Two weeks ago, while on holidays back in Australia, I had a strict regime of the morning exercise run along Burleigh Beach on the Gold Coast. You may well question the sanity of voluntary exercise on a supposed vacation, especially for those of you familiar with my aggressive ideological opposition to the concept of ‘running for pleasure’.
As far as I’m concerned, running should only be carried out either (a) to get to somewhere important, or (b) to get away from someone important. For me, usually either case involves carrying, kicking or hitting a ball of some description (though I have also been known on occasion to run away from cattle and elephant stampedes, as well as to run towards Argentinean pickpockets).
Still, there was something different about the morning beach runs over the holidays; something refreshing, releasing, and dare I say it, almost fun. The daily routine went something thus:
5:00am Wake up at dawn to the first of the sun’s morning rays streaming through my window. The sky is as clear and blue as the ocean, and the temperature is 25 degrees. I get dressed – just a pair of board shorts – grab my keys, and jog out the door.
5:15am The beach is literally 50 metres from the apartment. I sprint across the road and unreservedly fling myself into the surf, splashing the white foam everywhere with the exuberance of a five year old. The water is perfect, 20 degrees and more inviting than an open bar at a chess cafe. I swim a few imaginary laps and my muscles feel warm and alive.
5:30am I jog towards the headlands, my toes curling slightly under the firm, wet sand that straddles the waves and the beach. Every step is buoyed by the bounce of the smooth, warm earth. A few other joggers pass by me on the beach, each greeting me with a kindly smile and a genial “G’day”. A few drops of sea water roll down my face, the taste on my lips matching the salty ocean air filling my nostrils. I am alive.
6:00am After half an hour, I hit up the exercise equipment the local council has installed by the shore. My hands grip the pull-up bars, then subsequently the dips, presses and crunches. When my muscles start to burn, I race back into the surf for a final swim. I grab a healthy açai smoothie and a mango, and eat my breakfast sitting on the shore, looking out at the sun’s reflection over the Pacific Ocean.
7:00am I jog back to the apartment, stopping for a quick dip in the pool to cool down – that’ll count for a shower. Soon I’ll wake up the boys, we’ll head into town for some breakfast, and then head back to the beach – wash, rinse, repeat.
That’s how I began my mornings a fortnight ago on the paradisiacal beaches of Queensland. I’m pretty sure that if I had access to such facilities on a daily basis, it mightn’t be so hard for me to finally become a morning person. Revived and inspired on my return to European winter, I decided to try to continue the schedule over here – after all, a run is a run, right? I’ll let you be the judge; here’s how today’s effort went:
7:00am Wake up before dawn, though you could hardly tell; the sky is cloudy and dark, but I’ll be lucky to see the sun all day anyway. The temperature is -5 degrees. I get dressed – socks, shoes, tights, tracksuit pants, thermals, t-shirt, hoody, beanie and gloves – grab my keys, and stumble out the door.
7:15am The park is 10 minutes from my apartment. I jog towards it, tripping and stammering thanks to the combination of the morning darkness and the layer of freshly frozen ice covering the snow that blankets the ground. The blast of icy wind that greets me as I leave the front door is as inviting as an abattoir’s freezer. I get to the entrance to the park and start a few warm-up stretches. The cracks in my joints sound like gunshots, echoing through the deserted winter forest. My muscles violently complain and curse me with threats of revenge tomorrow morning.
7:30am I jog through the park, my toes curling slightly as I run, largely thanks to the snow that has already managed to seep through my running shoes and gently soak my socks. Every step is a treacherous menace over the deathtrap that is the iced surface. A couple of my fellow joggers pass me by, looking as sodden and cheerless as I feel. I can’t tell if they’re smiling when they pass and mumble a muffled, “Hrgffbtt”, thanks to the scarves they’ve wrapped around their faces. A few drops of sweat attempt to roll down my face, but turn into tiny ice crystals on the end of my nose. I’ve accidentally been breathing with my mouth hanging open and now I can’t feel the tip of my tongue. I think my snot has started to freeze.
8:00am After half an hour, I hit up the exercise equipment the local council has installed in the middle of the park. My hands try to grip the pull-up bars, but the ice tricks me again and I fall squarely on my butt. A similar fate awaits me on the monkey bars. My attempt at the hurdles on the frozen ground ends predictably. I finish the equipment circuit and start the return jog – this time, into the wind.
9:00am I jog back to the apartment, collapsing through the door and shaking the snow off, shivering, to find that my housemate is in the shower. I strip down and curl up like a foetus in front of my wall heater. Soon I’ve got to head into class or I’ll be late, so I’m desperately hoping that the shower is free so there’s a little hot water left and I don’t have to go to class with frozen sweat stuck to my skin. From the bathroom, I hear the gentle cascade of running water – wash, rinse repeat.