My name is Kim and I like enclosed spaces. Now, I’m not saying I’m agoraphobic, but if you gave me the choice between sitting in a busy room surrounded by people, or sitting in a cupboard with a book and head-torch, there would be no contest. There’s something incredibly comforting about being in a small space: no distractions, no bustle, just peace and stillness. I’ve been pondering this trait I have in relation to running and how it links to so many trail runners being quite introverted. There seems to be a lot of people out there struggling with introversion, anxiety and even depression, but finding their solace in running on the trails. I suppose it’s an escape, a time when everything is simple and all you need to do is keep moving forward. For me, this is even more relevant when running in the dark: that sense of being enclosed by the night is something that takes some beating.
Sitting here with a niggly hip – that’s made me take the decision not to run for a couple of weeks – and a stinky head cold, I’m missing one of my favourite times of the year to run in the dark. It’s 15.41 and already, the sky is starting to turn a little and the room is getting gloomy. This, for me, is the best time of year to run: you can still wear shorts but have to start layering up a bit more; you don’t get super sweaty on an easy run and there are no bugs buzzing round your ears when you stop for a minute. When I lived in a small village with no street lights, I had no choice but to run in the dark. Every week, (before I understood how to train properly!) I would do a speed session in the forest, where it was just me, my breath, my feet and my tunnel of light. Some nights, the mist was down and I would only be able to see a couple of feet in front of me. Some nights, I would hear a rustle in the trees and turn to see a pair of unwavering red eyes.
“It’s just a deer. It’s just a deer. It might be a panther though. No, it’s just a deer.”
After the initial spookiness, I came to love it. If you do a quality session in the light, there’s so much else to focus on and draw your attention. At night, it is just you and your thoughts.
Early morning darkness is different again. I keep trying to meditate first thing in the morning as I know it will set me up in a positive way for the day, but I find it really hard to turn my head off. Running on a dark morning is meditation: we constantly search for that sense of flow and I think it’s much easier to achieve if you can see nothing but the beam of light ahead of you, and hear nothing but your feet crunching on leaves, your breath sustaining you.
You may feel nervous about trail running at night, but once you start, you might get hooked! There are very few feelings that can beat surging through trees on a single track, surrounded by the true silence the night brings, or running along the top of a moor, seeing the twinkling lights of towns beneath and knowing that you’re doing something so much more exciting than the people in their warm little boxes.
If you’ve never run on the trails in the dark before, here are some tips to get you started:
• Get a decent head-torch. It should be comfortable, bright and have a good battery life. Talk to people you trust about which one to get and try them out first if possible. A hand held torch is fine as a back-up, but having one on your head is much more stable and easy to use.
• Know your route. Everything looks different in the dark, so make sure you know where you are going and have done it in daylight first.
• Don’t look at your feet. Your perception is different in the dark too, especially if you don’t have a super bright head torch. Keep your head up and trust your feet to do the work.
• Be okay with going a bit slower at first. It is hard to run fast on trails at night, especially at first. Treat it as an experience and embrace the bubble of light.
• When you’re running though trees, it can feel like you’re zooming along, so be aware that the dark might distort your perception of speed and distance.
• Your torch will create shadows. These are not monsters or panthers, but they may make obstacles like roots look different. Be aware of your path choices and pick your feet up.
• Every so often, stop, turn your torch off and look around you. Look at the stars; the shapes the night creates; breathe it in and relish the quiet.
• Wear all black so you can pretend you’re a ninja. And a cape. Capes are ace at night especially around Halloween. But, you should probably wear a bit of hi-viz so you don’t frighten the dog walkers.
Finally, don’t let darkness put you off running trails on an evening. With a bit of forward planning and taking sensible precautions, it can make you feel even more confident on the trails in the day. Happy winter running!