When the rest of the world is sleeping, early birds engage a secret code…

By Katie Garner

running in the park

The sun is up and distributing a deliciously golden sleepy glow, radiating a gentle summer warmth without the full on intensity of the lunch time burn. Sweeping your hands in front of your face like an explorer moving the fronds of an exotic palm plant, you emerge from the bed covers, weirdly refreshed and ready to tackle the outside world…yes, even in your pyjamas.

I’m talking about that inbetweeny time of day that could range between 6.00am and 8.00am, in the heavy dead of morning, where you feel like you are the one and only human being experiencing the day; with the fog of sleep seeming to descend on the very atmosphere and every grain of air. It’s almost hypnotic this alluring time of morning, yet it’s also a rarity. This time of morning is so exclusive, so bounded and regulated almost that it also seems to operate with its very own set of rules that no one would follow or abide as soon as 8.30am hits.

Normally I am only up and about during this early morning time frame when I am going for a run. This could be either before work on a weekday, when I hit my local park at 6.25am for 40 minutes to clear the cobwebs before the day has really began, or occasionally on a weekend, when I have a busy day ahead yet want to slot in my regular exercise – I’ll usually run if I need to go out before the gym opens at 8.00am so on a weekend I could be pounding the pavements at 7.00am if needs must. Being out at this time of day has been a very enlightening experience and I must say, I have become a tad addicted to it.

It is as if the sheer lack of people has suddenly and sincerely rewound the clocks, back to a time when adults would tip their hats to passing strangers just because it was the done thing. The amazing situation you find yourself in when up and about at impossible o’clock is that manners have returned. Trotting around the park in fluorescent pink, the pre-work dog walkers stroll. As soon as I near their vicinity, both them and I seem to look up and make eye contact like some irresistible tractor beam. This is followed by a noticeable nod of the head, a warm smile and just a single word – “Morning!” Oddly enough, no other word is used or acceptable in this time frame, and the nod is almost compulsory. What is intriguing is that everyone does it. I greet at least three to four dog walkers in this manner per run, although we only do it on the first lap, as to do it on every lap of the park would not only be exhausting but weird.

dog walking image

This greeting process is the law of the early morning. Now, this can be a bit pesky from my point of view. Not that I don’t like it – I do, I think its chivalrous and polite and generally a nice thing to do. However, dog walkers can still easily retain the use of their lungs – by lap six of the park, I may not be in the same position, so the “Morning!” has to be skipped completely, the warm smile more a tight lipped flick of the lips. The nod I whole heartedly support though. Talking and panting aren’t usually partners in crime, but I always try and engage in proper morning etiquette as if someone doesn’t do it, ooh it’s bad. You feel instantly rejected, and person ignoring you stamped with the rude label as you loftily avert your gaze whenever they walk past. It feels almost sin-like not to join in.

Even other runners do it. When jogging around Hornchurch or Romford of an early morning, when you cross the path of fellow runners the nod and the smile is always still present, although breath may be saved from the talking aspect. This is allowed. If another active type ignores you however, again, they are deemed rude and breaking the rules of early morning etiquette.

So, in summary – if you are out and about at a weirdly early time of day pre-commute or before people surface from weekend lie-ins, then it is essential that you engage in proper early morning etiquette. This consists of three simple steps: the big smile, the gentle head nod and the single word pronounced perkily “Morning!” If I’m honest, I really like the simplicity and the odd community feel of saying howdy to complete strangers. I feel like I know the bearded guy with the cute fluffy dog, or the older man with the huge grey dogs and the yappy thing that insists on circling me growling. I’ve probably heard Monty the dog’s name called across the park more than my own but I don’t mind. It’s like the early morning park gang and in a strange way, they’re in between acquaintances and friends merely for the fact that we say good morning.

Give it a go if you’re up that early – seriously, you’ll be the only one who doesn’t if you don’t!