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Running before dawn

09/23/04 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(Host) These days, commentator Caleb Daniloff finds that te best time to run is in the pre-dawn, when the darkness is an illuminating force.


(Daniloff) A few times a week, my wife and I get up at 4:30 to go running. We're groggy. We down quick mugs of coffee and let the dogs out. A short car ride later, we're at the edge of town, walking in darkness toward a back country road.

At first, we ran this early out of necessity: we both need to be out the door by eight. But now, it's out of desire. Testing our limits in the pre-dawn brings about a state of wakefulness that's almost religious in nature, a triumph of the spirit to be carried throughout the day.

To get to the dirt road, we have to walk a paved street about a hundred yards, broken up by several houses. By the time we come upon the seam between asphalt and dirt, any bits of ambient light are gone. The sky is a velvet bowl pricked with starlight, and a sliver of moon hangs high above. We start, as if running in a dream.

I know this road, at least the six-mile stretch I will run. I am intimate with its ruts and runnels, the changing landscape of silhouetted farmhouses and fields. I know when to step to avoid a divot or a patch of loose gravel. Still, a certain faith is required for each footfall. Who knows what hazards lurk in the dark - fallen crab apples, a loose stone.

My wife and I run at different paces and gradually separate. My shoes slap hard against the scratchy surface. I have flat feet, shapeless slabs that have caused me plenty of pain - shin splints, back aches. But distracting myself from myself is where the ritual begins. Spirit must be summoned to master the flesh.

As I settle into a rhythm, I tune into the mass hum of insects, trying to pick out individual chirpings. I am reminded there is no such thing as silence. Indeed, the quiet of my own existence is amplified: my breathing, my labored movements, as well as my place in the environment. I am no longer an individual with specific hopes and fears, but a dispensable component of the whole, another animal passing through.

In this early dawn, I am privy to dark secrets, cycles of nature known mostly to farmers and hunters. The absence of light brings about a heightened sense of being.

As I approach a hilltop farm, I'm met with the warm smell of horses, mixed with the scent of hay and turning apples. I can't see into the paddock, but I wonder if I am being watched. The irony is not lost that what I push to do horses were made for.

A mile or so later, light starts creeping into the sky, greys and blues at the edges, revealing by degrees fields of yellow-haired corn, a dog kennel, bits of litter, a lawn planted with political signs, and abandoned silos streaked with rust. A train whistle aches in the distance. I run my last mile fast, as if to beat the sun.

I meet my wife back where we started, and we walk to the car, sweaty and exalted. My gait is transformed, spirit and body lined up like stars, and the day has just begun.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter and freelance journalist.
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