Tales from the Trail

A Firsthand Account of Running in the Dark

We all know the hardest part of running is getting out the door.  It takes determination, focus and commitment.  However, once you’ve made the promise to run, it no longer becomes a question of if you’ll get out the door, it’s just a matter of when.

This is where our story begins; a committed runner doing whatever it takes to get a run in.  Just for clarification, I’m not a beginner, I’ve been running for years, I’ve simply made it a priority to run more.  As a runner I really enjoy the planning that goes into a comprehensive training routine; balancing the strength training, long runs, track workouts as well as daily life.  Unfortunately for me, my planning didn’t work out too well this week when I decided it was a good idea to do my 11 mile long run before work at 9:30am. 

When I first realized I had made this mistake I figured, “no big deal, I’ll just start running at sunrise.”  The only problem is, sunrise is quite late, approx. 7:30am, which meant I needed to start in the dark and on top of that my plan was to run 11 miles on the trails, where there is no man-made lighting.

I like the idea of a new adventure so I planned ahead.  I picked up a running flashlight, pulled out my hydration pack and grabbed my wife’s ‘bear bell,’ aka a jingle bell that’s supposed to jingle when you hike or run letting the bears know you’re there, because of course we have bears in the desert…. Right.  Truthfully I was more worried about coyotes, which I can frequently hear howling first thing in the morning, and javelina (if you’re not familiar, look them up), I’ve been told they can be very aggressive. 

Now that I was all prepared for my run and had it laid out the night before I was ready to go!  I woke up early, 5:30am – my wife says this isn’t early as she was already at work – got my coffee down and some food and headed to the trail (I decided to ditch the bear bell.)  My hopes of some “pre-dawn” light quickly seemed absurd, it was dark, really dark!

Armed with my desire to run and newly acquired flashlight I set out on the trail.  My first thoughts revolved around how great my new flashlight was, I didn’t need any sunlight or street lights; I was out on the adventure of the week.  Having only run this trail once before I realized it might have been smarter to try my first trail run in the dark on more familiar territory, too late for that though. 

The first hiccup, if you can really call it that, was when I approached an underpass.  A very dark, scary, “I don’t know what’s in there,” type of underpass.  Let me tell you, I found a way up and over, but it didn’t stop me from feeling a bit freaked out, like there might be something lurking in there.  For a while after passing this first underpass, and the second – which I did have to go under, I kept checking over my shoulder, listening for odd sounds, anything to make sure no animals or people were following me.  Definitely no people, I was the only one out there!

After settling in, I realized, I really was the only one out here, and with my keys, wallet, water, and first aid kit all bouncing in my bag, there wasn’t any animal that wouldn’t hear me coming.  It was about this time that I realized the sky was beginning to lighten up, right over the very mountains I was climbing up and with the added light the birds were coming out.  If there’s one thing I love, it’s the birds chirping in the morning; it makes me happy and calm.  This, with the added light made me feel almost invincible.  I was out in nature, doing what I love, surrounded by such beauty.  It was as close to perfection as I can imagine.

Eventually my route looped around and took me back to the car, this time in the full light of morning.  I realized, with proper planning, commitment and determination you can conquer almost anything, and the reality is, it’s probably not as scary as you thought and might even be the best thing you’ve ever done.  So my advice to everyone, is get out there run your mountains, explore and soak it all up.

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