Saturday - 05:30am.
Summer, winter, and all of the days in-between.
Scowling frost, stifling rays, relentless downpours and gusts that leave one begging for mercy.
Mornings that feel as though they'll never break, and mornings that errupt joysouly through the windowpane.
Week after week, always the same. That Saturday morning alarm: 5:30am.
I wonder if those initial few seconds as I stir from slumber know that they're paving the way to paradise?
They say 'for each a road, for every man a religion.' Well, this is mine.
There are many who deem my dedication to running a bit barbaric. After all, who would willingly choose to wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning? Who would voluntarily opt to run 13.1 miles before daybreak, just for fun?
Those who are cynical fail to comprehend what a priveledge it is to experience the world at such hour. A world that feels as though - for those silent hours - it rests within the palm of my hand. Such sacred seconds.
Time is suspended.
✨ If one seeks to understand the true meaning of paradise, one must run before the world wakes. ✨
The things I've witnessed while running in the early hours...
The skies opening up to reveal the heavens above - an exploding cannon ball of staggering cobalt.
The sun shyly taking to the stage and blowing tender kisses across the landscape; it's captive audience.
Two badgers happily frolicking in the middle of the lane.
A sudden meeting of gazes with a fox through the canopy of the woodland.
Untouched dew crystallising the snowdrops, the daffodils, the rambling hawthorn.
The richness of the seasons and the purity of a new day are heightened during those bewitching hours.
Of course, the heavenly blessing of running is not confined purely to the dawn, although this is where I feel the enchantment is at its most prominent.
Running is a miraculous action at any given moment.
As soon as my foot hits the pavement - that first strike - I'm lifted to the clouds above.
I don't believe that my feet touch the ground again until that timer stops, some time later.
My legs work in perfect motion with the ease of a well-oiled bicycle wheel.
I'm not running, I'm flying.
✨ My body flushes with elation. From my feet to my mind, every single element of me aligns in flawless harmony. This sensation... it's the most extraordinary of gifts. ✨
The fresh air floods my mind, purifying every stress, every worry, every negative thought. It's as though the colours of the world are radiating in high-definition.
No matter the memory of the preceding week, my Saturday morning run is the ultimate reward. It breathes the life back into me.
My obsession with running takes precedence over everything. I wouldn't have it any other way.
✨ Running brings me more joy than anything else in the world. It's an intense, indescribable ecstasy; an addiction. ✨
The high that I get from running gains momentum with every step, every minute, every kilometre. The result at the end of the run is a feeling that try as I might, I simply can’t explain.
So yes, I will choose running over a few extra hours in bed, an evening in-front of the TV, or a night out. I will always choose running.
Don't get me wrong - sometimes, when that alarm sounds, my heart momentarily sinks as I crave another hour in bed, shielded from the less favourable elements beyond the window. But as soon as I'm out there, all trace of reluctance vanishes. I know what I'm doing is an extrodinary privilege.
This sport requires dedication and discipline - two traits that also make up anorexia's armoury.
Through running, I have learned how to positively channel the need for control that anorexia exerts.
✨ Running changed my life, and ultimately, it saved my life. ✨
Every time I run, I am left positively awestruck by its healing powers and the deep-routed feelings of euphoria that it so generously serves.
It's funny - we often think of life's wealth objectified by material items.
In actual fact, the true wealth of life lies in freedom.
It costs nothing, yet it's worth its weight in gold.
Freedom to be who we want to be. Freedom to indulge in delirious raptures.
Freedom to shed the shackles of our own minds.
Freedom to delve deep and rediscover our inner strength.
Freedom to celebrate ourselves.
Running is freedom, and all it defines.
And while people may well raise their eyebrows at my fervour, it's them I pity. They have no idea what they're missing. The things they'll never see, never experience... The highs they'll never feel.
✨ Running and the sheer jubilation it brings often feel like a secret religion; a dedicated community of admirers forever intertwined by this enchanting faith we have found. ✨
Running has not only changed my life - it has changed me as a person.
Confidence and resilience are just two of the gifts running has given me. Confidence, resilience, endless pride and an inner bursting delight.
Since I started taking running seriously, I have discovered the fine art of believing in myself, and I have dared to indulge. I've gained the drive to push the boundaries of both my running ability and my life. I've been gently propelled into dipping my toes into what was once the self-perceived impossible.
And as dramatic as it sounds, running has given me a reason to live. Anorexia can often feel like slow suicide, but running is steadily bringing me back to life, one day at a time.
How reassuring it is to know that whatever happens, I will always have running.
If you need further evidence of how running can alter and indeed save lives, then please, watch Skid Row Marathon.
This docu-film tells the true story of LA judge Craig Mitchell as he starts up a running club on the infamous Skid Row and recruits of a team of remarkable candidates.
The backgrounds and stories of the members of the club vary, but they bond over their shared passion for running.
Something else they all have in common is their shared consensus that running brought much-needed joy and discipline to their lives.
Goosebumps grazed my skin as I watched the story unfold. The raw emotion portrayed was both staggering and inspiring.
The undeniable glee on the faces of the runners as they pounded through the empty streets of LA at 6 o'clock in the morning was absolutely stunning.
✨ Inclusivity is one of the most special things about running. It isn't an exclusive club - anyone can do it. Quite simply, if you run, you are a runner! ✨
Rebecca Hayes was left homeless with her young son after years of alcohol and drug addiction.
Watching her train for, and then complete, the Rome Marathon and explain - in tears - what it meant to her was so incredibly moving.
Rebecca went on to gain a degree and bag her dream job as a surgical nurse in a maternity unit. She is still a regular runner.
Ben Shirley was also plagued by addiction, and found himself living on Skid Row as a result.
He joined the running club and initially went on to finish marathons in Ghana and Italy. On the evening of the Rome Marathon, Ben found out that he had been accepted into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has since become a well-known composer, orchestrator and musician.
I'm not saying that it was running and running alone that turned the lives of these extraordinary people around... But I have a strong suspicion that it played a huge part in the rehabilitation and sudden onset of self-belief.
It just further backs up my point that - somehow - running tenderly encourages us to strive to be the best version of ourselves.
Unity: I love that word, and all that it represents in running.
No matter what we might be individually facing in our personal lives, when we're out there running, we are all equal. We all have days where our bodies just don't want to go, we all suffer cramps, we all get injured, we all rejoice in the celebration of a PB, and we all experience the highs and lows of sharing our life with running.
Running creates its very own langaue, and in this, a unique family is formed with complete strangers.
✨ When we give ourselves to this miraculous sport, we not only unite with others - we unite with ourselves. Running in itself is an education, and it will teach you more about yourself than anything that has come before it, and indeed anything that will come after it. ✨
Running is paradise.
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©