The alarm beeps angrily at 6:20 in the morning and I throw out my hand to silence its sharp noise. For many island residents, this is not even close to an early start. For me, it feels like the middle of the night. The Asian Koels outside my bedroom window began their crows hours ago, like Maldivian roosters marking the start of day, and many of my colleagues were up with them, long before dawn; some have been up all night.
I roll out of bed, fumbling with the light switch, as I open the curtains to the darkness outside. There is no glimpse of sunlight on the horizon yet. Mole-eyed, I slide on my leggings, t-shirt and socks, before pulling on my trainers. This is the only time that shoes are necessary on the island: I’m going on a run.
I was never a natural sportsperson. I tried. True to my nature, I wanted to be part of the team, and I did my utmost to keep up with my peers when it came to playing hockey or tennis, but my lack of natural coordination and spatial awareness put me at a distinct disadvantage. Most of all, I hated running. Every Friday was cross country day and I detested every step. Each week I’d declare that I’d rather do eight hours of Maths than fifteen minutes of running – a bold statement considering my mathematical abilities were arguably even more lacking.
After a lifetime of running-hatred, at university, looking for an inexpensive way of staying fit, I decided to commit to some training. What if I could conquer my fear of running, and learn to enjoy it? Five months later I ran my first half marathon. Two years after that I conquered not only my fears, but my first full marathon – all 42 kilometres of it.
I found that running was always one of my favourite ways to see a place. It it quicker than a walking tour and more empowering than navigating public transport. Now it is a sort of medicine. A way of immersing myself in the natural beauty of the landscape, the circuit I follow takes me on a neat route around the island, through the winding jungle pathways, opening out onto sandy beaches and blue seas.
I begin at the very middle of the island, where my second-floor room hangs in the jungle canopy. It’s the coolest time of day, but the humidity still makes me sweat before I’ve even started. I wind my way down the island, along the main pathway that curves its length. Following the track as it takes sharp left turn I pass my little bookshop, tucked neatly in a row of shops that lead to a bar.
Delving back into the trees, I take in the earthy smell of the foliage. All I can hear is the sound of my heart pounding in my ears and my steady breath, in and out. I’m looping up towards the island’s very tip, known as Dolphin Beach, and the secluded hammock where I occasionally seek solace with my book. As I approach, I begin to notice the sound of waves washing against the shore growing louder. It’s still dark, but the sun is beginning to rise now, and I’m eager not to miss the fullness of its awakening glow.
I turn back on myself before veering onto a quieter path that passes the Den, the children’s club where I read stories every Tuesday. I keep a steady pace along the island’s outer ring, which provides access to a group of villas. My legs are wobbling with lactic acid, but I breath in through my nose and out through my mouth. As I run, my body thumps in a synchronised rhythm, like the beating drum patterns of Boduberu – traditional Maldivian music. I glance up through the jungle canopy towards the awakening light of morning, breathing in the humid air, as the rising light flickers through the trees, making patterns on the ground.
I come out at the Dive School, and instead of taking a right that will lead me to the main pathway and back my room, I turn left towards Bara Bara, the island’s second jetty, which houses a bar and plenty of space for sunbathing. It’s known as one of the best places to snorkel on the island, and it’s from there that I regularly go diving when there’s no boat for me to join. Before I reach Bara Bara, I fold right onto another quiet pathway, one of my favourite parts of the route. It’s a much narrower, lightly undulating path that twists and turns so much that I still feel unfamiliar with it. The vegetation is even thicker here, so the light breaking through the trees above me creates an eerie yellow tinge. The warped branches provide welcome relief from the blaze of the fast-approaching sunlight.
Finally I find myself next to the spa, where my mind catches up with my body. I think how meditative it is to run in this natural environment, without the distractions of traffic and pedestrians. I follow the path to the right and head back towards the centre of the island, with sweat sliding off my skin.
When this trail re-joins the main pathway I continue on towards the top of the island, past the tennis courts, the vegetable gardens and Fresh in the Garden, the restaurant suspended above the rainforest, next to the observatory. My pace quickens, and so does my heartbeat, knowing I have nearly reached the end.
After I have passed the eco-centro, I emerge from the trees to bend along the beach that leads to the over-water complex, Out of the Blue. My route brings me past the Turtle Beach Champa, the treehouse where yoga and meditation take place, and through the middle of Cinema Paradiso, which at this time in the morning becomes an outdoor bootcamp for hosts. A group of my colleagues are up in the cool of the morning, doing press ups and squats as the sun rises; they wave and cheer me on as I head towards the jetty at the tip of the island. It gives me the final push I need for the last leg of my daily journey towards the sunrise, and although I am now red and sweaty, their cheers carry me to the finish line.
Despite the early morning breeze, I am sweltering from my exertions, and the crystal sea looks insatiably appetising and cool. When I reach the jetty’s end, I take a moment to look at the world from this wild and beautiful position, before leaping into the air towards the orange glow of the horizon. Gravity pulls me down into the refreshing, salty ocean. My spirit soars as I feel the water against my skin, and I emerge from the deep, panting in the fresh morning air. I watch as the sun smoothly rises over the water’s surface and think with a smile that this really is the perfect way to begin the day.
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Photo Credits: Soneva Fushi Resort