“If you live on the edge of an enormous mountain or an enormous body of water, it’s harder to think of yourself as being so important. That seems useful to me, spiritually.” – Heather McHugh
After 200+ posts it seems impossible at times to find something original and fresh to write about running. Think about it: what aspect of running hasn’t been observed, contemplated, analyzed and over-analyzed to death by coaches, exercise physiologists, trainers, writers and runners themselves? When I’m in such a brain-freeze, I wait until a story comes to me, as it did running on the beach this week. I’m not referring to The Beach, as in the fragrance Kramer created, but the strip of land bordering oceans around the world.
The inspiration to write about the beach struck slowly and naturally in the midst of a long run along the coast in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. Running guru George Sheehan used to talk about the hour run like it was a religious experience. The hour run alongside the vast and mighty sea is outright spiritual. The ocean is powerful, serene, timeless and omnipresent.
The ocean can swallow a cargo ship, crush a nuclear submarine, wipe out entire towns, yet it can create the tidal energy to supply power to communities of every nation. Meditation and yoga practitioners use soundtracks of crashing waves to sooth their minds, relax their bodies, feed their spirits. The picture of a sunrise or sunset is therapeutic. I’ve run the same beaches for decades and they are the same today as they were the first time I set foot on them. The ocean’s waters wash the sands of every shore around the globe, all at the same moment.
Running along the beach, the power of the universe seeps into your blood stream, flows with the electrons and neutrons of your brain waves; endorphins flow, sweat oozes from your pores and drips onto the sand, some fall into the water to become one with the sea–the ocean’s equivalent of ashes to ashes.
At any moment in time somewhere around the globe, runners stride along the beaches in Scotland, the Ivory Coast, Norway, Lithuania, Ukraine, North and South Korea, China, Australia, Bali, New Zealand, Argentina; the beach at Normandy, France. Beaches connect us, refresh us, restore us. The ocean is a Baptism of sorts, not in the traditional sense, but a spiritual experience practiced since the beginning of time. Ancient writings on stone tablets document cleansing rituals and purifications linked to water. It is inherent in our nature.
Anytime you run a beach, early in the morning or at late at night, you join runners around the world on adjacent coasts in other lands. Your heart beats, breath pants, sweat drips, all in unison with theirs. Running the beach is a solitary act, yet connects all of humanity.