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Running back to the beach: One year later!

I’ve just returned from my annual January getaway in Santa Barbara, California, for Fielding Graduate University‘s national Winter Session. I’ve made a point of attending Winter Session throughout the years I worked on my PhD as well as after I graduated in 2009 (I only missed 2011 when Kurt was in the middle of chemotherapy and unable to travel). I can no longer imagine not being in Santa Barbara for one lovely week in January, soaking up the sunshine before returning north for the long, slow wait for spring.

Now that I’m an alumna, I no longer have to attend seminars, so I make the most of the opportunity to be active in the sun. Last year I ran barefoot on the beach — and as I planned for and dreamed about this year’s trip, it was running on the beach that most captured my imagination. I couldn’t wait!

As luck would have it, I arrived in southern California in the midst of a record-setting cold spell. On my first afternoon run I faced a brisk, cold wind. It was so cold that I decided to keep my shoes on and run on the semi-soft sand several feet above the surf line. There was actually sand blowing on the beach! The haziness in this photo isn’t camera shake — that’s blowing sand.

I ran about four and a half miles, mostly on grass and packed sand, and was delighted with my easy, comfortable pace of just over 10:00 minutes per mile — about a minute and a half faster per mile than I’d run a year ago!

Two days later I was ready to go out and do it again. It was still cold and breezy, but the brutal wind had abated. I stopped a few times for photos — who could resist views like these?

But at last, after four shod miles, it was time for the main event — take those shoes off and dance in the surf!

A year ago I ran carefully, slowly — but with immense joy! — and stopped quickly when my calves screamed “STOP NOW!” The next day I was extremely sore.

And this year? I ran carefully, not so slowly — and with immense joy! — felt great, could have run for several more miles but didn’t want to overdo it because I had big plans for dancing that night. One delightful barefoot mile was enough.

So then I danced for hours, felt great, and woke up the next morning feeling strong and not a bit the worse for wear. No soreness at all.

Trail running has changed my life!

I’m not bothered by uneven ground. I feel like I have a firm yet flexible base of muscle that simply takes things in stride (literally). The difference from a year ago is astounding. It almost makes me think that one of these days, I might have the guts to run on solid ground in shoes that are a bit less structured than my trusty Asics 2170s.

Or maybe I’ll just go run some more trails — wild, steep, and free in a beautiful place like this one. As soon as the snow melts!