There is something about early morning runs that makes me feel like I am privy to a secret that no one else knows. When the more garish nature of the day manifests itself in logjam traffic, telemarketers, depressing news reports, never-ending to-do lists, and the realization that Nicki Minaj actually exists, I think back to how things were just a few hours before, before hectic took center stage, before the rest of the world was awake, even before the first splashes of light spilled across the horizon.
The day and I, we go way back.
I thought about this as I ran through downtown St. Louis in the middle of a long run that started an hour before sunrise. The streets were bathed in the pink and orange and yellow glow of dawn—and the softer green reflection of traffic lights announcing the right of way to no one. The sidewalks were empty, as were the streets, except for the occasional taxi that slumped by. I stopped to catch my breath and grab a swig of water. Office buildings towered above me, storefronts and restaurants stretched ahead, and imposing brick and stone landmarks rested contentedly on each side, but everything was quiet. And still.
And it struck me. I was in on the secret.
The day is like that friend who doesn’t do well in group situations. You know the friend I’m talking about. He’s a really good guy—humble, caring, would do anything for you—but for some reason, the moment he enters a large social setting, he becomes loud and obnoxious. He’s just a little too much. He transforms from the person you were talking to just hours before into someone who leaves 90% of the crowd grimacing. You know he doesn’t mean to be the party pariah; he just doesn’t handle himself well when a bunch of people are around.
But you—you know his real personality. You know the quiet conversations you’ve had, honest and open. You know his greatest hopes and his worst fears. You know his heart. You know his potential. You know who he really is.
Yes, the day and I go way back. In the early morning miles, we have our quiet conversations, and the day reveals itself for what it is. Friendly and familiar. Exciting and unknown. Soft and humble. And always well-meaning, no matter what may happen over its course.
The day is the fog that settles on country roads before the sun is up to burn off the mist. The day is the deer in the field, secure in the predawn solitude. The day is the increasing flutter of wings as birds awake and leave their nests and perch on telephone wires hanging above. The day is the old pickup truck that passes and the long silence that ensues.
The day is the yellow glow of the streetlights in Forest Park, flickering their last beams of light before they are no longer needed. The day is the small handful of runners waiting outside the Visitor’s Center as the custodian makes his slow walk from the parking lot to open the bathrooms theoretically at 6:00am but in actuality at 6:07am. On the dot. The day is the pastel watercolors swathing the silhouette of the Central West End as the sun begins to rise over the city.
The day is the traffic lights blinking yellow, kindly telling the few cars moseying around to continue on their way. The day is the empty parking lots sprawling before grocery stores and strip malls momentarily abandoned. The day is the construction crews methodically picking up the bright orange cones that once lined the road, their work for the night completed.
The day is the street sweepers on Delmar, picking up specks of litter in front of Blueberry Hill. The day is the city gardeners, dragging long hoses down the sidewalk to water giant cement planters of petunias and pansies and leaving tiny, trickling steams of water in their path. The day is the sidewalk cafes, not yet open, tables stacked with overturned chairs. The day is eclectic storefronts—like Vintage Vinyl and Sunshine Daydream—dark enough to reflect my image as I run by but not so dark that I can’t gaze at the treasures inside.
The day is the glowing window of a small diner and the old men drinking coffee and reading the newspaper inside. The day is the blinking light of a cyclist who woke up even earlier than I did. The day is a sleepy neighborhood and the occasional robe-clad trek down the driveway to fetch the paper. The day is temperatures twenty degrees cooler than those of the afternoon—for better or for worse. The day is a faithful friend who sometimes has a hard time letting go of the moon.
Yes, as runners, we get to know the day when it is full of potential. We get to know the day when it is new.
We get to know the day before it becomes daily.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.