If only every day, every run could be so magnificently refreshing.
Here in Texas, the summer heat finally broke with a day of rainstorms that beat back the dogs of summer on Friday. This morning the temperature is 64* at 0440 when I roll out of bed and tug on my running shoes.
When I step out the front door, the cool northern breeze nearly takes my breath away as it tickles its cool tendrils against my skin. An unexpected prickle of goosebumps flickers across my body. I greedily suck in a deep breath of the marvelously cool air and set off down the street.
The morning is quiet save for the occasional breeze creaking the summer-dried cedar fences. I pass and startle a possum who in turn gives me a baleful glare as it scurries away from the edge of the road. As I turn onto the sidewalk of the more major cross street, a car approaches and has the courtesy to move to the inside lane as it passes. And then I am alone with my run again.
Glancing back over my shoulder I spy Orion in the southwestern morning sky, and I'm sure he gives me a curt nod of approval. As my patron constellation of unending endurance and perseverance as he chases his quarry relentlessly across the sky, I often look to the heavens for him. During the winter months, he flashes by in the late evenings. But during the summer months I only greet him when I rise before the sun itself to run.
Knee-high heads of grass gone to seed line the sidewalk on both sides, neglected and uncut, as I stride my way up the gradual hill that rises before me. I skim the edges of the grass tunnel that opens in front of me, letting the tips brush lightly against my outside leg as I slip by, granted safe passage within the path the sentinel grass heads stand watch over. I smile to myself because I know that I will be passing this way again soon and then it will be a gradual downhill and I'll be pushing the pace through to the end.
A stray dog pants his hello as he marks time with me for a few strides before he jovially returns to his resting spot beneath a gnarled cedar tree, his pale blue eyes luminescent against his brown fur. I'll see him again soon too.
Even the two sets of high voltage transmission lines I travel under are eerily silent this morning. Normally in the heat they buzz and arc, chattering amongst themselves and making the hair on my legs and arms stand on end with their disapproving comments.
As I pass from the residential areas and approach a major city intersection with gas stations and strip malls, the first hints of the impending morning become apparent. Delivery trucks idle roughly outside the convenience stores, laden with their bottled diabetes, waiting to refuel the mother-ship. In & Out, Kwik Stop, Run In--they all have such purposeful names.
RunKeeper whispers in my ear, and I abruptly turn heel and head back towards home at the 2 mile mark. I'm 100 feet short of the intersection, and I wonder why I didn't just travel to the junction before turning back.
I invite Mr. Blue-eyed-Brown Dog to breakfast as I pass by again. And he smiles his toothy smile agreeably, but returns to wait patiently under his tree to witness what else will pass by his particular part of the universe. Maybe he's waiting for a better offer.
I concentrate on keeping my cadence up on the downhills instead of falling into ragged lope. I'm sure my pace is greatly increased with this strategy, but my perceived effort isn't any more than running uphill the other direction. The downhills cease to be a chance to recover, and instead present as opportunities to bank pace. Indeed looking at my splits, this is my fastest split by over :40 secs/mile. I'm slowly learning to use my body to attack the run, rather than merely holding on for dear life, hoping to survive. More than banking seconds toward my pace, I'm banking experience for my runs and races I've yet to attempt.
As I turn up the steeper hill towards my home, I glance at RunKeeper, and try to determine if I'll have to skirt the cul-de-sac halfway up the street to make sure I'll make 4 miles by my driveway. The remaining distance before me seems much shorter than the distance left according to RunKeeper. I'm surprised to see that I turn over 4.01 miles as I coast into my driveway. This disparity only highlights the fear and trepidation that--even now--holds me hostage. The corner to my driveway is not far by sight. 0.15 miles remaining feels much farther. But they are the same. The difference is merely gazing at the goal rather than the work left to get there.
Inside again, I sit on the ottoman at the end of our bed, the fan blowing cool air over me. I listen to the rhythmic breathing of my 7 year old daughter who came in last night in the fog of a nightmare. Her insouciant breathing speaks to the safety she feels in our bed. And I'm glad for that.
In fact, in this moment I'm...grateful.
It's hard for me to be content, sometimes, when I let the world dictate my demeanor. But for now--this fleeting instant--I am peaceful.
And it all started with a run on a cool Autumn morning.
Here's the song that Pandora chose for me to contemplate to at the end of my run. One of my (if not my absolute) favorite artists--Gregory Alan Isakov. Hope you enjoy.