My first alarm goes off at 4:06 am. So quiet and gentle, I doubt it wakes my husband, the lighter sleeper of the two of us. I am a heavy sleeper, yet I hear the faint chirp, so briefly, before turning it off and waiting for the second alarm at 4:12.
I’m reluctant to leave my warm, cozy bed. My new flannel sheets hug me, wrapping me in an embrace almost as comforting as Mom’s hug. Almost.
Despite my deep longing to stay in bed, I swing my legs over the side, the cool air stark against my bare legs, and make my way in the dark, using my phone as a flashlight to find the bathroom. My running clothes are already laid out on the counter. I double check the weather one more time before I completely commit to my running outfit. The weather is an unpredictable running buddy. And 30 degrees Fahrenheit is a difficult temperature to dress for.
I brush my teeth and get dressed, taking care to save my outer layers until I’m out the door. I don’t want to overheat in the house.
By 4:20 I’m sitting on the couch with my first cup of coffee. It’s strong, with a healthy dose of half and half. The first steaming sip warms my belly and sharpens my wits. I check emails, read articles, and plan my day while sipping my coffee. By the time my cup is empty, it’s time to go.
I go through my checklist: headlamp, reflective vest, phone, keys, spare jacket, gloves, headband. I tie my running shoes; I can already tell I’m going to need a new pair soon. I sigh as I think about squeezing that into the budget.
The garage is dark, and the sound of the garage door opening is a loud roar on a silent morning. On the drive over, I’m pumped, excited. The sky is black with a clear view of stars. I pick out Orion’s belt.
I’ve planned to meet the group on the front steps of the local YMCA. Sometimes there’s a lot of us; sometimes just two.
Blinking lights from vests and headlamps greet me. People stomp their feet, smacking against the pavement, warming them in the cold morning. Soft laughter, the beep of watches.
I’d like to think we’re an agile pack of ninjas, but in truth we’re a crazy motley of flashing lights, bright colors, and steaming puffs of breath. Legs turn over in vary speed, some fast, some slow. It doesn’t matter. The first mile is always tough, a little tight, a little stiff, as if joints screech for an oil can.
Running in the dark is a mysterious experience. Surreal even. Houses and neighborhoods pass without notice. Miles are covered without thought. The landscape changes from yard to park to cemetery to back street, yet none of us notice. In the dark, everything looks the same. Everything’s awash in shades of inky blue and black. Even the faces of my companions are a blur to me, hidden by layers of clothing and shades of shadow.
As we run through town – alive with activity in the hours to come, yet sleeping and waking still – few cars pass us. Some don’t see us, and we have to rely on our ninja-like agility.
In the dark, wee hours of the morning, when the entire town remains fast asleep, we run. The day is barely new, and I have traveled farther on foot than some people will travel all day.
Later, I’ll look back on my run, whether fast or slow, fun or challenging, and it will seem like a memory from a dream. Almost as if it didn’t happen. Yet I know I will wake the next day and do it again. Later, over my second cup of coffee while I’m heading for the shower, I’ll think about how before I even thought about the day ahead, I managed to accomplish a goal. I’ll think how while others were sleeping and letting life happen to them, I chose to get up and decide how I wanted to live.
But for now, I’m running in the dark. That thrilling exhilaration of being awake when you’re not supposed to beating in my chest propels me forward. We laugh when we’re done. Make plans for future runs.
I get in my car, smelling of sweat and cold air. I pull off my gloves and headband, hot now. There’s no need to turn the heat on in the car. I drive home, my headlights piercing the country roads, as the sun starts to peak over the horizon and begin the day.