Time to go outside.
You wake up at 5:30 a.m., a half hour before your alarm is supposed to go off. The high-summer sunrise has already turned your bedroom gold. It's easier to get up when the light comes so early.
You tiptoe to the bathroom. The house is cool thanks to the dry nights here at the feet of the Rocky Mountains, and thanks also to the swamp cooler on wheels that's breathing chilly air down the hall. The cooler's white noise, air and dripping water, drowns out the birdsong and the faint train whistle coming through the open windows.
The kids' doors are closed. You know your little girl will sleep later this morning, because she woke you at 2 a.m. after a bad dream. You're glad you didn't jump like a wild animal when she touched your shoulder as you sometimes do. Instead you gave her a big hug, took her to the bathroom and tucked her back in. You fell asleep again easily yourself. The softest sheets you own were on your bed. Between those and the warmth of your unconscious husband (who stayed up until midnight or later writing code), you felt as cozy as possible at summer's height.
But now is no longer the time for cozy. In the bathroom, you unfold the green Nike Tempo shorts you'd laid out and pull them on. You drink one tepid glass of water. You put on your 2011 Bolder Boulder T-shirt, the same shirt you wore in the Top of Utah Marathon last September. You use the bathroom. It still hurts a bit from the bladder infection you came down with on Wednesday night, but the antibiotics have already cut into that, and you know you're going to be OK. Still, you down another glass of water.
You exit the bathroom, pad into the living room in socked feet and find your shoes. They're the Brooks PureFlows you bought a while back. The cheap Casio watch you bought last night and a small water bottle are in one of them, your Thera Band for stretching in the other along with your car keys. It seems silly to drive just 3/4 of a mile, but you're not supposed to run on concrete yet, and you are a rule follower.
Outside it's even cooler than in the house. The sky is the high white color indicating a hot day is on the way, and the sun's beams are already long and yellow, but the air on your skin right now is like satin. The neighbor's sprinklers run, and a grassy smell hangs in the air. You get in the car and drive to the high school.
Alone at the track, you begin by walking. The east-facing bleachers shine in the sunlight. Overhead, a hawk flies, white on his underbelly. You marvel that his wings barely tread the air, as if his mind is entirely free from thoughts of controlling his flight. You think, "May I run like he flies," and then laugh at yourself for your pretension. You walk five minutes and then begin to shuffle-jog. You get to run for 35 minutes today. The first 15 must stay slow. The left side of your lower back hurts a little. You try to imagine squeezing your sitz bones together, and it helps.
Slow and fast don't matter to you, any more than they do to the hawk. You're not counting laps or otherwise tracking distance. You're using the Casio only so you know when to start and stop. The red surface of the track gives slightly under each step. Without thinking about it, you're able to go just a tad faster. The sun is higher. Tree shadows across the track shrink.
At the 15-minute mark, you run a pick-up. One minute fast, with 90 seconds of recovery. An older woman arrives and begins to circle the track's outside lane, walking. You speak to her, but she just smiles and walks on. On the next lap she apologizes, saying she didn't put her ears in before going for her walk and didn't hear your greeting. You don't have time to tell her as you run by, but you understand. You are running with no music, and she is walking with no noise. In the cool morning, such distractions are unnecessary for both of you.
You run four more pick-ups. They feel like a trip to healing waters. You hadn't had any exercise the day before because of the bladder infection. You were tired and grumpy and wan all day yesterday. Now, you've shed all that like an itchy snakeskin. "It's a gift, it's a gift," you repeat with each few steps. Five pick-ups are enough. You finish the last one and then exult in the last slow minutes of your run. The track is the same color as the one the Olympic Trials contenders are competing on this week. You are no contender, but while you can't relate to the talent, you understand the passion.
The track is fully in the sun when you leave. You head home, where you will find your whole family is still asleep.
Tomorrow, for the first time in months, a run will be part of your Saturday. It has to be slow, and it has to be short. It has to be on the treadmill this time, because you'll need a machine at the gym when you're finished with it.
It will be perfect, too.
It too will be a gift.