From the Mountain to the Ocean

SSIIt started on the top of a mountain.

I was a metal-mouthed middle schooler who highlighted her already-blonde hair. The chemicals gave my strands a distinctly yellow look, which really accentuated the cheeky splash of rose-colored acne. (This isn’t particularly relevant to the story, but it’s something I’m still working through.)

I went for a hike with my dad, uncle, and two male cousins, but left the testosterone-dominated group far behind me the entire time, moving swiftly over the rocky, uphill path, like a balletic leopard. (I imagine. This can neither be confirmed nor denied because everyone else was too far behind.) At the top, my dad captured my moment of triumph with a photograph of me standing with legs apart, one hand on my hip, gazing victoriously over the tops of trees and mountains, far above everything for miles. That was when my parents decided to sign me up for cross country.

 

I wake up before my alarm and silently slither down the bunk bed, trying not to step on my sister or our cousin Katie. I step into the bathroom, change my clothes, secure my hair in high ponytail, and slip out the door.

The walk is short, but slightly painful as bumpy asphalt slap the bottom of my feet until I reach the long, wooden dock that leads to the beach. Approaching the water, I adjust my earphones, set my alarm for 20 minutes, and take off down the shore.

My bare feet noiselessly pound the coarse sand, rubbing the balls of my feet and the tip of my toes. My feet massage the shore like it’s one of those balls people grip to relieve stress. The muscles of my right calf clench as they prepare to launch me, relax for a split second as I am airborne, then my left heel sinks into the damp ground.  As the rest of my foot comes down, I shift my weight to my toes and lift off the ground again.

It’s just before 6 o’clock in the morning and the sun is only a glimmer of light above the gray waves. I always start running toward the east, watching the sun timidly peek over the horizon. Shocked by its beautiful reflection in the waves, it serenely floats to the top of the sky in a self-content blaze of pink and golden glory.

As a college student, I’m always surprised by the sheer number of people (which is, maybe, 15) that wake up at dawn to walk their dogs or simply walk toward the new day.

When my alarm rings, I turn my back toward the sun, set it for another 40 minutes, and keep going. Typically, I run over six miles in an hour. However, running on sand requires about 1.5 times more energy than my usual runs on pavement, so I’m not quite sure how far I’ve gone. As an extremely competitive person who takes great satisfaction in the unsung victory of beating her own personal best, I usually monitor my runs religiously, noting distance and time. But somehow, that doesn’t matter today. In fact, it seems almost sacrilegious to run past the shattered mosaic of shells, my iPod drowning the joyous chorus of clapping waves with Broadway music.

When my alarm goes off and I turn around again, the sun is a golden flame. The hot, thick air has teased my thin, straight hair into the frightening texture of a Miss America contestant after a hard night’s sleep. My ponytail hangs down my back in a damp curls, fly away hairs form rakish rings around my head. I can feel the grit of salt on my face, but I’m not sure if it’s from sweat or the ocean air.

I purposely ran 20 minutes past the entrance to the beach, so my cooldown is a long, leisurely walk back to the house. Somehow, shuffling my bare feet along the shoreline gives me the same feeling as reaching the top of that mountain – unconquerable and on top of the whole, beautiful world.

When You Don’t Say a Thing

Sunrises

Running on the beach is one of my favorite things to do.

But, sometimes, it’s also one of the hardest things to do.

And I don’t mean physically.

It seems almost sacrilegious to run past a glittering horizon, earphones shoved into my ears while it chases after me, calls to me, begs me to notice it, to photograph it, to write about it.

Every morning, I find myself rising earlier to get to the beach, to see the sunrise, to have time to capture the peace that the beach invites.

My bare feet noiselessly pound on the coarse sand, rubbing the balls of my feet and the tip on my toes. I always start running toward theshelledit sun, watching it timidly peek over the horizon. After shocking itself with its beautiful reflection in the waves, it serenely floats to the top of the sky in a bright blaze of pink and golden glory. Then I turn my back to it and run away from the wind, immediately breaking out in a hard sweat.

When I turn around again, the sun is a scarlet ball of flame, blinding me with its radiance. I shuffle and kick my feet in the water, collecting shells, navigating the cloud of translucent jellyfish that washed up on shore, and slowly meander about a mile and a half to the weathered, wooden door that separates the beach from the line of beach houses.

Door2Yesterday, as I walked back to the villa, I kept listening to Allison Kraus, “When You Say Nothing at All.” It fits the peaceful, loving feeling I get from being near the ocean. This is where the people I love the most come together. It’s not just a place. It is a silent witness to squealing children, running into crashing waves. It taught us that sometimes we may run headfirst into where dangers abound and find the greatest beauty and joy we could ever imagine.

Really, it’s like a cosmic love letter, sent to every corner of the world.

Try as I may I could never explain

What I hear when you don’t say a thing…

The Silent Teammates

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the spring of new life; it was the winter of mourning. It was the beginning of the end; it was the end of the beginning. I had miles before me, I had miles behind me. (That isn’t a paradox, so it doesn’t really belong in this paragraph, but it is true.)

The majority of readers will not understand this piece. How can they? Only true, dedicated runners will understand the heavy-heartedness of having to throw away a pair of running shoes. I remember the horrible day when my first pair of running shoes gave out.

My running experience began in 8th grade. I was bright-eyed and naïve about crosscountry, competition, and carbs. I didn’t even own a pair of running shorts until shortly before my first meet. But I had my sneakers.

They hugged my feet protectively as I ran my first race. They clung to me as I stopped before the finish line because (as previously mentioned) I didn’t know about carbs and that one especially should consume some before an afternoon race. They stuck by me as I stumbled across the finish line, dizzy, white-lipped, unable to see clearly, and hanging onto consciousness by a thread. Even as I retched, they didn’t abandon me. They were loyal to the day both of the soles ripped off completely.

Although one may be on a team, running is, in several ways, a solitary sport. In my opinion, that is one of the most nerve-racking things about it. A runner does his or her best and hopes the rest of the team does the same. You can’t pass the ball, a teammate can’t bail you out, and you cannot just be a “good” runner – you are the third best or the eighth best or the fourth worst.

Arguably, a runner’s sneakers are the truest teammate one has. Teammates carry you through a challenge. They support you. They are right beside (or beneath) you the whole way.

I am probably being silly, but I cannot help being nostalgic as I deposit my worn soles in the trash can.

We had a good run. I guess that’s all that can be asked of any team.