Replacing My Early Morning Run with Cooking

Up-down-up-down; the red onion made a wet woosh, leaving a smear of fuchsia against the mandolin’s sharp blade. The repetitive motion induced the kind of meditative trance I’d experience listening to my footfalls on a pre-sunrise run. Up-down-up-down.

Checking the Right Box

Runners on the downhill road from McDonald Observatory in West Texas.
Running at dawn from McDonald Observatory to Prude Ranch, 10 miles=heaven. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

Sometimes, I’m awake early. The I-can’t-sleep-and-this-is-still-technically-nighttime kind of early. What is there to do in the dark of the not yet day, after the paper’s read and social media’s monitored and before any reasonable work day should begin?

For more than 20 years, I effortlessly answered that question. I’d go for a run.

But thanks to two years of unrelenting and unexplained fatigue, that daily activity habit has died. Oh, I’ve sincerely mourned its passing. Pulling out of that nosedive has required a massive mind shift: instead of training, I’m trying (translation: attempting–without judgement–to do what my body allows).

Every mental shift needs some flesh, so my daily “to do” list now includes two boxes: EXERCISE and REST. I check one or the other. No details. No expectations. I used to view a day without activity as failure but I’ve come to realize its merit. Without REST, there’s no EXERCISE.

Now, I conduct an internal assessment. How’s your energy, Leah? Has the battery been sufficiently juiced? Often, by mid afternoon, my charge is in the red. Especially if that faulty inner alarm clock went off in the wee hours.

Recipe to Start the Day

It was the 3 a.m. kind of early when I realized all the ingredients needed to prepare a recipe I’d just bookmarked were at hand. Why not make that dinner now, while I have some energy? In the quiet winter morning, I bustled about the warm kitchen, chopping, measuring, preparing.

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The activity felt soothing, satisfying. Cooking in my comfortable PJs and robe was homey yet decadent, and the kitchen smelled wonderful. Tidying afterward, I surveyed the results and smiled; no matter what else I did–or didn’t–have the energy to accomplish, I’d have a delicious, healthy dinner.

Dinner–It’s What’s For Breakfast

Kitchen counter with ingredients for warm butternut squash and chickpea salad

Here are some of recipes that have helped me get an early morning start.

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Peppers

Beet, Mushroom, and Avocado Salad

Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad






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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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