Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Loving the Night Life

I love the night.  Some people crave the sunshine but it has always been the moon that has offered me peace and tranquility.  I tend to blame it on the fact that the moon rules my astrological sign but whatever the reason, I'm mesmerized by the moon and always have been as long as I can remember.
I spent a good part of my youth growing up in the middle of the desert at a place called Hinds Pumping Plant.  Go ahead and look it up and tell me if you've ever seen a more remote and foresaken place.  Some of my fondest memories were of us kids spending the night on the lawn in our sleeping bags, staring up at the crystalline sky, watching the stars and searching for UFOs until we fell asleep.  Other times we'd grab our flashlights and go hiking out into the desert, a few times even camping out.  I even remember the little red fox that would hang out near street lamp and jump around trying to catch the bugs.  Before nightfall we would set out a bowl of cat food for him and squeal with delight when he would partake of it.  He was our little pet.  Mind you I was still in elementary school at this time.  Was I afraid?  Perhaps a little, but the moon was always there to light the way and ensure I remained safe.
Now that I am what some would consider an adult, I'm not as fearless as I once was.  Perhaps its because I don't wander out into the dark as much as I used to.  Perhaps it's because the world is just not as safe as it once was.  I still enjoy exploring the night but find that I am a bit jumpy more than I wish I was.  A rustling of a nearby bush or reflective eyes staring back at me is enough to get me looking back over my shoulder just in case something or someone is trying to sneak up on me.  Maybe someday I'll find that fearless little boy inside of me that didn't mind wandering all alone at night but for now I welcome the company of others on my night runs, finding comfort in their camaraderie.
But what is it about running at night that is so appealing?  For me, it is a variety of reasons.  It's a time to relax after a stressful day at work.  It's taking ownership of the night, knowing that everyone else is sitting at home and you have the trails all to yourself.  It's viewing things from a different perspective, a feeling that the trails are alien and new even though you may have run them numerous times before in the daylight.  It's about becoming primal once again, being at one with nature, hearing your footsteps, your heartbeat, your breath, with no input from  the sleeping civilization nearby.  It's about the fear of the unknown, about what may be lurking behind the next bush or just around that next bend.
With my race schedule ramping up and the race distances getting longer, I will have to incorporate more and more late evening and night runs into my training just to rack up the training miles.  Just make sure Vanessa and Ginger are there by my side.

Here are some tips I recommend for night running:
1.  Know the route - Its easy to get confused and disoriented when running at night.  Some things may seem a bit familiar at first and then get completely alien a few minutes later.  Try running your route during the daytime paying attention to markers that you can identify when it's dark.  Another option is to run the route with someone who is familiar with the route.
2.  Be visible - Always try be be seen, especially if running where there is vehicular traffic.  For trail runners, don't forget about the mountain bikers.  They enjoy the trails just as much as you do.  Almost all running gear these days include reflective patches on them.  Ensure your's does and if not, consider running in a reflective vest.  Try not to wear light colored clothing if possible.
3.  Bring a light -  Whether you prefer a headlamp, a chest lamp, or a handheld flashlight, its best to have something along to light your way.  For myself, I prefer a headlamp so that the beam follows wherever I look.  Some people do not enjoy running with these as the shadows they create can take some getting used to.  For this reason, some prefer their light source to be more at waist level.
4.  Lift the feet - The shadows caused by flashlights and headlamps can throw off your depth perception.  For this reason, you will see a lot of people tripping and stumbling while running at night.  As a barefoot runner, I am used to lifting my feet so this was actually fairly natural for me.
5.  Leave the music at home - You want to stay alert during your night runs and the headphones will only serve to distract you.  Your sense of sight is already impacted so you will want to use your sense of hearing as much as possible.