An ode to beach running in 2020

An ode to beach running in 2020

In all my 10+ years of running, I had never taken to beach running until 2020. I had first started with running on the famous gravel track around the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, enjoying the sound of the forgiving crunch under my feet. In Sydney I ran along our coastline on the Northern Beaches. But when the pandemic hit, and Sydney went into lockdown, it was very challenging to keep running. The sidewalks and pavements were too crowded to safely socially distance, and so I had no choice but to retreat to the sand, which was clear of the usual towels, loungers, kids making sandcastles, kicking footballs etc. It was deliciously and exhilaratingly bare. So I kicked off my runners and started running on the beach.

I still remember Good Friday this year. We were somewhere at the start of lockdown, when staying at home was still a bit novel, and everyone was making plans for Zoom drinks. We were all baking sourdough, doing puzzles, and posting headily about being in “iso”. My kids and I headed out that afternoon, for a run. As we ran together on the wide expanse of sand, waves crashing next to us, the wind whipping our hair, I remember feeling free for the first time in weeks. There was no awkward dodging around pedestrians and dogs. Just my kids, the beach and I.

When lockdown ended, I kept going with the beach running. Through the long months of slowly returning to COVID normal, through the strangely altered months ahead – school without assemblies or excursions; work without actually going to work; wiping down trolleys at the supermarket. Through the tension between the longing to leave our four walls for a change of scenery, to feeling slightly panicked when we went somewhere crowded. Though the first tentative outings back to the office and processing the emotions before (fear), during (excitement at seeing other humans, but also ambivalence), and after (relief that it was over, anxiety – “did I just catch COVID?” and a general feeling of uncertainty). Through the rollercoaster of second and third waves, the anxiety of watching friends and family endure the long Melbourne lockdown and the rising cases overseas, the rollercoaster of borders opening and slamming shut. And then, through the Northern Beaches Christmas lockdown. Not exactly what I had planned for our Christmas break – but I had my beach runs.

I ran mostly in the middle of the day, after finishing a solid 4-5 hours of work. I would head out to listen to the ocean, to see sea and sky, to feel my limbs move after my intense work morning. I ran to clear my head, to put an end to distraction. I ran to keep fit, and I have never felt fitter in my life. I ran to find solutions to the problems I was facing – whether work or personal. I ran to feel alive once a day.

Most of all, I ran to get stronger. In case you haven’t run in the sand before, it’s not easy. You seem to go much slower, and depending on how packed the sand is or isn’t, you have to exert a lot more effort to keep moving forward. It’s the perfect exercise for your cardiovascular system. I ran to get physically stronger, but also mentally. I always end my runs feeling 80-100% better than I did at the start of the run. It’s my recharge in the middle of the day. I run every day if I can, or else most days of the week. I’ve been able to average 3-4 runs each week, and now schedule my runs in according to the weather – if it’s a hot day, I go first thing in the morning; if it’s not, then midday.

Beach running taught me resilience this year. It taught me how to keep going even if things are really hard, because the end result is worth it. It taught me that I can adapt. And for that I’m forever grateful. Most of all, I realised through my beach running that by getting stronger, I am able to help more people. And that’s been my mission in life – to understand how to better myself, to face my own demons, to learn strategies that I can put into place when times get tough, so that I can help others too. I am privileged to be able to do this in my role as a GP. I’m a physician, counsellor and lifestyle coach in one. Beach running has made me a better doctor.

Running makes me stronger and a better person.

So thank you to my ever faithful beach, with its multiple faces – bright and brilliant, subdued and stormy, calm and hopeful. You’ve shown me that storms pass and change is the only constant. Thanks for helping me help others. I look forward lots more runs together in 2021.

Happy New Year! Stay safe and take care of yourselves and each other this holiday season x

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