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A Testament to the Glory Of Early Morning Runs

Before the world is awake, there is the runner hitting the pavement.

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night race

Getting out of bed at 5:30 on a Monday morning is not how I like to start my week, especially when it’s still dark. But today is going to be hot, so my early-evening power hike may not happen. Besides, I’m curious to try this new walk/run app that helps me train for a 5K. Not that I plan on doing a 5K; all I want to do is to be able to check off the “regularly” box on the forms that ask, “How often do you exercise?” But who knows—if it works, maybe I will.

Apparently, this app will get me off the couch and ready to run a 5K in eight weeks. Good luck with that! I have a history of throwing myself into things and fizzling out after a few days or weeks, when that thing has lost its appeal and becomes work.

I slip on my sneakers in the dark and decide not to bring my phone, since I don’t have time to search for my earbuds and have nowhere to put it anyway. I guess I’m on my own. I’ll just wing it. The app said to walk briskly for 5 minutes as a warm-up. That I can do. I briskly set out on my new journey, already feeling like an athlete. I’m not just a suburban middle-aged woman out for a morning walk anymore. I am a cool runner. I’m sure my attitude gives that vibe, because my clothes sure don’t. My turtle hospital tee-shirt and flared knee-length workout pants scream suburban middle-aged woman trying to be a cool runner. I’m just glad that no one is around to see me; my form is worse than my clothes.

The sun has not yet risen, but daylight is already creeping in. Or maybe it’s last night’s leftover full moon, lightly shrouded by swiftly moving clouds. There’s an odd day-night glow, as if someone turned a night-light on to light up the whole outside just enough to make it pass for day. There is little movement, little sound, except for the steady hum of a chorus of crickets. I wonder if I’ll encounter a bear.

There, in the middle of the street, something moves. Too small for a bear. A young deer, in no hurry, meanders off to the sidewalk, her eyes trained on me. I stay in the road. She is no more than fifteen feet from me, yet doesn’t move. Dawn is not a time for rapid movement for anyone. She is curiously disinterested, and I contemplate stopping to see how close I can get to her. Then I realize that I’m off task—and besides, I’m not the deer whisperer. I keep going.

It’s time—60 seconds of running, then 90 seconds of walking. I can do this. Adrenaline moves me forward. I’m running. I’m actually running! And still breathing. I’m so flabbergasted that I forget to keep track of counting the seconds. The last time I tried to run—about five years ago—I ran out of breath after about 10 paces and vowed never to run again. Not so this time. I’m surprised that I’m still going. Why doesn’t it feel as if a 500 pound man is sitting on my chest? Shouldn’t it? Maybe because I’ve been hiking all summer. Maybe I’m in better shape than I thought. Maybe I could actually run that 5K. Okay, not today, but someday. Like in eight weeks.

Now I understand why runners don’t use sidewalks. In this night-light time of day, I can’t see the obstacles on the sidewalk, so I stay in the road. I’m pretty sure this is not the real reason, but it’s my reason. It’s hard enough moving faster than I’m used to; falling is not an option.

Related: Flashy Reflective Gear For Night Runs

I slow my pace back to a brisk walk. The only sound I hear is my breathing. The birds are not even aware that a new day is dawning. Somewhere in the distance, a fox screams. It sounds like a woman being murdered, but I know that foxes imitate sounds they hear. Not that anyone has ever been murdered around here, but I’m sure every fox has heard a mother yell at her children to get out of the yard because there’s a fox in the woods.

There is something about this time of day that is truly captivating. I am alone, yet I am a part of this day that is not yet a day, right here, right now.

Alternating my run and my walk, I learn balance, rhythm, pace. I may not be doing it right, but I’m doing it nonetheless. I’m running and I don’t hate it. I actually don’t mind it. I wouldn’t say I like it. That would be pushing it. There’s something about this time of day that, despite the early rising, is like a hidden secret. It’s not something that can be explained. It has to be experienced.

As I get closer to home, I slow the pace in order to cool down. An errant bat flies overhead. It must be a teenager. Who else would be coming home at such an hour? A startled rabbit hops across my yard into the forsythia. Why did I think rabbits were only out during spring?

I find myself feeling more thankful than I did a half hour ago. Thankful for the small things in life—deer, rabbits, bats—yes, even bats. Legs that move, lungs that breathe, and eyes to see the beauty of God’s creation. But most of all, I’m grateful that no one saw me run.

I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.

Mary Dolan Flaherty is a middle-aged runaphobe-turned-almost-runner and is currently training for her first 5K.  She lives her life somewhere between poignant joy and sarcastic humor, always trying to find the positive in life. She also lives in New Jersey with her husband, Brian. Together they enjoy hiking more than running, but that is subject to change. Mary can be found at her blog.