Preparations for my 30k began the night before.

I love it when my runs are planned thoroughly, so I prepared for this one the way that I would a race. I laid out all my clothes, mapped out my route, prepared my drinks and my keys and my shoes, and I cleaned my entire house from top to bottom. I’m not sure why the cleaning is important to me, but it’s part of my ritual. Breaking a personal record feels so much better when you know your home is spotless.

I went to bed early. Most people will argue that I go to bed “early” every day, so when I say I went to bed early, I actually mean that I went to bed before the sun. My understanding is that there are only two groups of people who do this: old people and runners.

I didn’t set an alarm because I wanted to wake up naturally, feeling rested. I didn’t want to fall out of bed, shaken awake by an alarm clock, dreading what 30k would feel like. I wanted to open my eyes and think, “YESS!! This is the day!”

It was strange falling asleep with the setting sun still piercing through my blinds. But also calming. Everything was clean and quiet, so I buried my head into my blankets to block out some of the light, and immediately fell asleep.

***

People have often told me that I should write down my dreams, but I hardly think about them an hour after I’ve woken up. I’m not sure I dream the way that normal people do. I don’t dream about people or places that I know – I dream as though I’m watching a movie.

There is always a clear plot. A main character. Several supporting characters. A conflict. And often even a twist at the end. Sometimes I’m a spectator and sometimes I’m a participant, but other than that I don’t know anyone else involved. Sometimes it’s an action, or drama, or comedy, or even horror. I think about these plots as soon as I wake up, analyzing their complexity. I think about how they could work in a book or a movie. But I always forget them an hour later. This doesn’t concern me much, because I know there is always another one right behind it. Maybe I take my dreams for granted.

Last night I dreamt about running.

When I fell asleep I was slightly anxious about my 30k, plus I was nervous about the new route that I had plotted. Would it work out? In theory it was great, but sometimes these things are hard to predict. This anxiety must have found its way into my dream because I suddenly imagined myself starting out on my 30k, in completely unknown surroundings.

At first everything looked normal. But as I fell into a steady pace, I noticed that in the distance a group of people had gathered. As I approached I saw a handful of young, flirty girls wearing bikinis loitering around a bunch of young men in their swimming shorts, hanging off each other and laughing. They were coming up from a long set of stairs leading straight down to a sandy beach, as if they had just finished a party and were stumbling home. The sound of crashing waves captured my curiosity, so I decided to explore. I didn’t know there was a beach here.

I descended the stairs to find a large empty beach and an endless ocean. I looked up at the sand, and gasped.

There, spanning a distance of approximately one kilometer, were the largest, most breathtaking sand sculptures I had ever seen. Giant sand-women with legs disappearing into the water were sprawled across the beach as if tanning. Another sand-woman a short distance away was completely naked, lying artistically on one side with a sly smile and erect nipples. Near her lay yet another naked woman on her back, her sand-hair spread out majestically for several meters. A perfectly chiseled sand-man was stretched out on top of her, his fingers delicately intertwining her hair and his face buried into her neck. They were making love.

Everything looked real. Carved out at impossible angles. Defying gravity with every curve. Suddenly I noticed a dirty blonde boy of about eight years old, deeply tanned and playing with a twig while making his way towards the staircase. He didn’t notice me until I called out to him.

“Who made these??” I demanded. But he just giggled as if he didn’t understand English.

“How long will they be here?” I tried again. I saw the tide was rising, already threatening to swallow the tanning ladies. I wanted to know if I had enough time to run home and get someone to follow me out here to see this incredible thing. The boy smiled at me and ran up the stairs, as if he had seen nothing out of the ordinary that should concern him. Then the tide came in.

The sculptures were immediately washed away. Every last one of them. I sighed and wondered whether anyone would ever believe what I had seen here. I was about to climb the stairs and continue on my run when I saw the retreating tide was starting to raise the sand again.

Out of nowhere, sand-shapes began to take form by themselves, climbing out from under the tide. Big lumps at first, and then some of the sand would fall away to reveal identifiable shapes. These were animals.

Just as enormous as before, and all different kinds. Huge crabs. Towering seals. Horses and birds. The tide kept rushing the shore, and every time it retreated a new animal would form underneath it, carved out in great detail. Every shell. Every hair follicle. Every blowhole. Then they started to move.

First the seals. Then the bears. The crabs started clicking their claws and huge water snakes formed and slithered quickly across the ground at my feet. I looked up into the water and from the tide itself: white belugas made of sand were jumping through the waves.

