It is dark, 5 AM, and I am running through the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. Saturdays are for long runs, and today our local club has arranged a route for up to 10 miles. Having been provided the route ahead of time, I did my best to commit it to memory, but it’s complicated - there are 18 turns within the first 5 miles alone. It’s my first Saturday run with this group, my first go at the course, and again - it’s dark.
At the start, I fall in with a few other 10-mile runners, head of the pack type runners, friendly, and competitive. Self-proclaimed to be around a 9:30 pace, like me, our match seemed like kismet. But when their brisk starting trot becomes more of a sprint in mile 2, I know I’m in for a challenge with 8 miles to go.
Kingston is a small city, and rough around the edges, even in its nicer residential neighborhoods. Running over uneven asphalt, making the frequent turns past stray dogs, under broken street lights, jumping to miss a dead rat, keeping my group in sight, noticing the security guards pass on motorcycle, all makes me feel like Katniss in the Hunger Games. It’s adventurous, invigorating, and empowering. I need this run like I need to breathe; I feel happy, excited, and free; I don’t stop moving.
Thankfully, the route is broken up by a water stop every 2 miles. The club collects water bottles at the start, sending them out to the course for runners to use along the way. For the first 8 miles, my main objective evolves from keeping in step with the lead group, to keeping them in view - a challenge considering the often pitch black we run through, and 3-4 turns we make each mile. Also thankfully, this group runs like a team - I reach each water stop as my faster cohorts finish up, and we all run on.
By mile 8, the sun is rising, and we’re well into the return of this out-and-back run. I’m passing many runners still making their way to the half-way point/turnaround, making the course much easier to navigate. Runners wave, say good morning, share high-fives. I fall into step with a slower-paced group to finish the final 2 miles. We talk about weekend plans - someone is hosting a birthday cookout for his daughter, needs to leave quickly after the run to start roasting the goat; someone else plans to visit the botanical gardens.
I’ve always said that running is the best way to see a place, to get close to its details, to learn all its nooks and crannies, such that once you’ve run it, you know it differently, and more intimately. Next weekend I’ll run my first half marathon in over 2 years, on the other side of the island in Negril. I’ll set my own pace from the start; I’ll start from the back and work my way up - my favorite way to race. Out of the city, next to the beach, I wonder how that run will be different, how that place’s details will look up close, and how it will make me feel, in the dark, and as the sun rises.