When the weather turns cold and the days grow short and the sun struggles to rise in the sky over Boston (if it bothers to appear at all), I feel a strange urge to run in the early mornings.
I don’t know where this urge comes from or why it strikes at this time of year. I guess I’m a morning person the rest of the year, too, but that doesn’t translate into a year-round habit of rolling out of bed before the first light, pulling on a few layers, and clomping out the front door. In summer, when it would actually make sense to run early, I snooze happily through the pre-dawn hours, letting the bright sun wake me like any normal person. In the Spring and the Fall, I’m too distracted in the mornings to run, too focused on getting to work early so I can coach in the afternoons. Whatever the reasons, as we bear down on the winter solstice, I find myself drawn to the dark, furtive hours and the solitude of being up WAY too early.
A week ago, it was bitter cold, and — after a mild Fall had left me unadapted to such conditions — I had to go into full arctic mode to protect myself from frostbite and chapped lips. When the fickle New England weather turned November into a balmy day-dream with temperatures in the sixties, I found myself woefully over-dressed. And I wasn’t the only living creature confused by the typical New England weather. On Tuesday I drove to Concord to run on trails before the sun came up. Circling Great Meadows, I encountered thick clouds of tiny black flies who had been totally suckered by the warm temperatures. I felt sorry for them as I brushed them from my eyes and coughed them out of my mouth, knowing that as far as they knew, it was May and it was time to party.
It’s weird, too, to adjust to morning runs after being so stuck on a routine of afternoon/evening runs for the last eight months. I’m confused at how hungry I am in the late morning, and then again a few hours after lunch. My lunches suddenly strike me as being inadequate, and I’m barely finished before I start thinking about snacks. Then, in the evening, I’m less hungry for dinner than usual.
Sometimes a morning routine feels so much easier than an afternoon routine, like this morning when conditions at 6 a.m. were ideal for running. As I gaze out the window at the steady rain that’s supposed to turn to wet snow, I feel content to the point of smugness knowing that I’ve logged my miles already. But I know there also will be days where the morning run is a slog through cold slop, and later in the day the sun breaks through and the roads dry out and I’ll feel like an idiot as I hunt for my afternoon snacks.
I have this idea that since I’m running in the morning anyway, I should retain my usual run in the afternoon, and instantly double my mileage. I suspect that if I actually tried to do that consistently, I’d only end up killing off my morning run.
The thing is, even though they are often dark and cold, winter mornings are about the only really peaceful and pleasant times to run in the winter, and one of the safest times, too. I’d much rather run early than run late and compete with afternoon traffic on snow-narrowed roads.
So in the case of early morning runs, appearances are deceiving: when I’m out there at 6 a.m. in the winter, don’t think I’m being virtuous with my unwavering focus on training. It’s closer to the truth to say that frosty morning miles are more decadent than dedicated.