Ahhh, Sunday mornings. Nowhere to be, work week alarms turned off and the sounds of a slow morning coming through the window. Sleep in my eyes, the feeling of summer light beaming onto my back. This is the life. This is what you work hard all week for. This is the day you take off. This is the one morning to not get up and make coffee until you feel rested.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! It’s now 7:05am, at which the first and only alarm I set on Sunday goes off. That peaceful, restful weekend routine thing is actually the opposite of who I am these days. Last September, I started a new habit: wake up on Sunday morning and run hills at Meridian Hill Park in Northwest DC. In reality I really have no idea what prompted this. I had run the hills a few times throughout my time living in DC but the idea really came out of nowhere. If I really searched to find a reason, I think I just always saw it as a challenge physically and mentally and I think last fall I needed that. However, I had no idea that it would come to mean so much to me and become a mental release. I have favorite running routes and locations in the city that I find meaningful, but I’ve never had a location that I felt a need to turn back to again and again. Nowadays, my Sundays are not days of rest but days that offer me the chance to start a new week on the right foot.
It’s simple, really. Sunday morning is perhaps the easiest day to get up to do something like this. First, there’s the drive to the park itself, which is barely a few miles from where I live. On a weekday morning, it’d easily take me 35 minutes to get there. Parking would certainly be a nightmare. The timeline wouldn’t add up when you have to hustle to work on the other side. On Sundays, I’m there in 15. Parking is easy — and free. It’s a day and hour at which I feel like the city is still asleep, worn out from the six days prior. Its as if for just those 30 to 45 minutes, the city and that park are all mine.
From the corner of 15th & W to the top of the first hill is only a quarter of a mile long. But with the angle of the hill as steep as it is, it feels much longer. The park is lined with trees and in the summertime, it’s as green as anywhere in the city. If you didn’t know better you’d think you were dropped somewhere in Paris, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the usual Paris experience. When I first started running it, I thought it would never get easier. That’s one of the reasons I think I keep coming back. If it were easy — uninteresting — I don’t think it would mean as much. I’ve grown to love the challenge. It’s one that begins before I even toe the line at the corner of 15th & W. I’ve learned the day before is just as important: what I drink, what I eat... it all plays a factor. I can tell what sort of a day I’m going to have by the time I’ve reached the top of my first hill. On bad days, it takes a few laps to get comfortable. One better ones, when that first hill is exhilarating, I know the whole morning is going to be good. Though whether bad or good, I’ve grown to learn it’s okay that one lap may be faster than the next or that some days I might not have much in me. What I’m not okay with is giving up when I’m out there. That is something I refuse to do.
In the beginning, I always thought it would be something I did alone. And while most days I prefer that, it dawned on me recently that some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had on those hills have been alongside friends. Last year, I celebrated my birthday by asking friends to join me for some hills. That’s a morning I’ll never forget. My wife has joined me on occasion. An old friend has been running alongside me the last two weeks and I’ve come to take advantage of those moments together to learn from him and his marathon experience. These mornings with friends are moments to really cherish. There’s something to be said about someone who’s willing to wake up that early on a Sunday and put in the work not only for themselves, but also to be in stride with you.
As I sit here on a muggy night in the middle of July, I’m roughly 102 days out from toeing the line for my first ever marathon. I have absolutely no idea what is ahead of me these next few months aside from hundreds of miles in the heat. Miles upon miles when I don’t feel have the energy or the time. I know there’s going to be mornings where sleeping in feel more important to me than a few miles before work. All of the work I put in will come full circle hopefully on October 27th when I cross that finish line. And when I do, I imagine everything before that moment will come rushing back, and I’m certain that will include these mornings that started at the corner of 15th & W NW.
I’m certain that during that first race there will be moments I don’t think I have it in me — miles I don’t think I can complete or a finish line I don’t think I’ll ever reach. And in those moments, I’ll close my eyes, think of those agonizing hills and the blazing heat and 7am alarms and remember what it was all for.
All of the above images were shot on location in Washington DC on June 9th, 2019.
Shot on location at Meridian Hill Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.
Images were shot on Kodak film using a Nikon fm2, in collaboration with friend and photographer, Jon Kumi