Trail Running in the Dark!

As my northern hemisphere home begins to tilt away from the sun and my Saturday long runs get…well, longer, it becomes necessary for me to train in the dark. Perhaps “necessary” is not technically correct. I have made the choice to run in the dark for two reasons:

  1. I wish to spend as much time with my family as possible, so I get up between 4 and 5am to be back home by 11am when the runs get really long
  2. My first 50 miler (North Face Endurance Challenge) started at 5am with sunrise coming around 7:30am

On the morning of the race, there was a full moon and about 50 people around me with headlights, so I never actually turned mine on.

But I trained for the darkness because I wanted to be ready. I wanted the darkness to feel familiar So in September of 2014, I ran my first training run with a headlamp. Trail running in the dark.

Frankly, I was a little scared.

Where I live, there are coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. And while I am fairly confident that, under most circumstances, none of those animals want to tangle with all 5 foot 8 and 135 pounds of me, I understand that as wild animals they are inherently unpredictable.

I have to this point compiled some evidence that coyotes aren’t interested in eating me, having seen many of them in the hours I have spent training in the dark. I can only assume that the bobcats and mountain lions don’t want a sweaty human for breakfast, as I have never seen either creature in my time on the trails.

Raccoons, deer, and rabbits tend to scatter when I come near. The deer like to stop periodically and stare back at me. Is it surprise? Fear? Curiousity?

Owls hoot at me. I pretend they are impressed to see me out so early.

Skunks tend to be…shall we say…cantankerous? They will often stand fast in the middle of the trail, tail raised high, daring me to move closer. That is a dare I will not take, but I have been known to enter into one-sided verbal negotiations that go a little like this:

I do not want to eat you, Mr. Skunk,
but I do need to get by you.
So if you could just move off the trail,
I would appreciate it.
Thank you!

There was a particularly amusing morning where the skunk refused to get off the trail, but was apparently game for a little run. I gave him a thirty foot head start and we continued together for about a quarter of a mile before he disappeared off the side of the trail.

This is all to say that running in the dark has been the single most amazing and exhilarating change to my training I have experienced so far. From the wild animals to the stunning starry morning skies to the full moon smiling down at me. Unbelievably wonderful.

For anyone who has never done it, I have three pieces of advice:

First: Go do it!
Second: Slow down a little, especially over technical terrain
Third: If you can manage it, wear a headlamp AND hold a second flashlight in your hand. This will really help illuminate uneven, rocky terrain and help you avoid tripping! I did this in the beginning and it was immensely helpful.

How about you? Are you afraid of the dark?

Run on, Sisters and Brothers!



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