A blog by runners. For runners.

Runner’s Column: exploring new territory

Creative Commons Image of Ogunquit, MaineI’m a Jersey boy. I listen to Springstein. I vacation “down the shore.” I drive aggressively. And if I could, I would buy groceries exclusively from Wawa. A few years ago, my wife insisted we travel up the coast and spend a week in one of her childhood vacation spots, Ogunquit, Maine.

Naturally, as a creature of habit, I was hesitant. The mundanity of vacationing in the same beach-town for a lifetime provides comfort and security. After 26 years of body-surfing the same waves, I consider myself a local (of sorts). The idea of vacationing in a new place filled me with nothing but questions.

We packed light: a few duffel bags, camping gear, sleeping bags, running shoes, snacks, soap.

We booked it to Albany on 88, hopped on 90, and made a beeline for Boston in record time. However unimpressed I was with with the severe lack of Wawa convenience stores along the way, I was impressed with the syrup shacks and inclusion of lobster as an ingredient in the fast food menu. We stretched our legs at a rest stop and gathered a few snacks for the last leg of the trip: scenic Route 1 along the coast of Portsmouth to our destination in Ogunquit.

Beach Acres Campgrounds provides plots for weekenders, seasonal, and lifetime campers. We saw every type of habitation from single-person survival tents to fully decked double-wides with satellite TV. We pitched our seven-person tent (we like to spread out), hung a clothes line, scoped out the amenities (or lack thereof), split wood, and started a fire.

That next morning, I woke with the sun, percolated coffee on the camp stove, chewed a chocolate chip granola bar, and laced up my shoes. My goal: to scope out the running and explore the new locale. I headed down the gnarly by-way leading out of the camp grounds and headed down Eldridge Road, two miles of stunning inter-coastal pavement separating our campground from the coast.

Tall reeds reached out of the salt-marsh and dragonflies spotted the floating greenery. At the stop sign, I felt the magnetic pull of the Atlantic Ocean. I walked across Route 1, hopped the guardrail, and climbed down the barnacle-claimed rock wall and dropped onto the narrow beach. Instinctively, I pulled off my shoes, wedged them into the rock-face, and ran
barefoot along the waterline where the waves licked the sand and swiftly erased any evidence of my footfalls.

I rounded a bend where the beach narrowed to thin bar of sand; at 7 a.m., the tide was steadily creeping in on the rock wall. Past the bend, the beach widened and slowly filled with early-morning beach-goers, runners, and dogs. I was in the moment. No awareness of distance, pace, time. The cold water, coarse sand, and salt-air has a way of doing that to me. I headed back when I ran out of beach, the rock-lined inlet where the Webhannet river empties into the Atlantic. By the time I reached the same sharp bend it was after 8 a.m.; the tide had swallowed the last of the sand bar. I waded through the stretch of hip-high water, wary of sharp and slippery rocks and waves threatening to push me into them. Soon enough, the beach formed again, and I booked it to the rock wall before the tide took me with it. With little time to spare, I squeezed my wet feet into dry shoes climbed up to the road, and made my way back to camp.

The next morning, I woke with the sun and headed down the same path, hoping to repeat yesterday’s rave run. But when I walked across Route 1 and looked for my narrow beach path, it was gone, claimed by the tide.

I still vacation at the Jersey shore. I’ve been back four times since our trip to Ogunquit. But my thirst for breaking trail in new territory remains constant.

Do you have a memorable run in a new place?

Written by Stephen Marcin / Photo Creative Commons