At 7:00 my alarm goes off. I’ve already been up several times. At 3:00, at 5:00, maybe even at 6:00. I consider rolling over and claiming another few hours of sleep. But I’m awake and I might as well get used to the idea. So I grab the clothes I piled at the foot of the bed last night, fish around in my backpack for the watch, sneak out the door without turning the light on. I assume my sisters are asleep in their beds, but I don’t take the time to check.
Instead I go upstairs, change my clothes in the bathroom, put in my contacts. It’s still dark. I wasn’t anticipating that. I’ll wait until the sun rises. It’s raining. I don’t need to compound the rain with darkness. Especially since I am no longer very familiar with the route I’m taking. I sit on the couch, check my e-mail on my laptop, peek between the curtain cracks for hints of daylight. I chat with my brother as he passes through. My sister walks by on her way to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Finally, a little past 8:00. There is no sun, but the sky is gray instead of black. “I should be back around 9:00,” I tell my sister as I slip out the door. I don’t wait for my watch to find the satellites. The ground is cold and wet and before I am even out of the driveway my toes are cold in my FiveFingers and toe socks. I love running in the rain, I tell myself. This is partially true. I love having run in the rain. And I love being outside. And I love running. But it always takes some mind tricks to put all the pieces together in the moment.
Within half a mile I’m to the hills. The big ones, that is. In my head I imagined steep, short rises followed by plenty of flat for recovery. My head imagined wrong. Steep rise follows steep rise. I am tired and gasping. You’re not at sea level anymore, I tell myself. I try not to think I’m making excuses. You’re tired, you haven’t slept well, I tell myself. And I try not to think I’m making excuses. My contacts seem to be broken. I can’t see the street signs. I let myself walk so I can get close enough to one to see where I am. I start running again. Turn a corner. See the length of the hill. Feel defeated. Feel the burning in my calves and lungs. I squint to see if that is really the top. I slow down so I can get a view without bouncing. A car passes at the top of the hill. I can make that, I think. And I do. I turn the corner. And die. Another hill. No, I tell myself. It’s short. It’s gentle. You can do this. I do my best. And then I am home free. A mile and a half down, three and a half to go.
It’s easy. Flat, straight. I’m in my groove. I know my way. And when I turn the corner to go down the hill, I don’t have to play mind games to know that I love running in the rain. Even the cold rain. But more hills are waiting. More burning in the cold rain. More squinty-eyed stares at street signs and intersections and approaching vehicles. When I get home, my watch doesn’t say 5 miles, so I keep running. A little bit down the hill, a little bit up. I watch the watch. 4.97. 4.98. 4.99. 5. I’m in the driveway, up the stairs, through the door.
My sister is rolling out cinnamon rolls when I walk in. “How was it?” she asks.
“Probably the most miserable run I’ve ever been on,” I say. But I’m laughing.