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Running in the Dark

May 10, 2013

A small reflection:

It’s been a full and vibrant spring. But strangely, the one sort of hum-drum constant has been my running route.

For the past couple of months, I’ve run the same loop. I leave home in the dark, pulling on my gloves and trudging slowly toward the lake. I pick up speed on the gravel path along Lake Michigan, mostly because that’s where I can see the sun is beginning to rise- and I’m convinced that I only run well in the dark. This is not really a psychological or vampire-ish thing; the more I think about it, I’m sure it has everything to do with hills. Part of the reason that hills are so fantastic to run is because they’re deceptive: when you’re mid-way up a steep incline, you’re not sure how much farther you have to go and you don’t care. All you’re concerned with is finding something to focus on besides the hill, your burning calves, or your labored, emphysemic-sounding breathing. If these chaotic mind games work, and they usually do, you’ll climb up and coast down great distances without realizing it. You can also use hills to pre-plan a run the way I did in Seattle. This usually played out something like, “I’ll start with the hill by Baskin Robbins, then do the hill with the yellow house,  Michael Jackson hill, Wedgewood Alehouse hill, and then down the hill with the big St. Bernard.” To check off the hills one-by-one was satisfying. And to reach the top of these hills and stare out at the sun rising over the Cascades was very nice. Obviously.

As far as I’m concerned, then, a really long hill is far less daunting than a long, straight sidewalk that probably ends somewhere near Kenosha. And so if I have to run that long, straight sidewalk, I’d like to do it when it’s so dark I can only see a block or two in front of me. Snow storms have the same effect, as do scratchy contact lenses.

After the lakefront path ends, I run north on Sheridan below the white-lightning glow of Northwestern’s street lamps. Then I run past the light house, past the Baha’i temple, west on Lake Avenue and south west-ish on Green Bay Road. Some of the stretches are prettier than others, and none of them have hills. It’s okay. What’s more than okay, and what I wanted to write about anyway, is that I now have two pseudo-friends on my route. The first is an older gentleman who cleans up the Walgreens parking lot very early every morning. Given that I pass him on  the last leg of my long run and, accordingly, at the moment when my hair is frizziest and my jacket most covered in sweat, it is a real and bewildering perk that this man seems happy to see me. I cannot tell you how much I look forward to his greeting. I am also friendly with the man who delivers the Chicago Tribune on Asbury at about 5:30 am. He has a kind smile and speaks with a thick Spanish accent, and- this is pathetic- for three mornings in a row, no matter that the same thing happened the day prior, as we neared each other I heard him say, “I’m sorry,” and I smiled and called out, “No problem! Hi!” and ran on. And for three mornings in a row, after I passed him and the sleepy fog in my mind began to clear, I thought, “Oh my gosh. He said, ‘Good morning.'” Can you imagine? What would you think if the someone greeted you with, “No problem! Hi!” every morning? You would think she is crazy. And that would be very fair.

All this to say that I wonder if my friendly acquaintances are starting to be a little like hills. In the best way.

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