They were laughing at me. I’m sure of it. The very same people who had been friendly and waving as we ran past each other just moments ago were now looking at me and feeling superior.
I could almost hear the unspoken words as they thought them: “What an idiot! Does he think he’s better than all the rest of us? Look at him down there by himself!”
Well, I will admit to the tiniest trace of paranoia, so maybe we should just move on instead of dwelling on what the other runners might have been thinking.
It had all begun as a morning to remember–a memory I wanted to savor for a long time. I had arisen before the sun on that chilly Southern California Saturday to be at the beach before the crowds began arriving. Easily finding a place to park along the Pacific Coast Highway, I spent a couple of minutes stretching by the car, and then made my way toward the wide swath of clean white sand beside the gently breaking waves.
Well before I reached the sand, I encountered a paved path. Other folks who had the same idea for that glorious early morning were already jogging and cycling along the pavement, so I followed suit.
No one was running on the sandy beach, a fact that baffled me a bit. I had expected to run beside the incoming tide on the packed surface, but there was not a single runner doing that. Not one.
So, I followed their example and stuck to the paved running trail that followed along the edge of the sandy beach. For two miles, I passed, or was passed by, other runners or cyclists. Most of them gave a friendly nod and some even called out a cheery good morning as they neared.
It felt good to be part of a crowd.
But, I had come to run on the beach. This wasn’t running on the beach. It was running on a paved path. I could do that anytime I wanted at home in Arkansas.
Still, for two miles, I ran. With all the other people. On the blacktop trail. Wishing I was on the beach.
At the end of the two miles, the distance I had predetermined I would run before turning back, I made my decision. Instead of turning and running back along the paved trail on which I had gone out, I angled down the sand dune beside me and onto the wide expanse of pristine beach.
It was really hard going in the loose, dry sand away from the ocean, but I told myself that the packed wet sand near the incoming water would be solid and easy to run on. In fact, as I approached the gently tumbling waves, it became considerably easier to keep a more natural stride.
Still, it wasn’t nearly as easy to run as it had been on the paved path. The surface beneath my feet gave and moved as I reached my stride again. I glanced behind me and saw the deep depressions my shoes were leaving in the damp sand. This wasn’t anything like running on solid ground.
The next two miles stretched out ahead of me, and I wasn’t at all sure I was up to the task. I glanced over to my left, toward the paved trail I had left just moments before. Over there, folks were still speeding along with each step, their running shoes bouncing almost effortlessly up and then down again on the solid surface.
My feet felt like I was running in oatmeal. Every step was more effort than any I had made in the previous two miles. Maybe I should get back on the pavement.
No. I came to run on the beach.
I was going to run on the beach.
For the next two miles I struggled. Physically, I struggled with keeping up my pace. I was sure I was losing ground on my normal time for each mile, and my GPS program proved that for me, the longer I ran next to the incoming waves.
But, I also struggled with something else. I was the only one running on the beach. Seriously.
The only one.
The implied peer pressure was something I wasn’t prepared for. No, no one said a thing to me. Not one person waved at me to get off the beach and run on the pavement. I didn’t hear anyone laughing at that hillbilly from the Ozarks who didn’t know to stay on the beaten path.
Still, I felt the pressure to comply with the crowd. For a little while.
After a half mile, I became aware that the sun was rising and beginning to reflect off the water’s surface. The early morning mist began to burn away and the view out over the ocean was incredible. Sailboats, ships, and huge, violent waves came into sight in the advancing light.
The seagulls and terns foraging for food along the sand caught my eye and I thought about how they were fed day after day, without a worry in the world. I trotted toward them and they merely swerved aside, continuing their feeding as I passed, almost as if I weren’t there.
The beauty of creation and the thrill of just being alive and part of it were overwhelming. It could have been the salt air, but there might even have been a tear or two that escaped from the corner of my eyes as I considered a Creator who could imagine such an exquisite spectacle and fashion it from nothing.
The two miles flew by. I may not have run very fast, but they came to an end all too soon.
Reluctantly, I walked off the beach, across the paved path which was growing more crowded by the minute, and up to my car. Sitting there for a moment before driving away, I considered the lesson of my morning’s run.
Do you know why most people run or cycle? Of course you do. They want to get or keep fit. The exercise is a way to burn calories and build muscle.
Why do you suppose people would run on a paved path when they could do the same thing on the beach, building more muscle and burning more calories?
Why do we go out with the intent to do one thing, but never do that thing because it’s too hard, or because no one else is doing it?
Why do we care so much what other people think?
I wonder how many of us take the path of least resistance. I wonder what we lose because we never move off the beaten path to follow the way that offers so much more.
By now, it may be clear that this really isn’t about my run along the beach a few weeks ago. Bigger choices are being made every day based on what the crowd is doing, and we follow without giving a thought to the ultimate consequences.
And, make no mistake. There will be consequences.
I think it may be time that we remember why we came here and what we were determined to do when we first set out.
I came to run on the beach.
I plan to do just that.
Even if no one else goes with me.
“Every temptation to follow the crowd is an opportunity to be thankful you didn’t.”
(Robert Brault ~ American author)
“But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
(Matthew 7:14 ~ NET Bible)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.