Archive for April 9th, 2007

When people ask why I run first thing in the morning, I like to say, “So nothing worse can happen to me the rest of the day.” The reply usually gets a smile, but really it’s an effort to avoid a more complicated explanation. Unlike many people, my circadian rhythms are not set to any particular time of day; I adjust easily to functioning whenever I need to. But explaining my pleasure at the hidden world of early morning takes time, especially since my reaction is probably colored by the adrenalin and endorphins pumping through my system.

I admit that in the winter months, when my morning run begins and ends in the dark and often takes place in the rain, I sometimes mutter self-dramatically about “the courage of the early morning,” borrowing the title of the biography of Billy Bishop, the World War One flying ace. For me, the title expresses perfectly the dogged sense of duty with which I drag myself out the door. Yet those days are relatively few, and even that feeling of being active when most people would choose to stay in their beds can feel perversely individualistic.

For most of the year, though, the early morning is a special time regardless of the weather. The relative coolness of the morning is stimulating from the spring to early fall. In the late fall, it stirs the leaves at my feet until I could be running in the middle of a legion of ghosts. In winter, the briskness raises the hairs on my arms, and adds the mild danger of black ice that I have to tiptoe across. And for a few weeks each spring and fall, I can time my runs so I’m at the top of a hill just in time for sunrise.

We live close to the green belt around Burnaby Mountain, and often I share my morning run with the wildlife. Over the years, I’ve seen skunks, eagles, crows mobbing a raven, and who knows what else. Once, I heard what was probably a cougar in a bush nearby (I took good care not to confirm my suspicions, and hastily revised my route). Several times a week, I see coyotes loping along on their business, doing an almost perfect mimicry of domestic dogs. Once, I even saw a coyote sitting waiting at a light – although I’m sure it was watching the traffic flow, not the change of signal. Drivers are on the road by the time I start running, but, half-asleep and sealed in their cars, I doubt they see even the animals who are near the roads – let alone on the trails I sometimes take. At times, I could almost be the only human in an alternate universe.

At other times, it’s the people I notice, stumbling through their morning routines, surrounded by an invisible sphere of privacy, stumbling to the bus stop, or blearily scraping ice off their wind shields. By the coffee shops, I see people staggering in like zombies for their morning fix and emerging with their smiles of relief as they take their first tentative sips. In the light industrial area I sometimes run through, a cloud of pot smoke often lingers here and there, proof (if any was needed) how minimum wage warehouse clerks survive their day. At the Skytrain station, tech-workers march grimly single-file along the side of the road on their way to work.

On weekends, I also see the remnants of the previous night: the road-kill red and raw, the pairs of shoes tied together and flung across a telephone wire, and the smashed bottles of beer at the side of the road. On Sunday mornings, when I’m not sleeping in myself, I see the shift workers and the survivors of one-night stands coming home. Once, I saw a woman in a pink bathrobe and curlers, coffee cup in hand, headed singlemindedly for the nearest coffee shop, careless of the fact that she was on the main commercial street of the neighborhood.

Other times, the appeal of the early morning is the isolation of feeling that nobody else is alive, much less stirring, and I’m the initiate of some private lore denied to everyone else. These days come when the streets are so empty of cars that I could run safely down the middle of the road, and not a light is to be seen in the apartments and houses that I pass. The best day of the year for this feeling is New Years’ Day, when everyone is still sleeping, and these feelings are enhanced by the rosy glow of Puritanical virtue.

For much of last year, I couldn’t run because of reoccurring knee injuries, and I found myself growing restless about mid-morning. Part of the problem was lack of exercise, but an even greater part was the chance to start the day with the time for private reflection that a morning run provides. When I re-started my morning runs about three weeks ago, my main reaction was a sense of relief – as though I had restored pattern and meaning to my daily routine.

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