I start thinking as soon as I begin to put my shoes on “are my laces too tight, are they too loose, do I really want to do this, I do but maybe a day off would be good for me.” My first quarter mile is always a slow, dreary slog until I begin to get loose and into a rhythm, more comfortable with my body and movement, not yet warm but getting there.
The sounds of the early morning in the city are minor distractions that help get my mind going, usually some kind of machine noise or distant traffic sets the ambient urban hum. Other sounds emerge, seasonal bird songs or calls, the ever present crows, sometimes I notice other runners on the trail whose gait I recognize by the distinct pattern of their footfalls. If I’m running a new trail in the country, or better yet the backcountry, there are other distractions and the newness of every step itself changes my awareness and focus. Even just one run in an interesting new place will leave fine details of the landscape imprinted in my memory for years.
Each trail I’ve run many times has familiar features or landmarks that allow me to subconsciously measure my progress, a long low hill, a bridge, a cattle guard, a steep switchback, a tree with a low branch forces me to swing wide, an eroded stretch of the path I have to sidestep. I know where I can push hard and where I have to conserve energy. With repetition it becomes habit and I don’t even think about it. As much as I look forward to trying a new place to run I do truly love the familiar daily route. After a while I feel like I belong there and in a way it belongs to me. And every time I go out, no matter how uncertain I was at the beginning, I am always glad I went.