By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
Purity and distillation. In endurance sports these two things reduce us to our motives, our capabilities. They hold a mirror to our our inner core and reveal what drives us. What keeps us going forward when there is nothing else there- no music, no crowds, no finish line, no mile markers. Only distance and our own strength.
Between Clearwater and Tampa, Florida stretches a rare 9-mile ribbon of white pavement. Set against a stark backdrop of water and sun it distills ambition to reality and leaves a volatile cocktail of capability. What is left after the distillation process is what you have to work with. The Courtney Campbell Causeway is a two-lane traffic span for people driving to the Florida coastal region of Tampa from Clearwater and back. Purpose built next to the highway span is a multi-use path for bikes and runners.
When you run Courtney Campbell out and back it is 18 miles. And it is hot.
I ran Courtney Campbell on Monday, January 25th. It was 60-degrees Fahrenheit with an East North East wind at only 6 MPH and low humidity at 57%. Perfect conditions.
You run Courtney Campbell at noon by yourself on a weekday. There are almost no other people there. You are left alone with your ambitions, your shortcomings, your capabilities. After 18 miles of running the concrete ribbon across the brilliant ocean you understand what you can, and can’t, do. And that is why I was there.
It is quiet. Brilliantly, disturbingly quiet. The ocean surface is finely rippled. Seabirds paddle in groups above submerged weed patches on the sand looking for fish. You hope for a good omen- perhaps a shark or a dolphin, to add some mystic power, some suggestion of allegiance to the wild sea.
Because the miles accumulate without markers or fanfare you simply glide for hours without concern. It just feels good to be next to the ocean, running, in the company of the wild sea.
People run and do triathlons for many reasons. As you grow older your reasons change. Evolve. If you are still in this sport after 30 years it isn’t to impress someone, it isn’t to prove anything, it isn’t for a tattoo or a medal or a T-shirt. It is for the things on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
Wind. Distance. Air. Ocean. Strength. Purity. Solitude.
I found those things on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, and I had missed them for the past few years.