Sometimes You Have to Scare the Hell Out of Yourself and Do It Anyway

I felt great trepidation as I went to bed last night; I sort of didn’t want 0515 to arrive. My first ever pre-dawn run was scheduled; 6 miles at home before work. There were a lot of things to be nervous about. Running by myself in the dark. Running a route that is has sidewalks for less than 2 of the planned 6 miles. Getting done in time not to create a traffic backup for the shower and make us all late to work. Running by my myself. In the dark.

What could possibly go wrong???

I couldn’t sleep. I woke up before the alarm (though that didn’t help get me up and moving any faster…). I taped my knee (more on that below), suited up (overdressed for 50+ degree temps again) and headed out into the shockingly black morning.

I had my phone, my Road I.D., water, blaze orange safety vest. Everything I could do (except for a headlamp and BrightEyes or other blinkie light type attachments) to ensure my safety was done. Everything else was left to chance and Divine Good Will. The first problem I encountered was my knee. It did not feel spectacular the instant my right foot hit Beulah Road. But it never got worse, and it even felt slightly better as I warmed up.

I kept forcing aside thoughts of Sherry Arnold, who went for a run on the morning of 1/7/12, my 30th birthday while I was also out on an 8 mile run, and became the plaything of two sadists before being murdered and dumped. Her torture, rape, and murder left a terrible impression in me, and keeps the darker reality of the world we live in always in my mind.

The first mile wasn’t bad, just slow as I convinced my knee that we were really doing this. The beginning of the second mile was lighted with street lamps and had a lot more traffic, but was fine; I felt better, sped up, and made my way safely past McDonald’s (usually my worst spot to navigate during daylight hours on this route). It was after the street lamps went away, the side walk went away, and the traffic picked up even more, that I pondered that I might be in over my head. With no street lights or sidewalk, I needed to get off the asphalt and pick my way along a well-beaten, but uneven and barely visible path, and every car that passed would wreck my night vision. A guy in all black on a bike nearly hit me; I couldn’t see him anymore than he could see me since blaze orange and reflectors only work when there is something to light them up.

Getting the less than quarter of a mile by the high school that had no sidewalk and no real shoulder to the road behind me was a huge relief. Drivers were hostile (one case of yelled obscenities, multiple cases of flashing high beams), there were lots of them as the high school was starting its very early morning, and I had nowhere to go if it got really hairy.

Route 10 was packed with cars, all with headlights, and there was no way for me to run on the asphalt safely, so I had to sort of blindly pick my way along the beaten trail off the road there as well; all that traffic prevented any night vision, but didn’t light the ground up for me at all.

It was a relief to get onto Irongate Road, where traffic was much reduced, and visibility became less of an issue most of the time, because I could run on the pavement most of the time. The sky was just beginning to lighten to the east as I turned onto Beulah Road, where there is a new sidewalk, that just slightly glowed in that pale pre-dawn almost-light. I had never been so grateful to see that hint of light in the sky. I hauled myself up the Big Beulah Bitch of a Hill and had already come to the conclusion that because I had run so slowly, I was simply out of time to put in the hoped for 6 miles and that I would head on home with a bit over 5 miles under my shoes for the day. I was so happy to be safe and headed home that I couldn’t even be slightly upset about coming up short.

By the time I was home, the fear had transmogrified into anger. I was angry at the driver who yelled at me. I was angry at the one who swerved at me like some kind of joke. I was angry at the high beam flashers (though not the ones who put their high beams on to see me better). I was angry at their apparent mindset that I was in their space (even though I was on the grass or shoulder for every car that passed me; where they wouldn’t be driving anyway). I was angry that the county has so few sidewalks, angry that if we asked for more, taxes would have to be raised, and angry that so many people would fight even a small increase in taxes and thereby prevent something that would increase such basic safety in the county for pedestrians. Was all that anger mostly just a way for me to process fear? To be sure. But I did spend a lot of time contemplating the difference between the County I live in and its general open hostility to runners (which I have experienced in my neighborhood over and over again) and downtown Richmond, where runners are so common that it is rare to even give them much thought other than to be careful to avoid them.

Out of the shower, I felt defiant and triumphant at the same time. I had overcome those hostilities and difficulties and completed a run I set out to do under “less-than-optimal” conditions (there’s an understatement for you!). I felt strong and empowered and rebellious. I had accomplished something others might have told me I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. I put on my favorite cardigan (peacock-ish in color and print) and then opened my jewelry box, where I found my peacock feather earrings (my private symbol for feeling rebellious).

I put the feathers in – beautiful as a peacock. Then I put my faux-diamond studs in the second set of earring holes – tougher than nails. Working in a conservative section of my state office, the dress code is equally conservative and anything more than a single pair of earrings in your ears borderlines on treason, but now I was in a mood. I have a single tiger eye stud and I put it in my third hole in my right ear – fierce as a tiger. And in the left ear, I mis-matched (this could elicit gasps of horror in some corners of my office) the set and put in an earring that belonged to my mother; a tiny little silver knot, like the one you would start to tie a shoe with – the knot signified a promise to myself to keep going, even when fear makes me want to hang back.

I am glad I put those miles behind me. With a swelling of pride, I looked at Byram in the car and said “Guess what I have to do on my lunch hour today. Anything I damn well please.” I am sure I was just oozing smug satisfaction by that point. I had scared the hell out of myself but overcome. Yes, I was feeling pretty satisfied at that moment.

Would I do that run again? Well, yes, if I had to; certainly not because I would want to. But the good news is that I am only very rarely in a situation where I would have to. The clocks change over very soon bringing us much desired earlier light in the mornings, but then, next week, we start our taper and I won’t have a hour+ long run to have to squeeze into a busy work day. Just 3 or 4 miles, easily done on my lunch hour. After that, the race is done, and I won’t have a long weekday morning run like this until probably early spring as I close in on the next half marathon I intend to do. Maybe I will be running it in the dark again, but I really feel that one particularly difficult run a couple of times a year is a small price to pay for the end result.

This got deeper into my mental state than I intended and stayed farther away from the technical stuff I wanted to talk about (like KT Tape and its value, or how my knee feels 4 hours later, and so on) but this has gone on too long and so I will revisit that stuff in a later post, particularly the KT Tape topic, because I have some stuff I want to say about it.


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