Running on the beach and making peace with the water gods

Image CC by SA 3.0, Natania Barron

Image CC by SA 3.0, Natania Barron

I’ve spent the last week here at the coast, the lovely North Carolina coast. When I first came here a decade ago, I was shocked that such a place existed. In my experience, the ocean had only been cold and unforgiving, full of rocks and churning waves (I’d had two near drownings before 12, and let’s just say we had a tenuous relationship at best).

But here is a calmer, gentler, warmer side of Neptune. The white sands, the blooming yucca, the magnificent dunes covered in cactus and Gaillardia and sea oats. The waves that come up to my knees and don’t tower overhead. The blue-green waters, the dolphins, the sweet breeze. When I’m  here, I achieve a certain kind of mental zen, an odd white noise of thought brought about by the landscape that’s unlike any other place.

I’m not a beach person. I should point that out. Sand, sunscreen, and beach bumming are just generally not on my list of faves. But after ten years of visiting this same beach, in those rare moments of quiet and freedom from childrens’ requests and the hustle and bustle, I still tap into that sense of peace. I usually find it on a boat, but I found it somewhere else this year.

For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, you’ll notice that I’ve been starting to run. In the hectic life I lead, I needed something that was mine, something that got me out of the house and away from all the noise of life.

But this is highly amusing on a number of levels. First, I’ve never been a runner. In high school and elementary school, there were few words I feared more than “the mile run.” It was a yearly horror. I’m not really built for running. Aside from the physical limitations (mitigated through surgery) I’ve never managed to do more than sputter and gasp my way for a few minutes and give up. Some people can look back to times in their lives where they managed great feats of athleticism, but that’s never been me. There’s nothing to reclaim.

CC by SA 3.0, Natania Baron

CC by SA 3.0, Natania Baron

Still, I love my neighborhood (even though it’s seriously hilly) and my puppy kept looking at me with his big eyes. So I started. And I didn’t use an app, other than to track my runs, and I just moved. Right shoes. Right clothes. Great canine motivation. My first few “runs” were really more like stumbles down the hill. But I noticed something new. I’ve been doing yoga for years, and instead of slipping into gasping and sputtering, I started falling into a breathing pattern. In (2, 3, 4), out (2, 3, 4). I became a machine. Oxygen my fuel, my lungs the engine. And it wasn’t exactly easy, but it was somehow… satisfying.

Then I got here to the beach. The week previous, I’d managed to run for 10 minutes straight. Then, my first night here, I decided to run in the dark for a mile. I tapped in to that stillness. Instead of rugged hills, it was all flat going. Ocean breeze. Stars above. All thought vanished, and I became the machine. In (2, 3, 4), out (2, 3, 4). I hit that point where I was no longer in my body, I was sort of floating above everything else and just going, going, going…

And I ran a mile.

No, it’s not your mile. Yes, I’m aware that people run ultra marathons, which make my mile look like a lap around a kiddie pool in comparison. I’m not in it for the stickers on the back of my car. I’m in it to keep the Blerch away. I’m in it to find some zen. Just like writing books, it has nothing to do with what everyone else is doing and everything to do with me. It’s a selfish act, sure. But it’s an essential solace. Every step is another word in a sentence, every breath punctuation.

I haven’t written much in the novel, at least not on paper. But this is Joss’s world, out there. And while I’ve always had a fear of the waves, I feel like this year I made some peace with them. On foot, or in the waves, I’ve achieved some kind of understanding. And, in spite of the craziness of a full-out family vacation, I’ll take that as a considerable victory.