Friends have told me they admire my ability to wake up and exercise first thing, especially in the winter. That's nice. But here's what my "ability" actually looks like:
It's 5 a.m. My alarm goes off because I set it for "I'll be a new woman by morning" o'clock.
Ten snooze cycles later (that's about 6:20 a.m.) I sigh loudly and manage to roll over. I try to comprehend getting up to visit the bathroom, which I've needed to do for hours now. The effort seems monumental. I stare at my phone for 10 minutes with one eye, my right arm hanging off the side of my bed and half of my face smooshed into my pillow.
It's dark outside. So dark.
Eventually self-loathing kicks in. My thoughts are: It's 6 a.m. and you're already rotting your brain on social media and responding to work emails, get out of bed NOW. I go to the bathroom and stumble downstairs. Luckily, and perhaps a little bit by design, there's not much in the path between me and coffee that I can trip over or whack myself on.
I take my mug of coffee and sit on the couch under a blanket for about 30 minutes. I read, from an actual book or hard-copy magazine, not from a screen that glows. This is my first proud step toward doing something productive with my day.
Near the end of coffee, my book falls to my lap and I look out the window. It's pitch black. I squint. No hint of a tree or mountain silhouette, just inky wild Alaska darkness out there.
I remind myself: I said I'd run. I look at the clock. I have the time. There is absolutely no reason I shouldn't … is there? This is when I start going through excuses. They're basically organized alphabetically on a shelf in my brain, I've gone over them so many times.
First of all, my keen sense of sight is observing and confirming the horrible truth that it's dark out. Is it really safe for me to be running? Sure, I have reflective gear and a headlamp. My clothing is brightly colored. I could bring bear spray to ward against bears or humans or both. But it's still so dark. Is this really a good idea?
Then, I remind myself, it's also cold. This time of year, it could even be in the teens! I drink the rest of my coffee. If I run, I'll need to cover my head. I will need to wear multiple layers on top, unlike in the nice, warm, bright summer. It might take me five or so minutes to warm up — and those five minutes will surely be uncomfortable.
Finally, I think I deserve some rest. I'm an active person. I eat well. I wouldn't want to wear out my body unnecessarily. Plus, I'd like to be marathon-ready at any given moment, and I won't be if I wear myself down too hard.
I get really close to convincing myself to stay inside. Then, just as I'm on the cusp of settling back in with my book to get as much reading time in as I can before work, the truth seeps in. It always does.
The truth is that if I don't run, I'll be crabby. I won't want to deal with me. No one will.
Even though it's dark, I'm well prepared. Running in the dark is better than not running. I know myself, and my motivation runs out by about noon.
And yes, it's cold. I live in Alaska. Buck up, self.
I get off the couch quickly, ripping myself away from that mixed, early morning feeling of coziness and dread. It's time to do something seemingly difficult, which in and of itself will help me for the rest of my day. Nothing I need to do later will be as hard as peeling myself off the couch.
I pull on all of the layers.
And finally, by the time I actually step outside to run, the sky isn't as pitch black as it was — not this time of year, anyway. Navy starts lifting up the sky and silhouetting mountains, and I can just barely see the snow on top. The air is sharp on my nose, and as I'm running I already feel better.
I didn't even know I felt worse. That's the addictive thing, and that's the "ability" that motivates me to finally get going. After all of the back-and-forth with myself, the almost copping out, the almost spending the day wondering guiltily if I should really try to kick my butt outside and why didn't I do it when I had the chance, I know I'll feel so much better when I actually run.
So, many mornings, I do. There hasn't been one time I've regretted it, even in the darkness.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays throughout Southcentral Alaska.