By the Dawn's Early Light
by Al Steiner
It happened when I turned 30 years old, seemingly on the very day my twenties were left behind. My metabolism, once my staunchest ally, turned suddenly and cruelly against me. All my previous life I had been able to eat anything I wanted and in as large of quantities as I wanted without any measurable effect on my weight or health. I could drink beer every weekend, spend every spare moment of my life luxuriating on the couch, never do anything more strenuous than walking from the airport parking lot to the control tower where I worked, and my waistline remained a steady and predictable 34 inches. And then suddenly and without warning, my pants started getting tighter and tighter on me. At first I thought my wife was washing them incorrectly, causing shrinkage, but eventually I was forced to admit the truth. I was gaining weight. After nearly twelve years of hovering within 5 pounds of 180, I was creeping up towards 190 and then finally towards the dreaded 200.
In addition to the tight pants, the ever-increasing scale readings, and the beginnings of a beer belly, my blood pressure started to creep up on me as well. Once confined to the nice safe ground of 130/80 or so, readings of 160/90 began to appear at my regular check-ups. My doctor told me it wasn't high enough that medication needed to be prescribed, but it had to come down. The secret to getting it down, I was told, was to reverse what was making it go up in the first place: my weight.
Dieting didn't seem to help; it would merely slow down the advance a little. And in all honesty, I wasn't all that great at dieting anyway. I loved my carbohydrates and my fats too much. Pizza and beer and greasy tacos were my best friends. I was told however that there was a way to defeat the weight gain, to reduce my girth back to normal and to still enjoy the food that I loved. In addition, this miracle method would also reduce my blood pressure in and of itself, and possibly even add years to my life. This simple solution was exercise.
"Exercise?" I asked. "You mean like lifting some weights or something like that?"
Hardly. The easy solution was not quite that easy. What I needed, I was told, was some moderate aerobic exercise at least four times a week. I needed to get my heart rate up to around 160 and maintain it that way for thirty minutes. If I could do that, I was assured, my weight would drop off like magic in a matter of weeks and my blood pressure would return to normal.
Now there were several suggestions on how I could go about obtaining this much needed exertion. An aerobic exercise class was the most common suggestion. But I could hardly see myself donning spandex so I could stretch and dance with a bunch of overweight women. I could get a treadmill or a stationary bike and get my heart pumping that way. But such things were expensive and with a recent re-finance and second mortgage of the house my wife and I lived in, money was a little too tight for that. There was one suggestion however that was appealing in its simplicity. I could jog. Running would provide the boost and maintenance of my heart rate while not costing me any more than price of a new pair of shoes and a pair of sweats.
The only problem with this method of exercise was its availability. I worked Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM as an air traffic controller at Heritage County Airport. During the summer months, which was when I started this running regime, the afternoon heat and air quality in the late afternoon hours is unbearable. Temperatures of 105 degrees are not at all uncommon. At the very best, you're talking mid-90's. Not being a big fan of heat stroke I elected not to utilize this particular time slot for my routine. Nor were the evening hours that much better. Though cooler, the nights are still quite muggy and the air is still quite bad. Plus my motivation was not really there for this particular period of the day. After dinner all I wanted to do was relax, not drag myself out into the night and run up and down the suburban streets.
So that left the early morning hours before work. A natural early riser, this was actually somewhat appealing to me. I could get up at 5:30 AM, do my business out on the streets while it was still the coolest part of the day, and still have time to shower and eat breakfast before leaving for work. My wife and my kids were not even awake at this time of the morning so I would not even be missing out on any time spent with them. Thus, with such logic, it was decided. Dawn would be my scheduled jogging period.
The first day of this regime was in early June. I stepped out of the house at 5:45 AM dressed in a pair of black running shorts and a white t-shirt. My new running shoes were tied tightly to my feet, ready to carry me on this first journey to better health. In my hand I carried a bottle of water to help keep me hydrated.
