I’ve gone nighttime running five times in the past week. The first was a marathon event up and down the strip in Las Vegas, complete with constant loud music and strobe lights. The second was a super-moon run at Torrey Pines State Park that included some moderate trails and a steep paved hill. The third was a solo trail run through the Penasquitos Canyon Reserve. The fourth was a 10-mile night loop through Encinitas, and the last was another trail outing just north of Penasquitos that included the Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
While each run was in a different area, with different terrain and scenery, each one had something in common: the darkness made me feel isolated.
I felt alone even when I ran through the Las Vegas strip, with music blaring and strobe lights flashing.
Running through Penasquitos on Thursday multiplied that feeling for me. The sun disappeared, and I switched on my headlamp for the final five miles. The only sounds were my feet crunching along the gravel trail and my own breathing. There is a certain fear that grips me in those circumstances. Alone, running along a dark trail with no lights around. I pictured mountain lions watching me from the depths. A few times I imagined coyotes yipping at me from 25 yards away (I may have actually heard a few).
But I found my rhythm in that fear and isolation.
The next night, running a loop through my local Encinitas community, I saw cars everywhere. I ran over a bridge with I-5 passing underneath me. Brake lights stretched into the night on my right, as headlights whirred past from my left. I was surrounded by so many people, but still I was alone with my own breathing. Again, I found my rhythm. I settled into a decent pace, and I was at home.
I’m sure many people hate nighttime running. Sometimes I don’t like it, but recently I’ve found comfort in the fear and uneasiness that comes along with logging miles in the dark. I still strive to get up early in the morning and run before work, but I learn much more about myself at night.
Nighttime running gives my brain a chance to recap my day, as well as plan ahead. Most of my evening runs start with the sun hanging low in the sky. The time change ensured I won’t have much daylight after work. So I run the sun down. There is something beautiful and inspiring about watching California sunsets with an elevated heart rate and endorphins flowing.
On Thursday, I ran between pockets of cold air hiding in the canyon, and each gave me a quick energy boost.
My recent races haven’t gone the way I planned at the start of the year, and I’m still a long way from being in PR shape. But I’m finding my footing finally.
At night right now I’m much more likely to go for a run than collapse in bed feeling helpless. I can regulate my breathing and lock into running paces. It’s like rediscovering lost muscle memory.
And nighttime running is playing a giant role in my progression.
I look forward to switching on my headlamp and heading into the dark. I’ve added a fun layer to my training by adding in so many trail runs also.
Maybe I will return to PR shape by early next year. It might take me until the end of 2017. But right now, I know I’m going the right direction.
So I’m going to keep logging miles in the dark.
I’ll continue searching for my rhythm.
I will embrace the isolation of distance training.
I’m looking forward to many more sunsets on the run.