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The beautiful secret about morning runs

When the alarm went off at a very early hour on Saturday morning, my first instinct was to Hulk smash it into the floor.

I'm an infrequent morning runner. My mind is sharpest in the early morning, and I try not to turn over that time to an activity where I'm more or less moving in a straight line. In winter, I save my run for mid-morning so I can soak up what little sun we have that time of year. I'll get up early to run in the summer, reluctantly, because those jaunts are claustrophobic and miserable because of the humidity that sticks like a burr.

But last Saturday was going to be a busy one: stop at the Collingswood Farmer's Market to buy produce and cheese for Thanksgiving, then a visit to a Temple football tailgate and finally, instead of going to the game, a hike out in Wissahickon Valley Park. If I wanted to run, first thing in the morning was my only option.

So I set the alarm, and when I really wanted to stay in my nice warm bed until after the sun came up, I bit back to urge to smash my alarm and instead slipped out as quietly as I could so I didn't wake up the person and dog still sleeping there. I grabbed the clothes I'd laid out the night before, changed in the bathroom, then tried not to clomp around downstairs finding my running watch and reflective vest.

The first step out into the cold was a whole body clutch, and a reminder of that warm bed, but I had already gotten this far, so I set out anyway, knowing I'd be warm by the first mile. I also knew that it'd be a peaceful run. It always is when I manage to get up in the dark for crisp morning miles.

There's a stillness in those early hours, the ones tamped down by a cold that keeps other morning people inside. I didn't plug up my ears with music or a podcast, so the only thing I heard was already fallen leaves skittering across the street, my feet slapping the asphalt, and the distant swish of a PATCO train going by. In those dark morning miles, everything is fresh and new, and the day carries the hope and promise that it will be the best one yet. I wasn't quite awake yet, and that might why I felt so relaxed as I made one turn then another, but more likely, that calm was due to quiet of a cold, late fall morning and knowing that I was the only one - in my sightline at least - out there enjoying it. I was holding onto a beautiful secret, and I didn't want to share.

By the time I reached my turn around, pinks brushed the bottom of the dark sky, and when I hit my front porch again, the magic was gone. The curtain had lifted on the day. The same turns I made in the dark were now lit with a wan sunlight, and the empty roads and sidewalks had the odd car and walker and dog. Another PATCO train went by. My paper was on the porch.

I went back inside, tossed on a sweatshirt, and made my breakfast and coffee. I took a shower as the sun stretched higher into the sky, then woke up the rest of the house so we (minus the dog) could get moving on our day to buy the celery and carrots and onions and pumpkin cheese spread, enjoy ribs and bacon-wrapped meatballs and crappy light beer in the parking lot of the Linc, and then hike up and beyond Devil's Pool in Wissahickon.

It was a great day, and I enjoy every one of those busy day things (well, once I got to the other side of the Fingerspan pedestrian bridge, I enjoyed the hike). But I'm still glad I got in my morning run, just me, the road, a reflective vest, and a quiet stillness to go with it.

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