Running at Night

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Day #78: Running At Night

by Patrick Reed

We had just hiked the 3 ‘mountain’ passes with our girls that afternoon. I place ‘mountain’ in quotations because the passes were more like a series of grand hills. My wife and I and our two sweet girls had hiked across a newly cut trail from one favorite trail loop to another, leaving a car at each side, earlier in the afternoon two days ago. Upon an exhausting finish to an up-and-down 3 hour hike, we 4 collapsed at Costco — conveniently situated at the end of the hike — and slurped up well-deserved ice creams. However, the other car had to be recovered, and that job fell to yours truly. Only problem, chores to do until later in the evening. If I was going to pick up the car that evening, it could be the impetus to complete a fairly gnarly trail run in the dark of night.

I decided to take on the challenge – and after initial disapproval from my wife, I got the thumbs up with the caveat that I text her frequently throughout the run. Not a problem. I would ‘REXT’ her — I had done so before.

You may be thinking that this feat would be simple. A 10K run (it was a mile from our house to the trailhead) with a flashlight, a fair bit of moonlight streaming in. What’s the problem?

Let me tell you why my wife [and I] were skeptical: the run coursed through some very technical terrain and big up and down climbs. A single fall could spell … difficulty:) Add to this concern that although the only wildlife contender I had recently confronted was a 6 foot snake of unidentifiable make, mountain lions are known to scour these hills —- and, if memory serves me, cats are nocturnal… The trail is on the edge of our Central Coast town here in California. I was not too interested in crossing paths with any hill-bent hooligans lolly-gagging in the canyons late-night. And did I mention the shadows, the enclosed scrub canopy, the switchbacks and the dark of night?? To finish off my worries, the course terminated in a fairly remote parking lot which butts up against the charging 101. My (and my wife’s) worries were justified.

But I went for it anyway. Though I got jitters just thinking about doing the run, I wanted to. Maybe because it frightened me, it excited me. As with the late-night run I had completed a few weeks before, the question of whether I could set a challenging goal and then complete it filled me with courage. And I went for it.


First things first: I knew I needed a good light. And a back-up. Days before — or rather nights before — I had been out running in the dark with a solo headlamp and realized that if that one died on me, I would be stranded on a scree slope and would have to tip-toe my way blindly home. So, I threw an extra headlamp in my running backpack. I also had my trusty iPhone4s, a ‘tattered’ audio copy of “Born To Run,” and my heart-rate monitor. I was good to go.

Out into the night.

There was a fine moonlight gleaming as I paced down our quaint neighborhood street. A mile later and one ‘Rext’ sent I was onto the trails. Upon entering the lightless woods, the trail rose up sharply and darted back nearly 180 degrees. Our town’s lights and Costco’s familiar glare beamed. But they were soon behind me, and my first test of nerves loomed. Would I take the dark path up the dry river bed or stay on more open, but unknown trails? I chose – of course – the darker destiny. The path wound rockily along the side of the creek – just where I had coaxed my girls earlier in the day. But it was much more solemn now. And much emptier and darker. Up and over mountain-biker knolls, switchbacks and straightaways I trotted, keeping a good, but meticulous cadence. One fall could spell…. I ‘Rexted’ my wife again – and got a quick response back: “Thanks:) B safe and have fun”

Now I had made it through that first gauntlet and it was onto a steep fire road — climbing out in the open, bats careening around me, the city lights again before me — but more distant than before. Up, up and up I ran with short strides. My heart-rate monitor shot back audible stats to me as “Born to Run” continued its narration: “171 beats per minute, 12:07 per mile pace…” Yeah, it was steep…

And then it was into the real challenge of the evening: the newly cut trail. ‘Mountain Lion Lane,’ I shuddered. And now I turned on my instinctive racing tactics. I got my heart rate down near my target zone and started pulling 7 minute miles. I had to be careful, really careful, but I also had to get through this area efficiently. Now I held my headlamp in my hand – it wasn’t wearing comfortably on my head… To make matters a bit more concerning, Christopher McDougall’s well-noted book was reminding me of the despair of runners past. The blackened-tongued water-gropers in Death Valley, for example, and the fallen, expired unfortunates who dared and failed at running the Tarahumara’s Copper Canyons with impunity…

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Finally, I was able to ‘Rext’ my wife that I had reached the high meadows where we and the girls had eaten lunch a lifetime ago – somehow on that same day! Only 2 miles of familiar terrain to go. The problem now — long, arching turns of single-track trails, shadows still but slightly shifting as my handheld lamplight strayed. I kept hearing the tap tap tap of an approaching runner behind me. Or before me? But it must only be the beating of the pull-strings on my backpack.

I kept looking back. After 50 minutes of running, this paranoia — this fear faced, I was getting a bit giddy… The trails I had run many times before in a simple 5K loop course were now dimly-lit curving lines which I almost blindly followed, now only wishing to reach my destination. I have run many many miles, but few balanced by a fear like this. And finally, I dropped out onto that parking lot, car-key out and ready, though a bit clumsily, and I was in the car, the car recovered, and I ‘Rexted’ one final exulting message to my wife: “Made it honey. I love you.” And her quick reply — “Good job!” I sped off in my Sienna, effortlessly, exhausted, for home.

Why do I write these words – on Good Friday? Why tell the tale of yet another run?? This was not just another run — and there may be no such thing. I write about a darkness run through. Guided by a single light. A fear extinguished by a single light. And that light — the light of the world.

My encouragement to you on this holy day — as all days are holy: Confront your fears with a courage only discovered in your greater faith that you may just overwhelm your perceived limitations. Why did I run across my limits that night? Because I didn’t know if I could.

Run because you are able.

~Coach Reed

featured image credit: Trey Ratcliff