By the Seaside

Upon returning to St Andrews at the close of my Christmas holiday, it seems that I have spent nearly every waking moment with the people in the above photo. In many ways, these people are very different from myself. Each of them hails from various corners of the United Kingdom, have been on wonderful adventures, and believe in things that really challenge me. Yet like a window made from pieces of stained glass, each one of these people possesses their own unique color, design, and opacity to create a vivid and remarkable whole. I find that each one of these people are beautiful and special in their own unique ways, and while they contrast with each other and myself, by putting them together you create something truly wonderful.

Such are the feelings that can appropriately sum my experience traveling down to Brighton the weekend of January 30th for the British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) cross country event. Initially I was a bit hesitant for the 20+ hour car ride (roundtrip) following so soon after my wearying flight back to Scotland. Yet the Taylor Swift jam sessions, quality banter, and getting to look out the window and see the whole of Britain pass me by actually made the car journey rather pleasant, as I got to see things I had never seen before and was in the company of people as enjoyable as the cross country team.

While my time in St Andrews has made looking upon the sea a rather commonplace experience, being able to see the sea at nearly the opposite end of the country was something I found rather special as well. This trip marks the first time I had ever been truly south in the United Kingdom, truly in the thick of English culture. In St Andrews, you at times lose perspective on where you actually are since this wee town is so incredibly international. That, paired with the multitudes of old American golfers I hear under my window, at times make me forget that I am 3,000 miles away from home. This in many ways has become a bit of a comfort to me, the Bilbo-esque homebody, as the familiar sights and sounds of St Andrews have slowly but surely become my second home. Yet, as I said before, I am beginning to forget that I am abroad, that I need to be drinking in as much of a new and different culture as I can before I graduate in a year and a half. Thus, this jaunt to Brighton was perhaps just what I needed to remind me of this incredible opportunity I have to be in the United Kingdom, to see a land and meet a people that, while similar to my home in some ways, are still beautifully different.

The actual cross country race, our main objective of the trip, took place on the Saturday following our long drive. As this race was just after the Christmas holiday, many in our company were worried as to how well this race would actually unfold. While cake, wine, and movie marathons seemlike a good idea for the entirety of December, they become your worst enemy when attempting to race some of the most competitive people in the country a few weeks later. The women’s event, 6.4 kilometers of punishing hills, pits of peanut buttery mud, and a field of nearly 500 runners made this race one of the hardest and most competitive I have ever participated in. While I used to be considered quite tough, cross country wise, in high school, that girl would not have stood a chance against the elite women participating in this race. With that in mind I started my race with the objective of having fun, knowing full well that I was not in any kind of superstar shape. Yet the mud, the hills, and the large field proved to my advantage as I finished in a respectable time of 33:25; I was able to use my strength to charge the hills, and the mind-boggling number of racers only meant that there was always someone to chase down and pass. I even shocked myself by out-sprinting four girls in the finishing strait, something I am never usually able to do. Thus, this race served to prove to me that I am actually in a bit better shape than I thought I was. Not only this, but the BUCS cross country race was simply good, muddy fun!

The hosting team, the University of Sussex, threw a great big after party for all the universities competing as a way for all the various British university cross country teams to celebrate together. This weekend in Brighton, for me, was full of new experiences not limited to being so far south in the country, for this after party marked my very first club experience. As I turned twenty-one back in December and anticipating the start of a new year and new semester, lately I have been saying how much I’ve been wanting to do something crazy, to carpe diem and keep adding to the list of all the things I have experienced since moving to Scotland three years ago. So, while a club is not really my kind of scene (and by “not really” I mean “not in one million years…”), I decided to give it a try as part of my New Year’s Resolution to abandon my reservations and simply dothings. As my friend Sam was telling me before we went out, “A club is really all in what you make it,” advice I really took to heart. Thus, I looked at the evening as simply a fun night of dancing and singing to grand ol’ tunes like “Don’t Stop Believin’” with some of my favorite people.

While it was a wild experience, one I will most likely not repeat, I am glad I did it, for it now occupies a space in my list of “Things I Have Done.” When I started university three years ago, I promised myself that I would say yes to as many new experiences as possible, for if I had the gall to agree to move 3,000 miles away from home at eighteen years of age, there really is no limit to what I can do. So, while going to a club in a place like Brighton completely defies who I thought “Maggie” was, I am beginning to be okay with the fact that I am multi-faceted, that I can enjoy a variety of experiences, and that I am willing to try new things even if they aren’t necessarily what I envision myself doing. In the end, this night out was actually quite fun, just being goofy and celebrating with some of my best friends before knuckling down for another semester. So while my introverted self may need to do lots of this for a few weeks to recover:

Bilbo: “I just need to sit quietly for a moment.”

I am starting to appreciate coming out of my shell more and more, and becoming more willing to abandon my reservations and simply live.

All in all, this weekend I had in Brighton with the cross country team will make it into my official list of “Favorite Times at St Andrews” that I will look back on fondly as I age. Though I am proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone for a little while, which makes this trip more memorable, but I think what I will mostly smile at when I recall this trip is simply the wonderful company I was traveling with. This weekend in Brighton was such a strong bonding moment with the core of the cross country team, and I feel as though we have come out of the weekend not sick of one another, but even closer friends. I feel as though I have finally found “my tribe” here at St Andrews, and I love being part of such a diverse group of people. Yet while each and every one of us brings something new, or quirky, or unique to the group, we are all united on a few basic principles: a fondness for the outdoors, a passion for adventure, and simply the love of a run. These tenets, methinks, are the foundations for the meaningful and strong bonds I have forged with these people, bonds I wouldn’t trade for the world. Now St Andrews, once that “brave new world” of the unknown and the intimidating, has truly become my second home.

I apologize for the lack of posting as of late, as well as the tardiness of this post after my travels to Brighton actually occurred. This semester has kicked off with nearly 400 pages of reading a week; and that, combined with training twice a week and riding once a week, has seemingly eaten what time I have to continue my reflections on being here at St Andrews. However, as spring break and the cross country away trip are in the not-too distant future, I will have many exciting adventures to report, so I will do my best to keep this blog fresh and up to date. There are still many adventures to be had, and the sunset time of my St Andrews life is nearly on the horizon. And so, “I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)”

Originally written 11 February 2015

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