The 5 am Litmus Test

Some ideas seem downright brilliant when you’re loaded with quad shot americano’s, caffeine-infused dark chocolate bars and running on a night of complete sleep. Everything seems right with the world and any spontaneous idea seems infallible. That happens to me from time to time, specifically when I’m loaded with quad shot americano’s and..well…yeah, all that. Those ideas often ARE awesome (I’ll stop short of brilliant) and I sometimes find myself over-ambitiously working on them as soon as I come up with ’em…which often leads to failure. Because sometimes, when you actually SLEEP on an idea, the possibility, logistics and passion of carrying it out becomes much clearer and in a less caffeinated state of being, the reality of your brilliance is less, well, brilliant. There are those ideas, however, that stay with me even after sleeping on them, sometimes over and over again. THOSE are the ideas I can’t let go and know will succeed with the right amount of effort, caffeinated or not.

As I’ve aged though, I like to take things even more cautiously and have begun applying another self-imposed barrier to bouts of inspired brilliance (read, absurdity). I call it the 5 am litmus test. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Who in the hell gets up at 5 am!?”.

Runners do.

Or, at least, runners with so many other life responsibilities (stupid running water and mortgage payments) that the only time they have to make their day right is by getting up at 5 am and running 10 or so miles. Sometimes, there just isn’t any other time to do it. Period. And it’s at 5am, when the brain is at it’s LEAST caffeinated and LEAST motivated, and just brushing your teeth is like building the great wall of china, that any idea faces the ultimate challenge to its sustainability. If you can stare an idea in the face at 5 am and say, “Yes! That would be AWESOME! I MUST DO THIS!”, then your idea has passed the test and you are free to indulge in your absurdity. If, however, you think to yourself, “Oh god, what’s the effing point? To my idea, to life, to anything? Why in the hell am I up at 5 am? Why do I hate myself? I’m going to quit working, let the house lapse into foreclosure and end my existence early”, then maybe you should go back to bed and think of something more in line with your passions. THAT’s the 5 am litmus test.

I became aware of the 5 am litmus test after my attempt at the Vermont 50 and upon my return to Indiana I was faced with a completely blank running calendar, a consistently screwed up leg and NO motivation to run or train to run. For some reason though, I continued to get up at 5 am, drag on cold weather running clothes and hate the world as I trudged out the door…only to make it a couple blocks before stopping in the middle of the pitch dark street and staring blankly ahead…trying to remember the reasons I ever did this in the first place. I lost count how many times I turned around and walked back home, my head hung in complete dejection. I don’t know what depression is, but maybe that was similar.

Sometimes I never even made it out the door. I would successfully make it to the bathroom, stare at my tired image through heavy, deadened eyelids and then find my way right back to bed…completely failing the 5 am litmus test again and again. So I quit running. No matter how I felt later in the day, no matter how caffeinated I was and how ABSOLUTELY GREAT AND INSPIRED of an idea running the next day was, when I got up at 5 am, it seemed like the absolute WORST thing I could ever be doing at that moment. So again and again I failed the test.

At 3 pm, “I’ve GOT to run tomorow morning! It will be great and feel so awesome when I’m done! I’ll feel accomplished and be that much fitter!”

At 5am, “Life is stupid. Why do I keep doing it?”

Anyways…you get the point. Which brings me to my current running state. If you read the previous post, you know I’ve made the decision to start running competitively again, which means I’m doing high-mileage with specific training. It’s a long explanation, but one of the main reasons I’m ABLE to do this again is because I’ve already subjected myself to the 5 am litmus test leading up to this decision and consistently passed. It wasn’t just a briefly inspired idea at 3 pm that set me on this path, but rather a handful of 5 am alarms followed by torturously boring treadmill runs….that I enjoyed. In the recent past, I WANTED to run. I WANTED to train, but that all means nothing when I’m dead tired at 5 am and the last thing I want to do is force myself from such a comfortable slumber to sweat, run out of breath and basically mildly damage my body over and over again. Something changed though. I haven’t quite figured out what that is exactly, but something certainly changed, because the value of getting up and running under a dark sky (slowly changing to light…finally!) began to far outweigh the desire to sleep. I now look forward to 5 am. It is the part of my day that excites me the most! So even though I was a little hesitant to write that last post about pushing the reset button on competitive running, I’ve passed enough tests to do so confidently.

And here we are….about 2 weeks into consistent running. About to hit 70+ miles this week. A psuedo-race already under my belt and my first OFFICIAL speed workout this morning.

5 am doesn’t seem dreadful at all. Actually, it’s quite inspiring.

If you can pass that test, it’s full speed ahead.


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