It hangs on my bedroom wall. I see it every morning, and umpteen times throughout the day.
I walk right up to it every time I need to get a pair of running shorts from my drawer.
Most of those times, I don’t even notice it anymore. It’s just there – a splash of colour against the equally beautiful old exposed stone.
This morning, I noticed it for the first time in a long time. Why? Why have I noticed it again now? What does it mean to me?
Take a look at it. It may be to your liking, it may not be. It’s my favourite artist’s depiction of a race I did for the very first time back in 2011 (see chasjacobs.co.uk) I was feeling experimental that year. This one was a real leap into the vast unknown, and something I never imagined I would comprehend: a half marathon across sand. The Crossbay Challenge was that race. We would run across the shifting sands of Morecambe Bay from Hest Bank, in Lancashire to Flookburgh, in Cumbria.
I was open to all possibilities. I wasn’t crippled with fear, or consumed with ‘what if’s.’ I wasn’t chasing a time, or worried about outcome. I was free in every sense of the word. I felt a strange calmness about the possibilities that lay ahead. Could I run across sand? I’d never tried before. Could I run a half marathon across sand? No idea. I didn’t even know what to wear. Do I need a snorkel?
And so I rocked up – free of mental baggage and anguish, and I just ran. The sky looked exactly like it does in the painting (well, almost – other than the big puffy cotton wool clouds. I love them: artistic license.) The sand was like that too. Honestly. It was incredible.
I remember the vast pool of runners setting off, and then dispersing to form a long, meandering snake of silent, sandy footsteps for the next 13.1 miles. I’ve never known peace like it. There was no slamming of tired, heavy feet on tarmac. There was no traffic. At times, there were no voices. There were no roads. At many points, only the sand and the sea surrounded us for miles and miles. The textures of the sand changes throughout the race: in places, it was hard and compacted with deep ridges which I could feel though the soles of my sodden trainers. In others, it was light and ‘sea sidey’: I had all on to stop myself from making an impromptu sand castle complete with flag and moat.
We ran through tiny streams and waded through waist-deep tidal pools. And I remember the peace. On that day – back in 2011 – I knew there would never be another one quite like it. It was a very special moment in time that would never be repeated. Not ever.
Back to the painting: I love it for so many reasons. I love the vibrancy of the colours; the simplicity of the shapes; the lack of complex, self-indulgent, thought-provoking bullshit. I love it because it makes me feel light, and happy and full of joy. Just like I did on that day back in 2011.
But it doesn’t stop there. Take a closer look at the painting. You won’t spot it – nobody would.
Can you see me? I am IN the painting. I was a PART of that day. I SAW the sky so ridiculously blue that a child could have painted it. I FELT the different textures of the sand, and I HEARD the peace: the overwhelming sound of absolute tranquillity.
I am wearing race number 464. Chas Jacobs can’t have known what it meant to me: his offer to include me in his magnificent scene. The photo below is the one of me from the race, from which Chas added me to the other faceless, carefree runners.
This painting reminds me of a time when I wasn’t blighted by fear of outcome, when I was open minded enough to risk failure in the pursuit of life experiences, and trying new things: In life as in running. It reminds me that, as much as I can celebrate my achievements, my times, PBs, medals, even bloody crowns on Strava (!!) it isn’t actually the result that matters – it’s what happens along the way.
So, when I pulled out my running shorts from my top drawer this morning, I was reminded to love the journey and not fear the outcome. Always.
*I have done the Crossbay challenge another three times since that magical day in 2011, and – as predicted – I have never experienced it in this way since. Think Armageddon and headwinds on a sinking travelator moving in the wrong direction…