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For the winter morning runners.


Winter insomnia. It’s happened to me in varying degrees every year of my adult life, these Januaries and Februaries littered with sleepless nights. Perhaps it’s a merely coincidence that at this time of year, the most trivial of life’s puzzles see fit to mystify me in the middle of the night, or perhaps, as I suspect, this phenomenon is some manifestation of seasonal affect disorder. Either way, starting sometime in January the sleeplessness begins, and by February, the prospect of attempting to sleep fills me with a languid sort of dread.

It started this week, and it happens like this: I’ll finally drift in and out of sleep starting around 2 am, have a few fitful dreams about things that make no sense, and then it will be 3:44 am and that’s very nearly not an unreasonable time to be awake, so I give in, give up, get up.

An abandoned sleep plies me with the gift of an everlasting morning, so this occasional insomnia is no terrible thing.

I make myself a leisurely pot of tea, lounge about, read, and suddenly I don’t feel like reading and drinking tea anymore and it’s still only 4:30 which is as good a time as any for a run and finally, finally, finally — this morning (Tuesday), after several weeks of uninspired slogs with achy knees, finally, running feels normal again.

It’s me and the ice and the streets of Philadelphia and the river path and the wistful whispered wish of wind against my throat. I can tuck the entire run in under cover of darkness, and I revel in this breeze blowing bitterly down the Schuylkill, and I think about the afterward, how once I finish this run, I can take my sweet time stretching and showering and making breakfast before work, and the whole day is fat with potential and stretched out cold before me.

Later on, the sky will be that thin wintered blue and the cars will all be out and I’ll have work and reading and class and interactions with other humans, and some will be the obnoxious ones I envy so much, the confident people who underestimate me, the ones who think they run the world. But here at 4:30 in the morning, it’s me who runs the world, me and a few fellow spandex-clad breath-chasers appreciating the icy inky prelude to a 13*F sunrise, the ones who won the fight against The First Ten Seconds of Waking Up, the ten seconds of that washing, sloshing, headsickness  as the pillow pleads desperately with your head not to leave it.

Today, at least, we’re out here. And ice and wind and dark be damned, once we’re out here, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/26/2013 11:22

    You make it sound so wonderful & romantic… traversing the cold. 🙂 Way to go! On the mornings I work super early I do agree there’s something a bit magic about a frozen world before dawn. Sorry you’re having a hard time sleeping though. I tend to have the opposite problem. Waking up.

    And somehow, since I got a treadmill a few weeks ago, I’ve gotten lazy about heading out into the frigid cold for my runs. I actually do miss the cold weather running some, but it’s been -20 and -40 windchill around here for the past week, which I have a hard time with…

    I vow I will get back outside running once it warms a bit.

    • 01/29/2013 05:44

      You midwestern/lakes states people live in a whole different world of cold! It is wonderful and romantic when it’s only 10-20*F… but those negative temps are an entirely different beast. I think the treadmill is a terrific option during the most extreme parts of a season.

  2. 01/26/2013 14:09

    Wow! I agree with Lisa^ what a beautifully well written post! I love my mornings! I normally don’t run at 4:30, but I do like early morning runs, when you are there totally alone. Runs like that are sooo quiet they bring you peace. Then you have the whole day ahead.

    • 01/29/2013 05:46

      I don’t consistently run as early as 4:30 either (I have no reason to!) but every so often something propels me out of bed to do it, and it’s always special.

  3. 01/26/2013 18:40

    Yes. I know this feeling. Lovely post.

  4. 01/27/2013 06:49

    I LOVE the mornings. All is quiet, crisp, and fresh. It’s my little piece of day that is mine… nothing yet to distract me, take my time, stress me out, etc. And getting to see the world slowly come to life ias the sun rises is magical.

  5. Ewen permalink
    01/28/2013 20:44

    Good post, but can you explain what ice is? Wouldn’t mind one 13*F morning to break this run of 20*C mornings we’ve been having. At least that temp feels wonderfully cool after running on a 30*C evening.

