Paris Marathon x Lost in Translation: Bon Courage
I can’t believe that I’ve written enough to have a ‘crossover article’ of two of my own series. I guess I’m either running low on ideas or been alone in my echo chamber for too long. Anyways, here’s part one of the Paris Marathon series, and Lost in Translation is a collection of articles where I explore terms that don’t have simple translations in English.
I have passed the halfway mark of my training, a landmark in itself. Week fourteen of a eighteen-week plan that I started seven weeks ago. As of last week, I’ve ran around 216km over 14 runs, both a longer total run and average run (15.5km) then I was expecting. This falls short of my truncated training plan which recommended 352km over 28 runs, but is much closer in mileage than I was expecting. I don’t think I normally get more than a hundred, a hundred fifty kilometers of running a calendar year, and it’s barely March. I’m certainly getting my training done, and I can feel myself getting stronger: the runs aren’t getting any easier, but I’m recovering faster.
I’m happy to report that the knee pain hasn’t been worsening. Dare I say, it’s actually getting better. I decided that the chiropractor was useless when he pulled out the electro-acupuncture kit, so I stopped attending therapy. Instead, I did some digging around the internet, and found some recommended stretches that I now do for ten minutes right after waking up, as well as ten minutes before and after running. In addition, I transitioned from a heel-strike running gait to a forefoot-strike running gait to see if it would make a difference. I wouldn’t recommend such a drastic change, since it tends to put a lot of muscle strain on the calf, but it’s something I’ve flirted with before in the past, and I have a pair of FiveFingers that I still bring with me when traveling. Between the needles, the stretches, and the forefoot running, my knee pain has lessened from sharp pains and a debilitating stiffness to a dull ache and residual soreness.
The issue is that I have just over four more weeks of training. I fell three kilometers short of my 31km long run last Saturday. The 5:40 pace time put me just within my goal of a four-hour marathon, which appears to be a timely performance. However, the training tapers off heavily before the big day. I only have one run left that’s over 30km, and I run only 40km in the final two weeks before running a full 42. I’m starting to become anxious about being able to finish the marathon in my target time. There’s only so much more training that I can do, and over-training can impact my performance, especially with my recently rehabilitated knee.
So despite my desire to run even more right now, it’s simply not productive to do so. All I can do is adhere as closely to the training schedule as I can, in the hopes that it will be soon enough and that a religious obedience won’t cause any injuries. And I’m on track: I ran 8km on Tuesday, 12km yesterday, and then 6km today. All I can do is my best. All anyone can do is their best.
In French, the most common way to wish someone well, is “bon courage”, an expression literally meaning “good courage”. English is so lacking in an equivalent that I had to use the vague composition “wish someone well”. The go-to phrase in English is obviously “good luck”, but that implies that luck is what someone needs, not persistence or effort. “Godspeed” comes a bit closer, but much more associated with travel. “Break a leg” is a theatrical term that is sometimes applied satirically to other things, but hopefully never marathon running. All other well-wishes can be formulated as “I hope/know/believe you will do well/be great/perform spectacularly”, more of an expectation than a blessing, and certainly less idiomatic.
Though I first noticed it with French, I’ve realized that some other languages have a blessing that has nothing to do with luck. In Chinese, it’s “add fuel”. In Korean, it’s a homophonic translation of “fighting”. In Japanese it’s “stand firm”. In Italian, it’s “into the wolves’ mouth”. However, a cursory internet search reveals that most other western languages generally stick with luck-based encouragement. Most languages have an expression like “let’s go!”, as well as one like “good luck”, but for the most part, it’s “good luck” as opposed to “bon courage”.
“Bon courage”, along with the various other non-luck based blessings place the locus of control on the individual as opposed to Fortuna. They remind us that we are the masters of our fates, that the success of our endeavours lies not in fate, but our effort and perseverance. And they encourage that effort and perseverance. “Bon courage” before a chess game isn’t a prayer that the opponent will trip up, but that protagonist will see through their openings and manoeuvre appropriately. “Bon courage” before a test isn’t a hope that only the content reviewed will be tested, but to study hard and excel. Isn’t that a lot more meaningful than “good luck”?
I’m undecided on linguistic relativity, but I do think that language is reflective of culture, if not an influence on it. However, this still leaves a quandary: Does wishing someone luck imply that luck is more important than tenacity and skill? Or does it confront the only element that is out of our hands? With regards to marathon running, I certainly believe luck is secondary. Perhaps it’s possible to get extremely unlucky by tripping, falling, and dying, but next to that, it’s really about preparedness. I think the variance in running performance is probably lower than that of a chess game or even a math test. Yet, there is no better way to wish someone success on an upcoming marathon in English other than “good luck”.
But it isn’t necessary to be lucky for my marathon. Luck has nothing to do with it. I certainly don’t want to have bad luck, but if I could, I’d instead wish for fortitude of spirit and durability of knees, both of which are sorely needed. In that case, “bon courage” would certainly be more apt of a well-wish, particularly for the Paris Marathon.