My alarm beeps at 5am on Saturday mornings, just like it has all week long, but instead of snoozing for another half an hour, I generally get right up. On Saturdays, when so many others are sleeping in, resting from their work weeks, I pop out of bed and begin a well-practiced routine.
Saturdays are my long run days. Some runners love long runs, others loathe them. I pretty much consider them sacred.
I shuffle into my kitchen, where a glass of water and a Picky Bar await. Snack consumed, I make my way back to my bathroom for teeth-brushing, contact-inserting, and, well, using the bathroom, of course.
Then . . . I wait.
Needing to pass some time for my pre-run snack to settle a bit, I crawl back into bed, pop myself up against the wall, and crack open a book. I avoid the news, the internet, or anything else that would shock me into the events of the real world before I’m ready. 30 minutes fly by and it’s time to change.
Running clothes are donned, shoes laced, cap pulled on over my messy hair and out I go. Pausing only at the edge of the sidewalk to give my Garmin time to lock on to a trusty satellite, I am off.
Most of the year, it’s still dark. The streets are calm and quiet. I pass by dim storefronts and glance inside, peeking at the goods which line the shelves and wait to find a home. My eyes wander across the lawns and porches of houses that tease me with glimpses of cozy kitchen tables and warm fireplaces. Stop lights tell me “Don’t Walk”, but after glancing in all directions, I generally see that it’s all clear and run right on through.
Early risers creep their cars through the drive-in coffee windows and the sun starts to rise. Depending on the time of year, it may be warm or frigid, dry or wet – all of it telling. It is on these runs when I watch the seasons change. I notice that what was once 30 minutes spent in darkness turns to 45 as the winter inches in. I watch ducks usher in the summer mornings with their quacks and squirrels gather up their food stores as the warm weather fades. I notice the very first of the leaves fall and the precocious flower buds of early spring.
My first loop – just over 8 miles – eases me into my day. It’s a loop that I’ve run many times and is by now comfortably familiar to me. I traverse it with gut recognition and instinct, providing me the time to fully wake up and warm up. My mind drifts, not thinking per se, but just letting random thoughts pass through. Some are meaningless and others seem genius at the time, though I can never remember them later. Mostly, I am just completely present in my thoughts, in my body, and in my city.
By the time I sprint up the stairs to my apartment for a quick pit stop, I’m totally engaged. I spend no more than five minutes inside. Bathroom. Water. Snack. Back out I go.
My second lap varies. The distance and route bend to my particular goals and feelings on any given day. By this time of the morning, though, the sun has risen and the day’s mood is making itself known. Have the clear skies brought the other runners, cyclists, and rowdy kids playing in the streets? Or, are the grey skies rushing people from one shelter to another? Either way, I run on with thoughts of breakfast starting to enter my mind. My day’s task list begins to take over head space, too, and my body begins to yearn for coffee.
Regardless of the specifics of that morning’s second loop, I tend to run a path that leads me down some fun hills, spitting me out into one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in my town. Those last few miles, momentum building and spirits lifting, are the best. This is where the calmness of the morning turns into energy for the day. It’s also where the negative split takes hold. And, for those of you who are runners, too, you know how much we love a negative split.
Then, just like that, I’m home. I kick my way through the parking lot, stop at the door, click stop on my trusty Garmin, and begin the rest of my day. Shower. Coffee. Food. Compression socks.