This may sound crazy, but – unitard gravy fuzz-face caboodle. The other thing that might sound crazy is the idea of voluntarily getting up at 5am to go running every day of the week. But that’s what I do. In fact, that’s what I’ve always done – rain, hail but definitely not shine. Five o’clock in the morning isn’t the crack of dawn – it’s unambiguously pre-crack.
There are obvious difficulties with running at that time of day. Firstly, it’s dark. Reallydark. You’re basically relying on intermittent streetlights to find your way. You simply have to hope that something hasn’t been left strewn across the footpath by some careless passer by, lest you end up tripping over. Which, at a certain age, is a singularly unpleasant experience. I’m not sure when falling over changes from being an ever day occurrence and no biggie to a minor catastrophe, but once it happens, there’s no turning back.
The other palpable risk associated with super early morning runs is being mistaken for someone who is running away from something, rather than somebody undertaking exercise. Luckily, this has never happened to me. It must be something about my style – which I would describe something one notch above shuffling. If I was running from something, I would be in some considerable strife. I’m not sure how to describe it – perhaps a cross between a three-legged panda and a Muppet – but graceful it is not.
The funny thing is, even though I’ve been running for years, I don’t really feel that I’ve gotten all that much better at it. I can run further than I used to. But I’ve become no more elegant than when I started all those years ago and I’m not sure I know any more than I did when I started out.
I was in my twenties. The only time I’d exercised as a kid was at football training, which I’d stopped when I was fifteen. I think I assumed that fitness would be something that was simply given to me, maybe for Christmas. Then, as I entered the workforce, my exercise regimen consisted solely of walking to the train station and back. And, if I felt really brave, carrying all the grocery shopping home rather than taking the car. I decided that something had to change.
It was a challenge to get out of bed at first. But I wanted things to be different, I think. At the time, I was living in a small, one-bedroom flat / oversized utility cupboard near St Kilda. The challenge with early morning running in St Kilda is that you sometimes encounter people who are still enjoying the night before. This can be disastrous.
When approaching someone from behind, you end up doing all sorts of things to try and let them know you’re coming. Clearing your throat, talking or using a horn are just some of the techniques I’ve deployed to ensure I don’t startle others. Mostly it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Suffice to say, that one gentleman dropped into a karate stance as I shuffled by, whilst a young girl who was too busy talking to her friends to notice that I was approaching, dropped her drink before unleashing the kind verbal tirade usually reserved for three quarter time when you’re sixty points down.
Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve run. When I moved to Brisbane, I used to run along the river. The lovely thing about running in Queensland is that so many other people are up and about and getting exercise. The streets of Elwood became so familiar to me that I’m surprised my footprints weren’t worn into the pavement. The great thing about running on holidays is that you get to do all kinds of reconnaissance. By the time you return home, you know where everything is.
Sometimes I travel for work. This takes me to various towns in regional Victoria and I always go for a run. When I can, I take a photo of the place I’m in, as a kind of souvenir. To prove I was there. Often, I send these pictures to work colleagues as a way of showing how beautiful these places are and as an extreme form of humble-bragging to show them how early I got up.
I can’t imagine not being able to run. But, at some point, it’ll be necessary to adapt. For me, running is time to think. This sounds improbable given that I’m always listening to music as I go, but I’ve always found it therapeutic. A way of keeping in balance. You’d be surprised how many of the world’s problems can be solved whilst listening to a playlist that features ‘Kajagoogoo’.
Subconsciously, I might simply be honing my ‘flight’ reflex. Every once in a while, one of our smoke detectors will randomly go off. I think it happens if an ant wanders in to the detector. I feel sorry for the ant. It happened the other night at about two in the morning. One minute I was in a deep, deep sleep; the next I was bolt upright and running across the room. My wife told me later she thought I was going to get a fire extinguisher. I’m not so sure. Especially since I was three blocks away and in my pajamas before I turned around and realized that she hadn’t followed me. It’s a miracle she didn’t tell me to keep on running.