The Pre-Dawn People
by Dana Martin
At just after 4 AM, the alarm went off and 1 reached over and contemplated my life choices as 1 fumbled awkwardly to shut off the annoying buzzing before it awoke my sleeping spouse. He heard me anyway.”Why are you getting up so early?” he said in a highbrow tone that suggested early risers were at the bottom of the totem pole of polite society.
“I have to interview those runners,” I sighed as I heaved myself from the bed. I winced as my first warm foot touched the icy floor. Was the money worth this?”Who gets up at this hour to exercise?” he mumbled as he rolled over in our previously shared nest of toasty marital bliss.
Who, indeed? I looked over my shoulder and considered ditching the interview. It was the perfect opportunity to get two hours of the exceptional sleep one experiences only when dodging an adult responsibility.
I’d taken a freelance writing job to cover a group of runners who 1 decided must be crazy to rise so early just to exercise. Didn’t they realize some gyms are open 24 hours? Why the hurry? What sort of drive must it take to slither from warm blankets and tread outside so
early in the morning?
I used to be a runner. As 1 poured my coffee I tried to remember my sleek thighs and toned arms, back in the days when I started every morning with a brisk run. That was pre-husband and pre-teenagers. Between working, a family, and housework, I was lucky to get to bed
before midnight. But here I was, about to interview a group of predawn people with almost supernatural motivation. I could understand if work beckoned them so early from the
comfort of their beds. But it was exercise! When I jumped into my car and drove off, I thought about the runners. I wondered what type of people I would find at the doughnut shop’s parking lot, where the runners began their daily routine. Did they work? They couldn’t possibly have kids or real responsibilities, right?
Surely there wouldn’t be many people to interview. It was dark, cold, and foggy. I pulled into the empty parking lot and shut off my car’s engine, instantly feeling the chill creep in through the floorboard. I wanted to go home. I’m glad I didn’t leave. My life was about to change.
One by one, sets of headlights turned into the deserted parking lot-because inside the cars were people who’d been running together before dawn for decades, and they knew they would be held accountable if they didn’t show up. They arrived smiling; I was mystified.
I got out of my car and joined a group that was heading toward the doughnut shop. For thirteen years, the runners had been using the doughnut shop as home base, but the group had been around much longer than that. It had been going strong for forty years. Forty years of running together? What was I missing? I looked around. The air was crisp, the coffee was hot, and camaraderie was in abundance. Was that it?
Coffee wasn’t what motivated dozens of runners to show up every day before dawn. As I chatted with two women, I learned that most started to maintain physical fitness, but even the health benefits of running had become a secondary motivation for setting alarm clocks so early.
No one looked as grouchy as I felt. None of them appeared sleep deprived. In fact, just the opposite was true. They were peppy!
After making initial contact, I backed off to observe-more from genuine curiosity (and a bit of envy) than for the article I was writing. I wanted to figure out why they were so happy, why they seemed like a big, functional family.
Slowly, they began breaking off into groups. Some ran with a dog, but all ran with a smile.
No one ran with an iPod. Conversation provided the musical cadence to which these runners ran. I found out that the running becomes a sort of ounseling session for them as they talk and solve the world’s problems. They share stories about life, outine day to day things, tragedy, experiencing 9111 together, loss, and laughter.
The more they shared with me, the more I was beginning to understand the force that would pull them from bed each day. They didn’t mind the alarm clock because to them, it wasn’t exercise-it was recreation.
One runner looked pointedly at me and asked, “Why don’t you
“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” I said quickly, and then wondered why I couldn’t. I was standing among busy mothers of toddlers and whitecollar executives, who still had to drive home to shower so they could get to the office by 8:00. How was my situation unique? My responsibilities were no more time-consuming than theirs. I was missing out, and I was realizing that my physical health
wasn’t the only loser in the scenario.
Most of the runners had met through their mutual love of the sport, and many of them had booked “running vacations” together, had camped with each other, and had celebrated holidays as a group. They’d nursed one another through illness, death, family crisis, and job loss, but they’d celebrated births and marriages, too.
I learned that one runner had lost his first wife-another runner- in a tragic accident. Years later, when he was ready to marry again, the group attended his wedding-on the trail. One hundred
runners ran two miles up a steep hill and surrounded him with love. The loss of his wife was hard for the whole team, but they were overjoyed to see him happy again.
After hearing the story, I stood in stunned silence as my heart swelled with pride in the human spirit. Someone came up behind me. She was another runner, and she’d overheard my last conversation.”I think people initially show up so they have someone to run with, someone to push them,” she said as she toweled off her face.”Somewhere along the miles, though, it shifts. We show up because our friends are here.”
That’s when it clicked for me. In other words, it’s about fitness and friendship, and to runners who’ve chosen to exercise as a group, you can’t have one without the other.
I collected enough information for my story that day, wrote the article, and was paid. But the value I received at the doughnut shop far outweighed the compensation that the magazine gave me for the article.
I wish I could say that I awoke bright and early the next day and began running with the group, but I can’t. I still enjoy sleeping until 6:00. However, my life did change. The runners taught me that happiness comes from being fit, living right, and building healthy relationships.
I did start running again, and I am running to this day. I don’t get up at 4 AM, but the road doesn’t care. The road is gladto see me any time of day.