    • 01/29/2013 05:51

      Hahaha, I guess the grass is always greener — or maybe more parched or covered in snow — somewhere else. I’m just glad we get seasons. Sometimes this time of year I’m jealous of the southern Californians who have nice weather most of the year (perhaps there are similar areas like that in Australia?), but then I think that would get so repetitive. Seasons keep running fresh and exciting for me, I guess.

      • Ewen permalink
        01/29/2013 21:36

        “Brisvegas” would be the California of Australia, although they’ve been getting flooding rains recently! Too warm & humid in summer for me. Yes, I like the four seasons of Canberra too — similar to where you are, just not snow on the ground. Coldest temp would be a morning of -10C in winter, 5C or so maximum — still OK for running.

  6. 01/30/2013 10:46

    You are brave! I live in NM and we have what could be considered “wonderful” temperatures pretty much year round. We do get the cold wind though – it will be 35 or so degrees, but feel like 12 degree because of the wind. I wish I felt safe to run that early in the morning – my house backs up to the mesa where coyotes and even a black bear has been spotted. Truthfully, I’m just scared to run that early more because of the people who could adult-nap me in their cargo vans, do what they want with me and then dump my body on the mesa. No mass murderers or wild animal in your neck of the woods?

    • 01/30/2013 10:58

      I lived in Alaska the past two years and saw black bears on several runs (which were habituated to people), coyotes a couple times, but never any brown bears. It was always a bit scary/thrilling to see wildlife like that, but I got pretty comfortable running by myself in the dark early in the morning nonetheless. (Plus, I never saw bears in the dark winter mornings anyway! They all go into hiding up there this time of year…)

      I sense that I might be less safe here in Philly (due to people, not wildlife), but once I get to the river path I feel fine because there are always a few other runners out, even reallllly early in the morning. It might just be me being dumb and foolhardy. You do have to be careful, stuff happens. When I lived in Atlanta, a dude grabbed me on a run one morning, but I fought back and got away (I think he was under the influence of something…) Maybe that should’ve spooked me off running in the dark a little more, but it really didn’t — I consider it an isolated incident and just a good reminder to stay aware and keep my wits about me.

      • 01/30/2013 12:00

        Whoa! You are brave – I probably would have never ran outside alone again. I dont know when coyotes come and go, but I live in a residential area that just happens to back up to the mesa and I see them all the time (from the car usually, thankfully)!

      • 02/02/2013 02:52

        I always think I can probably outrun the sort of drunken dement who’s most likely to try to attack a woman (as long as I see him first and am not surprised), and I’m about a million times slower than you. That being said, I probably would’ve freaked out if this had happened to me!

      • 02/06/2013 08:36

        I DID freak out! And I guess I just got lucky. The incident obviously didn’t scare me away from my dark early AM runs, but it definitely gave me a lot more respect for simply staying aware (e.g… no music while running in the dark EVER.)

  7. 01/31/2013 14:08

    I had to go to your About page to make sure you weren’t still in Alaska (then I noticed you talk about it in the actual post. d’oh!) Congrats on that marathon PR though, by the way! Anyway, I don’t live somewhere with an actual winter, but when I did, I would just think about coffee while I was running. It helped…a little.

  8. Melanie Bowen permalink
    03/11/2013 12:26


    I have a question about your blog, could you please email me? Thanks!!


  9. Ewen permalink
    03/13/2013 22:50

    How are you going? Haven’t heard from you for a while. Hope it’s not another injury!

    • 03/14/2013 07:50

      No injury! Just focused on school work, doing a terrible job keeping up with other blogs, and haven’t been hit with the urge to post in a while… won a 10K and tied my PR last week, so that was unexpected and fun. But yeah, things are good. Thanks for asking 🙂

  10. 03/25/2013 21:37

    dude, you’re so cool. And so right about those first 10 seconds! beautiful post.


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