Daylight savings time is an unfortunate reality that most runners have to contend with. The majority of us have jobs, families, classes, or other projects that structure our days, forcing us to make shifts in our running routines. My husband and I have two running schedules to juggle with our two kids, the farm, and other commitments we squeeze into a 24 hour period. One of us can run in the morning, but on weekdays, one of us will inevitably run at night. When we lost an hour of daylight last week I felt cheated. But that’s because I assumed it meant that boring road runs would replace my trail time.
I have been sick on and off for the past few months. Mono for two months followed by a storm of unexplained malaise and one virus after another. Since the middle of August, I have counted one 6-day period where I have not been sick – that’s the longest stretch. My immune system is so fragile that any little bug I encounter wreaks havoc on my body and spirit. My attitude toward my health swings between deliriously positive to paranoid fear of a mono relapse. Why do my ears ache? I think my throat is sore!, Oh no, my neck is stiff! The unpredictability of my health has prevented me from resuming a structured training schedule. I miss the rigor of running 50+ miles a week, however, what is more important to me, is getting at the primal essence of trail running. Being an animal running through nature is the most real aspect to me. When I am in a race this is heightened – I actually feel like I am being hunted down by the racers behind me. My training prepares me to survive.
I have a little experience running in the dark on trails. Once at an ultra that started before dawn, a few times I have finished trail runs as it was getting dark, and in Boulder CO with a local guide. But overall, running trails in the dark is an underdeveloped discipline of mine that needs work. If I plan on competing in 100 mile races, I will be running through the night.
A few nights ago I made the 10 minute drive to Blue Mound State Park in the pitch black of the moonless night. Even getting out of the car was spooky. On this unseasonably warm 65 degree November night, I left the car wearing a running top, shorts and my headlamp. Trails in the dark are lonely and frightening – at first. The misty rain made the trails slick as I moved through the velvety air. I know the trails at Blue Mounds by heart but this felt so much more exciting. The night is more potent. The night is when running feels the most dramatic and wild. Which is exactly what I had been longing for.
Before heading up the Weeping Rocks trail, the beam of my headlamp illuminated 8 green eyes staring at me head on. Panic stabbed me in the heart. Were they four coyotes? Vampires? Chupacabras? None of the above – they were a startled family of deer bedding down for the night in a cozy pile of oak leaves. Imagine the confusion they must have felt when a cyclopes came thundering through the woods towards them. On the Overload trail, I whipped my head around when I heard a crashing in the trees above me. I made eye contact with a great horned owl before he spread his wings and pumped them with deep whooshing sounds as he took flight.
There was other wildlife on the trail – some mice, a frog, and a bunny darted across my path. The forest was teeming with life and I was part of it. This was far more activity than I see during daytime runs. I felt afraid going into the dark woods but I soon realized that the only thing that could hurt me was my own imagination. Southern Wisconsin is a safe zone of man-hunting predators. There have been sightings of bears, cougars, and wolves but they are very infrequent, I’m willing to take my chances. There are always scary people to consider but I honestly feel safer from them on the trail than the road.
Racing fantasies swirl into my head a dozen times a day. I have two big races looming in the not too distant future – 100k’s in February and April. To be competitive in the events, I need to get better very soon. My weekly miles haven’t been greater than 30 in almost three months and they should be over 70 miles. Running as a wild animal through the forest in the dark is what I’ve got right now….the rest will fall into place with time.