Issue 16 • August 2013

The Dark and Early Runners

The school year is fast approaching. In a few weeks, carpools and tight schedules will encroach on your personal routine. Meet a group of moms, wives, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and friends who’ll inspire you to seize the early morning hour to achieve your fitness goals, before anyone even notices.

There’s a group of women outside a sticky-floored bar in Atlantic Beach. It’s 4:45am. A few of them are commenting on a new pair of shoes; others are yawning. They are not the remnants of a wicked party scene the night before. No… they are runners who rolled out of bed 30 minutes earlier and commanded their bodies arise and shine. Dark and early, on any given day (even Saturday and Sunday,) they may be out for a long run, an 8 mile tempo run, or an easy 5 miles. Regardless of the workout, these women are out to exploit the morning before anyone can spoil it. Maybe you’ve heard them or seen them? They can wake up a neighborhood with chatter; they’re often seen dashing in and out of gas stations for a sip of water. Meet them all…Courtney, Emma, Elizabeth, Jess, Lesley, Loretta, Marge, Melissa, Patti, Susan, and Skye. They’re in different age divisions; some are marathoners, ultramarathoners and triathletes . What they have in common is friendship and energy. They share laughter and spirit like flu germs and if you need a reason to validate an ungodly hour to workout, the “dark and early” girls have plenty of reasons.

Don’t wait for residual energy

Just get up and go. The prolific French film star, Sarah Bernhardt, once said, “Life begets life, energy creates energy, it is by spending oneself that one becomes rich”. It’s not an easy principle to apply at first. If you’re waiting for an overflowing store of energy to propel you out of bed in the morning, it won’t happen. You have to roll out of bed without thinking, sleepy-eyed, stiff, achy, pissed off, etc… and trust that any minute it will happen. Just keep moving and energy, the premium fuel of life, will begin to pulse through your veins. Not every one of these ladies shows up at 4:45am workout, chirpy, enthusiastic or even pleasant. However, what they all do unanimously is set their intention the night before. Whether you’re a morning person or not, intend on rousing with or without energy, lay out workout clothes the night before, and when the alarm goes off, get moving.

Have a back-up motivation

Most of us exercise to stay in shape and to feel well. These women have an extra reason – any given run is like a GNO (girl’s night out). If you could hold their pace at 4:45am, you would overhear their conversations dip and rise; one minute they are discussing hair removal, hyperventilating on the curb with laughter, and the next they are sharing deep heartaches. There’s a safety in the morning darkness, shallow judgments aren’t yet awake. You might not be able to guess the depths of these running friendships if you saw them during the day, but friendship is something that keeps them coming back morning after morning. Elizabeth shared that while she was not always good at sports, she found running a good way to make friends. She said, “I moved 14 times from age 21 to 46 and I often found friends running…friends who were not part of my work, my children’s lives, or my husband’s work, but just women who come together to run. Together, we are women of all ages and backgrounds who find a common ground in running and in just being women.”

Know when to pick up the pace and when to conserve

Keeping pace is essential when racing for a time goal and when chasing a toddler. You’d think that expending so much energy before 7 am would wear these women out for the rest of the day. Contrary. Knowing when to speed up and when to slow down is a sign of experience. They understand the strategy of pacing a run and pacing a life. By pushing themselves in the early hour, they adjust to the demands of family and work later in the day. Melissa says that running early benefits her just as much mentally as it does physically. “Fitting in an early workout helps me be better at mommy duties”. Setting their own pace first thing doesn’t hinder a busy agenda; depleting their bodies usually means they’ve recharged their soul.

There’s a secret to living well that only the early morning whispers

These women aren’t quick to share their secrets (in fact no one wanted to give me a line about what keeps them running, early morning after early morning). My guess is that when morning finally tells her secret, you guard it like a sacred scroll. What is clear from their moonlight conversations is that contentment and success have nothing to do with money, men, children or even the newest running outfit, but have EVERYTHING to do with seizing the moment. No one seems to mess with that 5am moment; it’s yours, free for the taking. There’s strength in taking charge of a moment, getting in “me /friendship /exercise” time before the sun comes up. Starting the day in control leads to good things. Most of these women have brokered a sale, answered 10 emails, written a term paper, or talked a teenager off a ledge, all before 10am. Susan admits that while it isn’t always easy getting up so early, the payoff is huge. She shares, “At times it’s the therapy and the release that make it all worth it”. They are better moms, better mates, and better at their jobs once they’ve seized that moment for themselves.

If you feel like joining their company, you’ll have to lace up early. These “dark and early” runners don’t wait for the sun to shed light on their paths. They’ll tell you – it’s always easier to work through stiffness and find the right pace in the dark. By daylight, they’ll have found a rhythm, they’ll look strong, and they’ll run straight towards their goals.

JoHanna Bienvenue

JoHanna Bienvenue

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