In his autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story, (which I read as a pre-teen), Muhammad Ali often described his training routines. Among their components was something called ‘roadwork.’ I knew it involved running, but didn’t fully understand the roles shadow boxing and jumping rope played in it. Roadwork was an early morning business; Ali would leave his home when it was still dark outside, and often return home, just as his family was stirring. For some reason, nothing quite captured for me the essence of the champion he was than the fact that he was out and about, in the darkness, finishing up his beginning to the day before others had even acquired full consciousness. That image of the boxer stepping out into the cold dark–I always imagined it to be cold, even if Ali might have been describing a summer training session–to hone his body and mind for the punishing fifteen-round examination that awaited him always did it.
I have thought of that reaction on a couple of occasions over the past few weeks as the days have grown shorter and cooler–as I step out for my Tuesday/Friday morning run. Thanks to my running partner‘s work schedule changing, we now meet just a little earlier, and so it is just a little darker when I wake up to the alarm, drink my coffee, lace up, and head out. The alarm’s sound is unwelcome; I hate leaving my warm bed; the coffee offers some relief and courage. But all dissonance disappears once I step out the door, onto the street. At that moment, all doubt vanishes. Any prior conceptions of oneself as stiff, sleepy, unluckily deprived of comfort while the fortunate slumber on are dispelled. They are replaced, instead, by just a little chest-puffery: Lookit me, stepping out in the dark, braving the elements, boldly going forth to exert my sinews. Truth be told, I feel like a champ. Not the greatest by a long shot but a champ anyway.
Around me, the city is stirring, slowly, to life. Some folks are headed to work, yet others are returning from late shifts. They, and I, seem drawn together in our virtuous waking state; they, and I, seem like pioneers. Who knows what these early hours are like? We do.
The end of the run–a pleasant, easy paced 3.4 mile loop around Prospect Park–brings its own reward. As I come down the final hill to the closing stretch, using my acquired downward momentum to generate a final speedy kick for the finish line, I am flanked by a glorious crimson and orange sunrise on my left, coming up over Prospect Park Lake, coloring its calm waters, and seemingly heralding my triumphant breasting of the tape. And then, once I begin my walk back home, I am able to savor, at leisure, the fabled runner’s after-glow. A day that will feature its inevitable share of disappointments lies ahead of me; for now, it’s good to get this deposit into the feel-good piggy bank out of the way.
Note: An earlier entry in the ‘How Virtuous It Is’ series is here.