Last night, after drinking rum drinks all afternoon, I announced to my husband, “I’m going for a run in the morning.” I rubbed my bloated belly. I packed everything I need for running – shoes, shorts, sports bras, iPod, running watch – and after a week of vacation eating (and drinking), and after a gluttonous day at Disney, all my gear still lay unused on the floor of the closet.
“Okaaay,” he said.
“Just saying it out loud so I’ll do it.”
I woke with the first rays of the sun, pulled on my running clothes, and sneaked silently out of our still sleeping condo. I headed across the street, away from the beach, started my stopwatch, and picked my feet up into a run. Poinciana trees and frangipani are in bloom on Anna Maria Island, and I ran neighborhood streets to see the lush greens and bright flowers of tropical plants. I often run on the beach while we’re here because I feel like I should – I always see runners on the beach and think, “Wow, what an idyllic place to run. Look at the scenery!” But the fact is, when I run on the beach my socks fill with sand, the slope hurts my ankles, and my heels sink in the softness, making the already arduous task of running even more annoying. Plus, it’s kind of torturous to be so hot and sweaty and miserable with all that turquoise water right next to me tempting me to abandon the run and just go swimming.
I jogged to the other side of the island – only about three blocks – to Marina Drive and ran up and down fingers of land separated by canals. Brown anole lizards skittered across driveways in the soft morning light, and a scarab beetle inched its way across 69th Street. I felt like the beetle when I looked at my watch and saw I had only been running 11 minutes.
Sweat trickled down my back as the sun rose over palm trees and its already strong rays struck my skin. I focused on oleander bushes in islanders’ yards and remembered of the oleanders my mom always grew on the coast of Georgia. Their fragrance was cool and sweet today in the warm morning air. I surveyed landscaping strategies as I ran by each home. The plants reminded me of landscaping our homes when we lived in Florida, of swiping sweat from our foreheads as we wandered native plant nurseries, piling coonties and porterweed, milkweed and firebushes onto our green pull cart.
When I finally turned around to head back to the condo, I started thinking about my reward for running on vacation. I ducked under the broad round leaves of an overhanging sea grape and trotted through St. Augustine grass to the docks along Marina Drive. I’ll take my hat off first, then my iPod and watch. I’ll hide those in my hat so nobody steals them. I glanced in the water between boat slips and saw a red hibiscus flower floating on the dark glassy surface. I looked beneath a dock and saw another, then another. They reminded me of Chinese lanterns floating down a river.
Then I’ll peel of my shoes, and then my socks. I passed a boat named Hanky Panky and smiled. A hibiscus flower floated next to it. The scene made me want to listen to Jimmy Buffett and drink more rum. Sweat trickled from my hair-line down my jaw. Only two more blocks til I earn my prize. I gasped in the hot sun. I’ll take my hair down, so it won’t get tangled in the elastic.
Finally, as soon as my feet launched off the sidewalk of 72nd Street and landed on the asphalt of Gulf Drive, I stopped running. I panted and shook sweat off my arms as I walked across to the condo parking lot. I yanked off my hat and pulled ear buds out of my ear. I nestled my watch and iPod in my hat as I walked the short block over bleached pavement to the beach. At the edge of a sandy path through the dunes, I peeled off my running shoes, then my socks. I pulled my hair from its ponytail and made a little pile of belongings at the base of a sand dune. Then I walked across white sand into the beryl waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The water soothed my Disney-sore feet, and as soon as I was knee-deep, I dove in. My nylon running shorts fluttered underwater and I turned onto my back, my face to the morning sun. At 7:30 am, the beach was empty, and I was the only person in the water.
I floated in the calm sea, my palms up, my feet dangling, and the cool water was a balm on my hot skin. The Gulf was the perfect refreshment after a hot summer run in Florida, and I could feel my core temperature come down as the sea chilled my scalp. The salt water buoyed me, and I bobbed gently without any effort on my part. My hair drifted around my head, and with my ears underwater, I heard the muffled sloshing of wavelets on sand. I opened my eyes as I floated there and saw white terns swoop overhead. Laughing gulls, with black heads and black wing tips, circled and dived. I turned my head toward shore and saw a great blue heron idle near a fisherman’s bucket. A white ibis, with a curved orange bill, glided over the shallows to join it.
I floated there silently for a long time, alone in the cool calm of morning, blue sky above, blue water beneath, white sand to receive me when I was done. The reason I bring my running shoes. My reward for exercising on vacation.