12 miles in Paradise

Today I ran the farthest I’ve ever run in my life — 12 miles. I’d like to report that it was all fun and games, a total breeze, a walk in the park! Unfortunately, it was none of the above.

In an earlier post, I claimed that running gets so much easier with time. I stated that, once in shape, running “is like as watching a beautiful sunset on a beach.” I thought of this today, as I trudged along the evanescent white sands beach of Siesta Key, Florida.
Planning my trip to Florida for the holidays, I was beyond excited that one of my long distance runs coincided with this vacation. My current hometown of Washington DC was recently creamed by a monster snowstorm (the biggest storm to ever hit our nation’s capital in the month of December).

Although DC is a very clean city, snow clean-up is not its specialty. Leaving DC a few days ago, half the streets appeared never to have been touched by a plow — nevermind the sidewalk situation. Thus, with my usual stomping grounds in treacherous condition, a mild Florida afternoon in the low-70’s never felt so good.

Siesta Key Beach is almost exactly three miles long, thus two round-trips made for 12 miles even. There was an over-eager bounce in my step as I took off down the beach; the initial thrill of training for my first marathon definitely hasn’t worn off yet. I’m scheduled to run a long distance once every two weeks and I look forward to each like its Christmas. Starting today, every long run will continue to be “the farthest I’ve ever run.” Thus, I treat these longer distances as minor lifetime-achievements and license to eat whatever I want.

When I run outdoors, I tend to keep my eyes on the ground. The beach was very peaceful today — the pearly sand interwoven with an assortment of broken shells and sea-sponges. I tried to remember to look up more and take in my spectacular surroundings. I played my music at half-volume so as to simultaneously hear the waves crashing at my side. I watched pelicans perched on the water, quickly swooping up and then back down again, hoping to catch a pray.

A large majority of the other beachcombers meant nothing to me, only obstacles to navigate around. However, a few miles in, I happened to notice a girl in a skimpy sundress running a few feet in front of me. She was barefoot and wearing a bikini under her dress. We were practically going the same pace, yet, given her lack of proper athletic gear, I felt compelled to leave her in the dust. This childish feat bumped the middle-section of my run into a respectable pace.

However, towards the end of my run, things got fuzzy. My knees ached and streams of salty sweat stung in my eyes. I slowly became aware that people were standing at the edge of the shore, pointing and taking pictures. My eyes glazed over the tops of the waves, wondering what was everyone looking at? And then I saw it – a dolphin fin rising out of the turquoise water, not 20 feet from the shore. In my last mile and a half, I saw three different dolphins. With dolphins diving along my side as I finished my run, this truly was paradise.

Yet, it didn’t feel like paradise at all. I gasped for air, counting down high-rise hotels and lifeguard stands until reaching my final resting spot.

Now, I’m not so sure that running will ever be the sunset on the beach that I once predicted. Yet, crazy as it sounds, I’m already looking forward to the next “longest run” of my lifetime, a 14-miler, to be run in the new year in frosty Washington DC.

Happy Holidays from Florida!


  1. tflygare on December 24, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Sounds like a beautiful setting for a run. Running on the sand always makes it more difficult, and your struggles at the end may have been due to that.I ran a lot on the beach at Sand Key to the north in Clearwater, and it was always hard to keep up the pace in the sand.

  2. Nick on December 28, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    You're a trooper. The other day I ran about 30 feet and immediately implemented a two-day recuperation period. I'm still having flashbacks.

    It's good to see that the running is remaining rewarding, even in the remarkable pain. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. You've already gone far more than most of us ever will.

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