At six in the morning during the summer, dawn paints the rocks that border the trail a pale mauve. It is light enough to see, but just so; the street lights are just beginning to wink out. The canyon winds blow briskly, thrilling me as I imagine for a moment becoming airborne, lofting over the edge of the sheer trail.
(Don't worry, Mom, that hasn't happened yet.)
Over the course of the first mile, it winds down 252 feet to the base of the canyon, and over the second mile, it climbs up 368 until the trail flattens out and provides a swift surface home.
(My splits, typical of this trail: 10:16; 13:59; 8:59; 8:51.)
On ordinary daily runs, I run without music. I prefer to alternate soaking up the trail with losing myself in my thoughts. I write in my head; I run; I argue; I console; I plan.
Yet this trail is different. The dry trail snakes under the Utah sun, bordered by sagebrush, until it passes under some scrubby trees. In the shade flourish all manner of broad-leafed plants that would not look out of place in any Pennsylvanian forest. The trail becomes slightly slick here from retained moisture; after rains it's downright treacherous. There are small rocks strewn all over it, but not many, and for the first two miles, it is barely more than a narrow bit of singletrack, favored by mountain bikers who enjoy the perilous ride, mere inches away from a sheer drop-off.
At six AM, they are still asleep. The trail is mine, and it requires my full attention. A rolled ankle or a false step would probably not be disastrous, but it would be unpleasant. I focus on placing my feet, lifting them lightly. On roads or flat gravel trails, my stride lopes along at a relatively low cadence. On trails, I scamper.
Many runners write that running is their stress relief, arguing that the enormous physical effort they put forth serves as a release. For me, at least, it's different. The effort is strenuous, true, but the destruction of the stress lies in the intense concentration necessary to navigate the trails. All thoughts of the world drop away.
The rest of my life rarely demands that focus. Much of modern life is set up to favor multi-tasking. I sit at my computer to write, and my phone buzzes with e-mail. I eat breakfast and grade exams while listening with half an ear to NPR. I run loads of laundry while playing with the baby.
The world scatters my mind. Running unifies it.