The Pre-Dawn People by Dana Martin
At just after 4 AM, the alarm went off and 1 reached over
and contemplated my life choices as 1 fumbled awkwardly
to shut off the annoying buzzing before it awoke
my sleeping spouse. He heard me anyway."Why are you getting up so early?" he said in a highbrow tone
that suggested early risers were at the bottom of the totem pole of
"I have to interview those runners," I sighed as I heaved myself
from the bed. I winced as my first warm foot touched the icy floor.
Was the money worth this?"Who gets up at this hour to exercise?" he mumbled as he rolled
over in our previously shared nest of toasty marital bliss.
Who, indeed? I looked over my shoulder and considered ditching
the interview. It was the perfect opportunity to get two hours of
the exceptional sleep one experiences only when dodging an adult
I'd taken a freelance writing job to cover a group of runners who
1 decided must be crazy to rise so early just to exercise. Didn't they
realize some gyms are open 24 hours? Why the hurry? What sort of
drive must it take to slither from warm blankets and tread outside so
early in the morning?
I used to be a runner. As 1 poured my coffee I tried to remember
my sleek thighs and toned arms, back in the days when I started every
morning with a brisk run. That was pre-husband and pre-teenagers.
Between working, a family, and housework, I was lucky to get to bed
before midnight. But here I was, about to interview a group of predawn
people with almost supernatural motivation.
I could understand if work beckoned them so early from the
comfort of their beds. But it was exercise!
When I jumped into my car and drove off, I thought about the
runners. I wondered what type of people I would find at the doughnut
shop's parking lot, where the runners began their daily routine.
Did they work? They couldn't possibly have kids or real responsibilities,
Surely there wouldn't be many people to interview. It was dark,
cold, and foggy. I pulled into the empty parking lot and shut off my
car's engine, instantly feeling the chill creep in through the floorboard.
I wanted to go home.
I'm glad I didn't leave. My life was about to change.
One by one, sets of headlights turned into the deserted parking
lot-because inside the cars were people who'd been running
together before dawn for decades, and they knew they would be
held accountable if they didn't show up. They arrived smiling; I was
I got out of my car and joined a group that was heading toward
the doughnut shop. For thirteen years, the runners had been using
the doughnut shop as home base, but the group had been around
much longer than that. It had been going strong for forty years.
Forty years of running together? What was I missing? I looked
around. The air was crisp, the coffee was hot, and camaraderie was
in abundance. Was that it?
Coffee wasn't what motivated dozens of runners to show up
every day before dawn. As I chatted with two women, I learned that
most started to maintain physical fitness, but even the health benefits
of running had become a secondary motivation for setting alarm
clocks so early.
No one looked as grouchy as I felt. None of them appeared sleep
deprived. In fact, just the opposite was true. They were peppy!
After making initial contact, I backed off to observe-more from
genuine curiosity (and a bit of envy) than for the article I was writing.
I wanted to figure out why they were so happy, why they seemed like
a big, functional family.
Slowly, they began breaking off into groups. Some ran with a
dog, but all ran with a smile.
No one ran with an iPod. Conversation provided the musical
cadence to which these runners ran. I found out that the running
becomes a sort of ounseling session for them as they talk and solve
the world's problems. They share stories about life, outine day to day
things, tragedy, experiencing 9111 together, loss, and laughter.
The more they shared with me, the more I was beginning to
understand the force that would pull them from bed each day. They
didn't mind the alarm clock because to them, it wasn't exercise-it
One runner looked pointedly at me and asked, "Why don't you
"Oh, no, I couldn't," I said quickly, and then wondered why I
couldn't. I was standing among busy mothers of toddlers and whitecollar
executives, who still had to drive home to shower so they
could get to the office by 8:00. How was my situation unique? My
responsibilities were no more time-consuming than theirs.
I was missing out, and I was realizing that my physical health
wasn't the only loser in the scenario.
Most of the runners had met through their mutual love of the
sport, and many of them had booked "running vacations" together,
had camped with each other, and had celebrated holidays as a group.
They'd nursed one another through illness, death, family crisis, and
job loss, but they'd celebrated births and marriages, too.
I learned that one runner had lost his first wife-another runner-
in a tragic accident. Years later, when he was ready to marry
again, the group attended his wedding-on the trail. One hundred
runners ran two miles up a steep hill and surrounded him with love.
The loss of his wife was hard for the whole team, but they were overjoyed
to see him happy again.
After hearing the story, I stood in stunned silence as my heart
swelled with pride in the human spirit. Someone came up behind me.
She was another runner, and she'd overheard my last conversation."I think people initially show up so they have someone to run
with, someone to push them," she said as she toweled off her face."Somewhere along the miles, though, it shifts. We show up because
our friends are here."
That's when it clicked for me. In other words, it's about fitness
and friendship, and to runners who've chosen to exercise as a group,
you can't have one without the other.
I collected enough information for my story that day, wrote the
article, and was paid. But the value I received at the doughnut shop
far outweighed the compensation that the magazine gave me for the
I wish I could say that I awoke bright and early the next day
and began running with the group, but I can't. I still enjoy sleeping
until 6:00. However, my life did change. The runners taught me that
happiness comes from being fit, living right, and building healthy
I did start running again, and I am running to this day.
I don't get up at 4 AM, but the road doesn't care. The road is gladto see me any time of day.