Running is not something that came naturally to me. I was never athletic at school, and have not yet found a competitive bone in my body. But my first run along Venice Beach ignited a love affair with running, which shows no sign of abating
In my first year at university, my mother and stepfather uprooted our family home across the pond to sunny LA, where I spent many long and wonderful university holidays. It was during the first Christmas break that I noticed the effects of my unhealthy university lifestyle. The tanned and toned bodies of LA just accentuated this. I was bloated, with dull, spotty skin and a bottom that, although wasn’t huge, had no place on Malibu beach. I had to put a stop to this. Residing amongst Hollywood’s glitterati meant that you were always bumping into someone so famous or gorgeous that you would begin seriously considering Extreme Makeover as a viable option for beauty. But as I looked around me it wasn’t plastic surgery outpatients that dotted the sun-drenched boulevards (that would be quite scary) but runners of different shapes and sizes, all with one thing in common – they radiated health.
There must be a statistic to help me describe this, like people in London say, you are never more than two feet away from a rat, in LA, you cannot be far off that from a jogger. So, inspired and eager to find out what I was missing, I laced up my trainers and headed to Venice Beach, home to what must be the best beach running track of anywhere in the world.
Miles of uninterrupted pavement weaves it way through the sand, along the coast from Venice. Past muscle beach, where Arnie himself use to work out, through clouds of sensuous incense smoke and the sound of excited chatter and reggae street music. Once under Santa Monica Pier the vibe changes entirely – sand courts full of athletic bodies playing volleyball, dog-walkers, roller-bladders and cyclists. As the sun beat down on my shoulders and warmed my face I found myself thinking, to my surprise, that this was something I wanted to stick at.
Over the years my love of running has grown stronger and as soon as I step onto Californian soil, I lace up and head out to Venice, no matter how exhausting the flight has been. Some of these runs are mere shuffles, but after 11 hours on a plane I’m not expecting a personal best.
I have been lucky enough to run along beaches in Antigua, Hong Kong, Cornwall and a tiny island off Malaysia, but nowhere comes close to the thrill of pounding the path that winds its way along the pacific coastline. Santa Monica and Venice Beach may not be the world’s most idyllic beaches, but they have something much cooler, more exciting to offer.
Each time I return, I run as early in the morning as my jet lag allows. The path is particularly peaceful then and there is something about starting the morning with a run that sets me up for the rest of the day. My music is different too. I set my iPod to the dulcet tones of Chicane and Zero 7 rather than the usual high-tempo Tiny Tempah (don’t judge me) that I listen to in the gym.
As the sun rises higher in the sky, I feel the strength of its rays deepen on my forehead and shoulders and watch how it makes the sea dance with iridescent blues and greens. Everything feels calm. The sand feels hot as it finds it way into my socks and tiny beads of sweat form on my shoulders, eventually running down my back as the sun gains strength. Afterwards, I reward myself with a smoothie from Urth Café, a short walk from the beach, only to return and sit on the sand looking out to sea. It is still only around 9am and I have never felt happier or more peaceful.
Venice beach provides me with an enlightening tour of magnificent graffiti and weird and wonderful people. Once I passed an entire camera crew filming an episode of Nip Tuck. On another occasion, a war veteran gave me a cross to plant in the sand. It is the people of Venice that give it its life and soul and no two runs are ever the same.
Since I began running here, I haven’t gone one year without returning to Venice and Santa Monica’s beaches. It is where I did my 18-miler with my boyfriend in training for a marathon (and where I fell in love with him). It is where I have come to think over many of the decisions I have had to make. But most of all, it is my respite from the rest of the world and even though it is over 5,000 miles away, no where else feels more like home.