All cats are grey. Cars are few, most people asleep. The air is cool, streets quiet, the night still young but already committed. It’s almost midnight. It’s the best time to run.

So just back from work, I chug down a tall glass of juice, put my running shoes on, my knee brace and my MP3 player on the left arm. Walking briskly up the small hill next door through Clark Park will serve as a warm up. From there, I’ll cross Commercial Drive and head towards Trout Lake for my usual circuit.

Here’s the plan for tonight: rather than listening to my whole running playlist and its changing rhythms, I’m going to use only two, maybe three songs for the entire 10 km run. That’s four times around the park in a large square that follows the bordering streets. I’ll use a slow song on the first lap, to set the pace and finish warming up the muscles. Then a faster one for the two laps to follow and finally, if I still have the energy, an even faster song to finish the last lap and bring the cardio up to its max.

It’s strange how some songs seem to be perfectly adapted to one’s speed, their tempo matching a runner’s optimum stride. I’ve actually found one of those. It’s Bob Marley’s Bad Boys. A slightly fast pace which nevertheless seems to yield the best long distance results. But first Iend up sticking with James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful for the first slower 15 minutes. Hey, whoever said my musical choices were enlightened? But it’s the messy version and swearing for a good cause does wonders on a run…

Soon into the first lap, both my lower legs start giving me early warning signals: cramps are forming in the peroneus muscles. I manage to keep them checked by paying close attention to the way I land my feet and by adapting my stride. It makes for a bumpier style but keeps me going into the second lap, time at which I switch to Marley. The stride gets longer, the pace faster. I start watching my shoulders and arms, attempting to keep them relaxed but active. And more important, I visualize my trajectory as a horizontal line, only barely undulating up and down. Running in the dark is always harder because of the bumps in the uneven streets that catch me off guard and increase leg tension. But the air is refreshingly cool and I’m enjoying the desert neighborhood.

By the end of the second lap, around 28 minutes, the legs have adjusted and breathing is still relatively slow. I never try to control my breathing. I let it do what it wants. That’s the discovery which finally got me into running, after trying unsuccessfully for years.

Third lap. Still going strong. So strong, in fact, that I begin to consider extending the run. I’ve been running a tiny bit slower than usual, distracted by my thoughts. It doesn’t really affect the timing, only the ratio of sprinting versus recovery time. I haven’t stopped for a 30 seconds walking break yet, like I usually do when pushing it. Ipress a button on the MP3 player and the voice tells me my elapsed time. It’s good. If I can keep it up, I’ll aim for 15 km instead of 10, or two additional laps. Longer runs aren’t something I do too often because I like running faster at the limit of my cardio rather than longer at a leisurely pace. The last long run was last fall when I ran from Proctor to Duluth, MN, a 16 km run I pulled off in a lazy hour and 45 minutes.

Marley is still with me, Bad Boys playing over and over again, doing wonders for my regularity. It becomes hypnotic, the rhythm filling up my space and blurring everything else out of focus. 5 laps, then 6. I haven’t even started hurting yet, to the point I almost feel ashamed for not running faster. The knees are strong and my right shoulder has remained impeccable. The old injury won’t haunt me tonight.

I finish the run in 82 minutes, without having needed a single stop or walking break. The Gmaps Pedometer calculates a 15.2 km run. I can live with that.

Note: No bragging here, I could do a lot better than that. But as with everything else in life, a pat on the back – even if self-administered – feels good and reinforces focus. It was Richard Nantais, my old NAUI instructor, who taught me those self-given pats on the back; I’ve been using them ever since. They are surprisingly efficient and free me from the greedy need of outside recognition and compliments. They serve as a reminder that my own accomplishments are usually much smaller than I imagine them to be. But since in the end the only scale I will ever have to measure my growth and success against is my own, a little praise goes a long way.

Next time I’ll write the anatomy of a bad run, and there are a lot of those… But as long as I always aim higher, as I keep trying to improve my skills and hoping to become a better person, I’m happy with myself. :-)