Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Morning Shift

I started slow to let my legs loosen up and shake the sleep out of them.  I made the turn out of my neighborhood and took in the empty sidewalks, the dim streets, and the orange sliver of daylight breaking across the clouds.  It was almost euphoric.  And as I settled into a steady rhythm, I thought just maybe I could do this each morning.  Then I heard it.  The cacophonous growl far off...and getting closer.  I came over the ridge and there it was: the caravan of garbage trucks setting out for their morning collection.  I took deep breaths and as the leader came even with me, I held my breath.  The first past, then the second, a third, and by the fourth, I had to exhale.  With each truck that went by it brought a rush of hot air.  I could stand no more and had to inhale.  There it was, that sick sour smell of garbage.  And it followed me for the first half mile as I ran into the trail of trucks.  The morning is a cruel time to run.  

For two days, I’ve taken my wife, coworkers, and friends along a rollercoaster ride of moods.  From the energetic highs, to the don’t even look at me lows, and everywhere in between.  Since Tuesday (good God, that was only yesterday), I’ve been rising at 5:30 to squeeze my run in before heading off to work and eventually some post-work function.
I’ve read blogs and articles from others who have been driven to run in the wee hours of the morning, for various reasons (kids, work, etc.).  I just don’t get it.  Nor do I feel like I’m very good at it.  The workout is fine, it’s the living through the rest of the day without falling asleep or biting someone’s head off that I struggle with.  
I am a creature of habit. As my wife can attest, when the alarm goes off in the morning during a work week, I say little until I’ve had my shower.  In fact, the first 15 minutes of my morning closely resemble Groundhog Day.  It goes a little something like this: Alarm. Swing legs out of bed.  Put on shirt.  Dawdle downstairs. Attach dog to leash.  Stumble through “poop loop.”  Feed dog. Walk upstairs.  Shower.  Feel life return.
Ah, but sometimes real life and running collide.  And measures must be taken to, as Bruce Denton would say, “not let the mileage suffer too much.”  While I’m not talking about getting a run in through airport terminals between flights, I am talking about getting out of bed to run before work.
I’ve tried this before.  Two summers ago, because of the unrelenting Virginia humidity, I tried getting up at 5:20 to put in seven miles before heading off to work.  Sure, it went fine for a day, maybe two.  But ultimately, I found myself faced with a bad case of “heavy eyelids” around 11 a.m.  Evenings?  Forget about it.  Late afternoons could best be described as hazy.  I still remember sitting at the dinner table doing the head bob, you know, when you’re so tired that your head falls forward only to wake you up and have it snap back in place.  I’m disoriented, wondering, “Hey, wha’ happen?” 
I got a harsh dose of reality this past week.  Running intervals proved easy.  It was the long, sustained runs that my body took issue with. Even simple four and five milers run at easy and recovery paces became death marches through the Sahara.  My uncle would call it “Africa hot.”  And it was.
Saturday morning, my wife and I set out at 9:00 at Manassas Battlefield. Nine o’clock to, you know, beat the heat.  We should have been out there three hours beforehand.  By 9:00, it was already 87 degrees, and felt worse because of he humidity.  A little over two miles in, the trees took on electric white halos in the gaps between branches.  I thought it might be the sun filtering through; however, when my eyes darted from side to side, the halo became brighter.  Something was not quite right.  So, I slowed the pace to get my wits about me.  Relaying this story to a co-worker Monday morning, she shook her head and said, “Of course you didn’t stop.  You’re stupid.”  She may have a point.
My two-loop, 11 mile run, turned into a single loop, 5.5 mile run.  It was not pretty.
Sitting in my cubicle Monday, I watched my calendar fill up both at lunch and after work, leaving me no room to run late at night or dash out in the middle of the day.  I’ve slowly come around to the fact that in order to get my mileage in this week, I’m going to have to *gasp* get up and run in the morning.
I tried these words out on my wife on the phone.  They formed reluctantly and I said, “So, I think I’m going to get up and run in the morning.”  It was like a bitter taste.  “Wow.  That’s dedication,” she replied.  And suddenly it didn’t seem nearly as bad.  Yes.  I am dedicated.  I’m committing to this. 
So for the last two mornings, I've risen at 5:30, pulled on my shorts in the semi-darkness and laced ‘em up to trot through easy 5-7 milers.  What keeps me going is the PR I'm seeking this Saturday night, in hopes of obtaining some affirmation that, half way through my speed development program, it's actually working.  

Sleeping at night is certainly no problem.  And when I leave in the mornings, the heat is still there.  The humidity is still thick.  And the morning is still a cruel time to run.

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