21, Up and Running

Alison Head is an exchange student with the University of Limerick from our partner university McMaster University in Ontario, Canada majoring in Biology & Physiology. Alison travelled recently to Austria where she celebrated her 21st Birthday in the most unusual way. 

“It has been a dream of mine for several years now to run a half marathon (21 km) on my 21st birthday, which happened to be this year. I was determined to accomplish this goal, despite being abroad.  With the help of a friend I made here at UL, I was able to register for the Payerbacher Frülingslauf half marathon in Austria on April 7, 2018.

Alison HeadMy training regimen was very unorthodox, as I did not run very much in preparation for the race. I travelled a lot, as international students do, which made it difficult to train. However, as a varsity runner for my home university of McMaster in Canada, I knew I would be able to finish the race regardless.

The weekend trip to Austria was quite daunting, as it was the first time I would be travelling on my own. I was nervous and excited, and it was a great learning experience for me. I learned how to navigate my way through the airport and train stations, and how to plan my time. The Austrian people were also very kind and helpful. Any time I had a question, they were always happy to help me- which was often, since I do not speak any German!

The race was in the small town of Payerbach, and upon arrival, I felt immediately welcomed. Everyone was so excited that a Canadian was racing, as it is usually only their community that participates.  Before the race even started, I was asked if I would come back next year. It was a great atmosphere, with many families in attendance and a live band.  The scenery was beautiful too, which helped to distract me from the discomfort of running for 21 km! The volunteers along the route were very encouraging and made my day that much better.

All of the finishers received medals as they crossed the finish line, handed to them by the community’s youth. That medal is something I will treasure, as it is a reminder of the great adventure I went on. I ended up as the first female finisher in the half marathon, and 10th finisher over-all, which is something I was very proud of accomplishing.

The event was great, and the people of Payerbach made me feel like a part of their community. It is amazing that despite the language barrier, they were able to help me so much and were so welcoming. There was a pasta party that night for everyone involved in the event, which was yet another aspect of the day that made me feel closer to the locals.

My weekend in Austria was an amazing experience that I will never forget.  It made my birthday feel special, despite being away from my friends and family back home, and I was also able to complete one of my long-time goals. This adventure would not have been possible had I not gone on exchange, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so.  For anyone who finds the thought of studying abroad or travelling solo daunting, I encourage you to jump out of your comfort zone. It is amazing what you will accomplish and what you will learn about yourself.”

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