of the globe you can imagine."

He continued. He explained to me his formative years growing up in Los Angeles, his stint with running as a lazy surfer kid whose Ethiopian coach could run faster than he and his teammates backwards, and how he met his wife. We talked about chemistry and science and the amazing mystery of this planet, about black holes and possible multiple universes and string theory. We talked about Eastern religious thought, as his wife is currently on a retreat in India, and wondered about the possibility of life on other planets, and if intelligent life exists, what do they believe in? We talked about the IB program, as his two children are IB seniors here. We talked about my boys and how our friends joke that they are the future world leaders of America, but how it funnily is turning out that way, so I've possibly got the army, NASA, and the government covered [don't you dare fail me now boys!].

"All you need now is some scary, crazy theologian to round out your collection," The Diplomat laughed.

"No need to worry," I replied. "I know some people from high school who fit the bill."

And on we talked. He told me about the years he spent in Iraq in charge of some of the food dispersion programs, about his experiences with five star Generals who fly Blackhawks around for shits and giggles, and all the inefficiency he sees in the chain of command. He put it this way: it's easy to convince a general that something won't work if you explain the why behind it, but getting his staff to give up is the hardest part. On the flip side, he added, a General's staff can know that something won't work the moment the order is given, but since it's orders, it has to be carried out nonetheless. And therein lies the Catch-22.

" I wish I could sit you down with my young West point alum bud and his friends, and you could have a constructive conversation about all that. It'd be useful for both of you," I said.

He then told me about his own military service, and how if I ever felt a dire need to purchase anything American, he'd be happy to take me to the military base in Belgium, because God forbid France ever let America put a military base here. He added "it's like Walmart for Americans out there. We can get you bacon and maple syrup and anything else you want!" I laughed. Bacon sounded damn good.

We reached the lakes in the Bois far more quickly than I thought possible, and by that time, I thanked him for running with me, and for the conversation. He thanked me for pushing him hard. I gave him a surprised look.

"I'm pushing you?" I said incredulously. "You just dragged me up that grade. I was hurting a bit there."

Turns out we'd been pushing each other back and forth the entire run, and in the process, had done a very fasssst run. When we hit the turn to loop back to the RER C station, I hit the gas pedal and clipped into a low 8 minute pace. He sped up with me.

"I pushing you!" I laughed. He sped up. When we finally hit the finish point, I thanked him again. He gave me a paternal pat on the shoulder, and then we stretched some.

"You know, you'd be a good candidate for the foreign service," he chuckled. I talked to him for a few minutes more about the subject, how he'd gotten into the service, and added that I can't see myself there, but who knows. Then he had to leave, and so did I. In fact, it was one of those fantastic conversations I was truly, truly sad to see come to an end.

Luckily, there are two months more until the Paris Marathon, and lots of much longer training runs to chat with The Diplomat.

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