How was this happening??

***

A young girl of about 14 had made her way down the staircase sucking on a popsicle, and stopped dead in her tracks the second she saw the animals. She looked at me in wide-eyed disbelief, but all I could do was shrug helplessly.

The animals weren’t done transforming. Slowly they began taking on their colours. Still twitching, the long whiskers of the seals became shiny. Their eyes became dark and deep. A baby seal that was my height waddled right up to me curiously and looked me right in the face. Crooking its head to one side, it let out a playful bark and I looked directly into its twinkling eyes. Was it alive??

The landscape itself began to take shape around the animals. Valleys for the animals that could run, and caves for the others. The sand beneath the 14-year-old suddenly gave way and she started to drop. I grabbed her arm and stood on the first stair, dangling her over a newly formed deep, rugged sand-cave. She started to scream.

I could see the popsicle that she had dropped lying about ten feet below her at the bottom of the cave, and from the ground next to it polar bears began to form. Hairy, wet, and blindingly white. One of them ate her popsicle, then looked up and growled. Two more polar bears jumped up on their hind legs right next to him and started to fight. Their giant heads were so close to us that we might have reached out and touched them.

The 14-year-old was now screaming uncontrollably. I pulled her up and she ran to the shade of some trees to sit next to a young girl of about six years old who had been perched there quietly, watching the whole thing. They were apparently together because the six year old was sucking on a similar popsicle and the older one demanded of her, “Why didn’t you help me??!!”

The six year old just flipped back a mob of stringy dark hair and laughed, as if the suggestion that there was any danger here was so ridiculous it did not even merit a response from her. These sands would hurt no one.

Suddenly the tide came in again and in seconds, everything had been washed away. The polar bears were gone. The frolicking seals had dissolved into nothingness. And the snakes fallen back into the ground from where they had come.

This occurred several times, as if a giant invisible God-child has chosen that one specific spot to sit and play. Building things with one swipe of his chubby hand, breathing life into his creations, then immediately becoming bored and starting all over again.

I was still trying to catch my breath when the six year old pointed out to the waves in the distance and yelled, “LOOK!!!”

There, several meters away, an enormous wave had started to form.

***

This was no ordinary wave. Its height looked like it could destroy a city, and as it approached it gained more intensity and ferocity. I did the only thing any reasonable person would do: I turned around and ran back up the stairs, looking for shelter. At the top of the staircase though, I stopped and turned around. I still wanted to see what would happen.

The wave slowed as it approached the shore, as if a hand were physically holding it back. Within the waters I could see more sand starting to gather, much like before. Huge horizontal blocks at first, and then parts would start to fall away revealing familiar shapes. These were human shapes. An army of people right across the entire shore.

People from all walks of life, of different ages, and from all parts of the world stepped right out of the wave. Women in long flowing hijabs. Men in white turbans. Black women balancing baskets on their heads and babies on their hips. White construction workers with farmer’s tans and steel toe boots. They all crossed the shore and started climbing the stairs.

I gathered my courage and started coming down the steps to meet them. I had no idea what to expect. Would they turn into sand as soon as I touched them? Would I pass right through them?

They looked up to see me approaching. They looked neither friendly nor hostile. Just regular people making their way across a beach. One by one, they politely stepped to the side to give me room to pass in the opposite direction. I brushed past them. The fabric of their garments, the smoothness of their skins were all made of sand, but of different consistencies. The objects they carried were hard and heavy, but their fabric-thin garments flapped playfully in the wind.

Once they had all passed I looked behind me. There was no sight of them. Only the empty staircase and sand strewn all across it. I suddenly realized that this beach would never stop. This was its nature. And that some parts of the world were still magical.

It was this realization that woke me up. I lay in bed for a minute, wondering about it. Then I got up, slipped into my running clothes, and pulled my hair back.

Outside the light had only started hinting at a sunrise. Everything looked so quiet and mysterious. I pulled on my shoes and, still slightly dazed from my dream, headed outside. The air was fresh and crisp, and I wondered what kind of adventure awaited me. I think that if I had turned the next corner and come face to face with a six-foot-seal, I wouldn’t have been particularly surprised.

You never know what you might find on a new running route.

***

Distance covered: 31.5k.

I am leaving on holidays to the US for the next few days, which means that all my running routes will be new ones. If I come across any enchanted beaches, I will let you know in my next post on Wednesday at 10pm EST.