The sun had yet to make its appearance above the horizon but its light was starting to touch the sky, imparting a vague pink glow off to the east and just enough light to allow me to see. I went through a series of stretches I had read about on the Internet, limbering up my calves, my thighs, my groin, my hamstrings. All of these muscles protested this by sending burning pains up and down whatever limb they were attached to. Finally, when I was as limber as I thought I could make myself, I took a few deep breaths and set off on my run.
In my car the previous day I had used the odometer to measure off the distance to various landmarks. Out to the end of my street and then down Willow Creek Road - the main route of travel through our section of the suburb - to Carmichael Drive was exactly one half mile. The intersection of Willow Creek Road and Cypress Avenue was exactly one mile. My plan on that first day was to start slow and only put in two miles. I would run down to Cypress and Willow Creek and then turn around and come back. This, I figured, would take me about twenty minutes or so, including the cool down period. Sure, I knew I was supposed to put in a full thirty minutes but I'd have to give my body a little time to adjust wouldn't I?
Well, as it turned out, my estimations of my initial stamina were a bit of an overestimation. I started out at a pretty good pace, my legs pumping up and down, my feet pounding on the pavement of the bike lane, but I was only able to maintain it for about five minutes before a sharp pain started in my side and my breath was tearing in and out of my lungs like fire. Sweat was pouring down my face and my heart was pounding alarmingly fast, at close to 190 beats per minute. Before making it even a half mile, I was forced to a slow walk to keep from keeling over with an exertion produced coronary. I ended up walking more than three quarters of the two-mile route that day and it ended up taking me well over the thirty minutes I'd allotted.
The next day the muscles of my legs, groin, and feet ached so badly when I got up I didn't even bother trying the run. I was hurting in places I hadn't even known I'd had. It took a twenty-minute shower under scalding water and a double dose of over the counter anti-inflammatory pills before I could even loosen up enough to drag myself to work.
The day after however, though still quite sore, I was determined to try again. I knew I needed to establish myself in the routine quickly and irretrievably or I would more than likely end up abandoning this quest before I had a chance to see any results. I set out once again from my driveway, running a little slower this time, vowing that I would finish the complete two miles even if it killed me.
Well, it didn't kill me but neither did I finish the complete two miles either. I'd made it about eight minutes into the run that day, just a bit over the three-quarter mile mark, before the pain in my side and my pounding heart beat forced me to slow back to a walk again. Aching, drenched in perspiration, breathing in ragged gulps, I trodded forward to the end of the course I'd set off and then turned around and walked back. Twice I tried to run a little bit, just to say I had, and both times I made it less than a hundred yards before the exhaustion forced me back to the slower pace.
The next day, though my muscles were now screaming at me for the abuse I was inflicting upon them, I tried again. And once again I made it just over three-quarters of a mile - at an even slower pace than previously used - before I slumped back to a walk, hurting and out of breath. I was very frustrated with myself, with my body, with the physics that made this so difficult. That might very well have been my last attempt if Kimberly Bates had not come running up behind me at that particular instance.
Kimberly, or Kim as she liked to be called, was one of my neighbors. She and her husband lived just around the corner from us and until that day I knew her only in passing. Friendly waves when she drove by on her way somewhere and some idle chitchat at the annual Independence Day block party were the extent of our contact with each other. She was a tall blonde woman in her late twenties, fairly attractive in an innocent, woman-next-door sort of way. I knew her husband was some sort of accountant or something and she herself was employed in some capacity somewhere since she drove by the house at regular intervals. I did not know that she was into running or exercise, although, in retrospect, I suppose it should have been fairly obvious since her body had always had that toned look about it.
"Bob?" she said carefully as she slowed her pace to match mine. "What are you doing out here?" Her voice had neighborly concern in it. She was dressed in a pair of black spandex shorts and a black running bra. Despite my fatigue and misery I could not help but take in her shapely legs and the smooth expanse of her bare be...