I headed out the door this morning a little after 6:30 into the frozen darkness. It was still nearly 45 minutes before sunrise, though the sky was beginning to turn from black into a muted grey. Compared to yesterday, when the wind-chill dipped into the negatives, 28 degrees didn’t even feel that cold; in fact, as long as its not windy, the 20’s and 30’s are prefect long-run temperatures, as the air is crisp but not so frigid that it hurts your lungs or you worry about fingers going numb. I had on my backpack, lightly weighted down with daily necessities, a change of clothes, and my Yaktrax on the off chance I hit a large patch of packed ice and snow.
The trek through Brooklyn I’ve done countless times over the last few months: up Tompkins to DeKalb; down DeKalb to Ft. Green Park; through the park to Myrtle; Myrtle to the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, I’ve run every inch of the route before, just not all at once, and I haven’t run north of 96th on the West Side since we moved from Washington Heights last year. The early hour and the cold weather meant I had the sidewalks and roads largely to myself. Even the bridge and the Greenway were mostly deserted, other than the very occasional bicyclist or fellow runner. Like with most early morning runs, at first I just moved steadily along, working at waking up my muscles and letting myself fall into a rhythm.
At mile six, the snow began to fall — fat, beautiful, lazy flakes that filled the air and brought with them that faint muting effect that makes snowy days so special. I had hoped for snow, and been disappointed when the weather report this morning had pushed the snowfall back to later in the morning; fortunately, they were proved wrong. The snow was wet and clung to trees and awnings, sign-posts and over-passes, dusting benches and the sidewalk and the grass. Ice-crusted the Hudson and butted up against the piers and rocky shoreline. The world was reduced to monochrome, white and various shades of grey, fading off into the off-white oblivion if one allowed one’s eyes to travel ahead along the path, or up the grey, icey water of the river.
The reason I love long runs is that something changes after nine or ten miles. Before that, I enjoy running well enough: its invigorating, purposeful, focused. After an hour or an hour and a half, however, I slip into a different state, something bordering meditation. I turn inward, but more outward as well, settling into a sense of timelessness. Somewhere around 59th street, I felt like I wanted to keep running forever; I felt like I could keep running forever. I was both aware and unaware of my breath, aware and unaware of my feet striking the ground; aware and unaware of the path before me and the miles I was leaving behind. It is then that running seems like a form of prayer, when my legs seem to sing from exertion. And so I ran along the river on snow-dusted path, past the parks and cafe’s of the Upper West Side, alongside the dimmed lights of traffic on the West Side High Way, skimming past the edges of Harlem until I reached 159th street.
There I slogged up back into the city, up a long sidewalk of packed snow long ignored by the city, climbing into Washington Heights briefly before descending back down 145th street to the McComb’s Dam Bridge, then into the Bronx and Yankee Stadium and Grand Concourse and then stop running, panting, part of me wanting to run on, almost exactly 17 miles and two hours and forty-five minutes and an entire city away from where I had begun back in the pre-dawn darkness of Brooklyn.