It 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.