Monday, August 16, 2010

Where It All Began

Last week I returned to my roots in more ways than one.

I spent the week on beautiful Edisto Beach, SC, the little slice of heaven where as a child I vacationed with my family and as a college student I lived a few summers with my parents who had retired to their home there. It was during one of those college summers when I first fell in love with running.

The pace of life is slow on Edisto, in a way that I find refreshing now, but found a little boring in my youth. This one particular summer I was working in a restaurant to earn tuition money, but didn't really have much else going on. I decided to spend all my extra time enjoying the beach, and getting into shape!

Though I was already somewhat internet-savvy in those days, I don't think websites with free walk/run training programs even existed, so I devised my own plan for gradually increasing my run times. My goal was to be able to run 30 minutes at a time 3 to 5 days per week, and by the end of the summer I was doing just that.

Running in the miserable SC heat/humidity was not the easiest way to pick up a new hobby, but the "runner's high" experience made every bead of sweat worthwhile. I felt amazing, powerful, and even a little attractive. I wish I had continued running regularly when I went back to school in the fall, but I guess life just got in the way.

Going back to where I first started running was interesting, and a little cathartic. Physically, it was much as I remembered: the air so wet it was difficult to breathe without gills; the intoxicating smells of salt water, sand, and marshes; the extreme friendliness of everyone I met..I could go on and on. Though the houses have grown, the restaurants have changed owners and locations, and the town has entered the modern era with its own website and Facebook page...Edisto is still Edisto, and always will be. Running through my old neighborhood last week was like spending time with a dear old friend.

The catharsis came about by reflecting on my mental state. I ran for different reasons when I was 20 years old, and my world had not yet been touched by grief, real stress, or hardship. Completing a tough run was a challenge all in its own, never a metaphor for overcoming difficulties. Now I run with the burdens of an adult life on my shoulders. I run to survive. I run to escape. I run to forget. I run to prove something, but I don't always know what.

Last week I ran on vacation because I have a race to be ready for very soon, and also because I want to prove to myself that I'm in control of my health and not using any available excuse to slip back into laziness. But I also ran so I could connect with my younger self and how it felt to be so free. And I ran so I could connect with the island, this place that my parents loved so dearly and where I feel their presence more than anywhere else.

My life as a runner came full circle, and in some ways my grief did too. Prior to this vacation, the last time I visited Edisto was right after my mother died, when several of us brought some of the funeral flowers out to the beach to scatter in the waves during a gorgeous Edisto sunset. I'm a different person than I was 5.5 years ago, and for once I'm confident my parents would be proud to see me I hope they did see me frolicking in the surf with my boys, and huffing and puffing through a few good runs down the street where they lived.

I'll save the rest of my fitness reflections from vacation for another post, another day. :)

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