Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Night Running, revisited

I ran tonight after dark with a headlamp for the second time this winter. I thought of this post I wrote last spring after several night runs, some with others and some alone.
In the more than 25 years I’ve been running for exercise, I’ve run in about every situation I can think of.  But lately, I’ve been running at night, on trails, with a headlamp.
I’ve run through the streets of Beijing, New York, Anchorage, and many other cities large and small; run in northern New Hampshire when it was 25 degrees below zero, and in Tucson, Arizona when it was 108.  I’ve run alone, with regular partners, with random strangers, and in large groups.  I’ve run in a couple hundred races or more, from 400 meters to 50 kilometers. 
This winter my two main training partners and I started running at night on trails, at first out of necessity (early dark) and then out of interest and desire.  As daylight hours extend, I sometimes start a run in the light, then finish in the dark by headlamp.  I’ve done some runs by myself with my dog, and some with my friends. 
Some folks think we’re crazy, asking for turned ankles and skinned hands and knees. But the running style changes, slows slightly, we pick up our feet and plant them more firmly to assure good footing.  We run on familiar trails, but they are made unfamiliar by darkness.  It’s not always easy to know where we are, and trail surface becomes much more of a factor as we shine lights ahead of our steps.
Often, in the descending light, focusing without turning on the headlamp makes it easier to see the roots and rocks of the trail.  I feel Bristol hesitate just a bit as we approach major turns we both know well enough to anticipate.  When I turn the light on for good, he accelerates slightly to get just off the front of my light, the better to use his canine sight. With the light illuminating the trail just a few steps ahead of my feet, I have to let myself push on, trusting my light and feet.  The process takes getting used to.
Dark descends quickly at the end, leaving me with that eerie feeling of being watched, though I am comforted knowing we don’t have bears or big cats in this area, and by Bristol’s keen dog-awareness.  Trust my dog, I tell myself.  He’ll let me know if there’s anything out there.
These runs last about an hour or so, sometimes all of it in the dark.  Many 50-milers start in the dark, and if I ever run a 100-miler, I’ll have to run overnight, most likely.  
And this is definitely something to practice—it’s not easy to be alone, with nothing but a light, which makes a kind of bubble around my eyes.  I strain to see beyond the light, and remember Edward Abbey’s command to get rid of the light because it limits your sight. 
Now, with the time change, I likely won’t get in any more dark evening runs; perhaps I’ll get out early some mornings to get that start-in-the-dark practice. 

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