7. Dark Morning Running

7. Dark Morning Running

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Dark Morning Running

I have to exercise in the morning before my brain figures out what I’m doing.
 ~Marsha Doble

In the Pacific Northwest during winter, 5:15 AM might as well be the dead of night. The alarm goes off and the only light is the red glow from my clock. My body says, “Go back to bed.” But I don’t. I know my running partner will be waiting in the street and I’m not going to stand her up. I drag myself into shoes and layers of moisture-wicking material plus hat, gloves, jacket and sometimes a scarf. Not only is it dark, it’s cold.

I stumble onto the road, cursing the cold and wishing I were back under my warm covers. Yet I’m thankful most of the snow has melted, though some mornings, flurries still sting my face. Each carrying a flashlight, we meet between our houses. We chat as we run, setting off the motion-detecting porch lights as we go, and soon I’m warmer, awake and glad to be outside filling my lungs with quick breaths of cold air and putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

If you’d have asked me a year ago if I could see myself running at 5:15 on a winter morning I’d have laughed.

Morning just isn’t my thing. Normally I need a double shot homemade latte and a bowl of cereal before I’m even functional and that’s after 8:00 AM. So running in the morning was something I didn’t even consider. “I prefer to work out midmorning or in the afternoon,” I’d say to friends who go to the gym before work.

With a telecommuting job, I have the flexibility to work out at different times, but often I haven’t. Many days I’d put on workout clothes first thing in the morning, with good intentions to run or do aerobics when I was more awake or had more energy or needed a break. But then those mornings would turn to evening with me still sitting at my computer working, without having worked out.

Then, last fall I reconnected with an old neighborhood friend. Our kids used to go to the same school and she only lives a couple of blocks away, but I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She’d been running with a partner in the morning and taken off forty pounds that year. “Wow!” I said. When I looked in the mirror or got on the scale I knew I could benefit from the same kind of weight loss.

Since her running partner had gotten a treadmill and wasn’t running outside, I found myself asking if I could join her. An inner voice screamed, “Are you crazy? You aren’t a morning person.” But I knew I needed to change something if I was ever going to get back in shape. I thought perhaps the accountability of a running partner might be it.

The first two months were especially hard, because we ran twice a week at 5:15 AM and I slept till 7:00 the other mornings. My body wasn’t acclimating to the early hours and every run was difficult. Then it snowed and snowed and we took two months off. During the break I did a better job of working out at home, but I looked forward to the snow melting so we could resume our runs. I didn’t miss the exercise so much as the chats and camaraderie. When the roads were clear enough we started up again, and soon were running together five days a week.

While some days it’s still hard, most days it just feels normal. I even wake up a few minutes before the alarm now. And as I’ve adjusted to the routine of running I’ve discovered little joys that make it even more worthwhile than a little weight loss.

When the sky is clear I spot the Big Dipper and a host of sparkling stars. It reminds me of summertime camping and I look forward to running in warmer weather, without all these clothes.

We don’t see many other runners in the wee hours, just one or two if any. On some routes we see more deer than people. Herds graze on the golf course and make nightly treks from the woods into the outlying neighborhoods. Sometimes they startle us when we glimpse their stationary shadowy figures. Sometimes we startle them and they go from a standing to a smooth sprint in seconds. We stop and watch for a moment, moving on when they are past. Oh, to run like a deer.

While we say “good morning” to those rare other runners, we can’t even see their faces or make eye contact. And shining a flash-light in their eyes would be rude. But something about the craziness and camaraderie of running in the dark makes me feel like we are part of an exclusive club.

While I haven’t lost forty pounds yet, it’s amazing how much more energy I have, how much stronger I feel. It’s the strange irony of rising early to run that the rest of the day is more productive than when I stayed in bed an extra hour or two. I wouldn’t say I’ve become a morning person, but I would say morning running is now my thing.

~Jill Barville

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