Today I woke up early, and – before my waking brain had the chance to weigh in – had pulled on shorts and a t-shirt, had found socks and a battered pair of Mizunos, and had eased downstairs and out the door, and stood on the sidewalk considering the world.
What a racket the birds make at 5 a.m.! Anticipating the sunrise, they begin conducting their noisy avian commerce with no regard for people trying to sleep. As for me, I couldn’t sleep anyway, so they just seemed loud to me against the otherwise quiet background of West Newton at dawn. I wondered for a moment whether birds are always this loud while the sun is up, but are for most of the day drowned out by the cacophony of manmade noise from cars, lawn mowers, and other appliances. A moment later, I had put birds out of my mind, and was underway, taking shambling, shuffling steps that could not in good conscience and with a regard for accuracy be called running,
One of my resolutions for this summer was to run in the mornings more often. Although I would describe myself as a morning person, for many years, I’ve found it quite difficult to practice the habit of running in the morning. For one thing, it takes my body longer to wake up then it used to. For another thing, having a full-time job for which I often needed to be in the office at 7:00 strongly discouraged getting up at 5:00, or whatever, to get in a decent run. It didn’t help that I had no discipline about getting to be early enough to get a good night’s sleep.
But since abandoning the office work, I no longer have an excuse not to run in the morning, hence the resolution and my attempt to reclaim the morning for exercise.
Even without my resolution, I have other motivations for being out and about this morning. For one thing, today is June 12, and in Boston, it is the beginning of a five-day stretch when the sun rises at its earliest hour, 5:06 a.m. EDT. In a little over a week, we’ll celebrate the solstice and the beginning of official summer, which by definition is also the beginning of the end, and the first slight step in the long, slow march of ever-shorter days. And so it goes.
But before that, we have this week of grace when it’s light long before normal people are out of bed or on the roads, competing with each other to get to work or drop kids at school. On days like these, to be out running on quiet streets is sublime, indeed.
I also admit that being out exercising while the rest of the household and the rest of the neighborhood are snoring makes me feel especially virtuous. It’s silly and vain to think that running at 5:00 a.m. makes me a better person than normal risers, but it’s hard to resist the self-satisfaction that comes with buying into the “early bird” theory of human value and then being the early bird. Actually, I’m not sure that running so early – by itself – makes for a better run, or a better day for that matter. It’s all in how all the pieces of the day fit together, and if I crash early and can’t get my work done (or my Blog post written) because I’m napping at 10:00 a.m., I’m not sure I’ve come out ahead on the virtue scale.
When I’m back at the house, feeling for the moment fully alert, I think for the moment that there’s nothing better than the morning run. That feeling lasts a few hours, and then – assuming I don’t crash completely – will be replaced by the feeling that it’s just a normal day. And by the afternoon, I’ll probably need a nap, as family members and colleagues hit their stride and overtake me.
So there’s no free lunch to running before breakfast. The sleep debt will need to be paid at some point. And even if there was some lasting benefit, I suspect I’d still see my resolution falter sooner or later, and that would be the end of the virtuous habit.
Like so many other things to do with running, the best part and, I think, the lasting part about running at daybreak once or ritually is the thing itself – seeing the world in a different light, hearing the world with different ears, sharing the world with the few fellow citizens who have also ventured out early, acknowledging them (if you choose) with a conspiratorial nod and a knowing smile.