Running into the Light

The hotel bed was warm and soft. Outside, it was cold and dark. My plan was to get up early and run. When on the road, I feel the need to start my day at dawn and put in some miles. I had prepared for cooler weather here in Southern Oregon, but not this cold, with the thermometer hovering just above freezing.

But the views the day before, driving from Medford to Klamath Oregon, had been stunning. Open expanses of hills and mountains. Tall pine trees, intense and green, pointing to the blue sky made clearer in the high altitude. My body is always a bit more alive when the chill from cool air is tempered by the warm sun streaming, unfettered by clouds above. I was hoping to catch a bit of this magic on an early morning run.

But that was yesterday. Today it is just dark and cold. But I am motivated to work hard, because my trip to Oregon is to support the hard work my son has been doing for several months. So I roll out of bed and put a wool shirt on. I lace my shoes with ungloved hands and put a cap on my head. The lodge where I’m staying sits above a small basin at the back nine of the only golf course around for miles. I find a path that winds around the course and settle in for a quick 3-mile run.

I am two and half miles into the run that almost wasn’t. My breathing reveals I am working harder than normal, given the short distance travelled. The pace on my watch does not reflect the 5000-foot altitude and the steep hills I have already encountered on this winding path in temperatures near freezing. But running here in Klamath Falls in the chilly morning is breathtaking. The hills and mountains rising above the rolling valleys have an extra dimension that the mundane view of houses, lawns and parks on my normal suburban route back home lacks. I feel small, yet more connected to the world around me. The stunning landscape is tempting me to do another loop on this 3-mile trail, my numb fingers and calves, aching from the hills I have already climbed, are telling my otherwise.

The solitude of my morning abruptly changes when I see a fellow runner a football field’s length ahead. My pace quickens, along with my breath, as I start to pull even. From behind, I can tell he is a runner. His calves are hardened and strong and his gait is rhythmic and efficient. I am envious of his gloved hands. I try not to startle him as I say hello. We exchange quick pleasantries, both acknowledging the beauty of this morning.

“How far you going?” he asks.

“I was thinking three.”

“Care for some company?”

It would be rude to rebuke his offer. I don’t really have the breath to explain I’ve already done three miles and that my hands are numb and my calves are on fire and that I live in Illinois where it’s really flat and just about sea level. But I also realize I wouldn’t mind some company to share this morning.

“That be great.”

He tells me his name is Ron, as I shake his gloved hand. He is an ex-marine, having moved from San Diego to Klamath ten years ago to retire. He runs almost daily, exceptions being some of the bitter and brutal cold days that roll in every winter. He asks how I’m feeling, and with the numbness of my hands no longer as prominent, I tell him I’m fine.

So he takes me toward the top of a bluff. As we climb, he shows me the potato fields in the valley below. We talk about the thirty-one marathons he’s done and my eight Ironman’s. He tells me his runs by Crater Lake are his favorites. I tell him runs around Lake Mendota are mine. He describes hard winters in Klamath balanced by three hundred days of sunshine. He recalls the market crash in 2007, just as he retired and the subsequent rebuilding of his life these past ten years. We talk about our children and the challenges of raising them. And as we run and chat, the hills and miles go quicker, as I am no longer focusing on pain or my rising heart rate and rapid breathing on the hills.

The climb to the top of the bluff ends and the view does not disappoint. We stop for a brief moment. The chill I feel from my sweat and the cool air is tempered by the warmth of the sun, now risen, unfettered by any clouds in the sky. I want to steal this moment. The past few months have been challenging for my family. Beauty, and the potential that is all around us, has been difficult to see and appreciate lately. But on this day, with the sun rising, I know for the first time in a while, it’s not just me feeling the potential that lies ahead.

The run down from the bluff is a bit easier.  My watch beeps, telling me I’ve hit the seven-mile mark. Ron drops me off back at the lodge. We shake hands and I watch him, with his efficient gait continue on alone.

I stay outside for a few moments, my heart and lungs thankful for the break. Sun and sweat, aching calves and frozen fingers all co-existing. It feels good. Validation for leaving the comfort of my bed. Evidence of my morning effort. Proof that hard work can help me escape the cold and the dark. I am grateful I decided to leave darkness behind this morning and run into the light.