Do you have special running moments captured in memory, unique and perfectly preserved, down to every last sensation?
It was years ago, a cold winter night. We were running on the Austin High track, an unassuming oval without lights, on a chill evening punctuated by a biting wind. The workout was all about speed.
While I don’t recall the distance or amount of repeats, what I still feel is my heart’s glorious pounding as I pushed myself ever faster, the synchronized swing of arms and legs punching the heavy air. My heightened senses compensated for all I couldn’t see, and I listened closely, tingling to catch the sound of labored breathing signifying someone straining ahead, that another runner was bearing down hard on my heels. In particular, my ear was attuned to footfalls belonging to my good friend Floyd; my fervent goal was to get as far as possible around the track before he lapped me.
The darkness made the workout a profoundly intimate experience — each of us in our lonely orbit, speechlessly sharing the oval of the track while striving together. No one else was out at the school; the surrounding parking lot empty, nearby trail deserted. We moved, disembodied, through the night.
Afterward, our group collapsed on the track, spent, breathing hard. Steam, visible in the moonlight, rose off of heads and backs. There was quiet talk and laughter, and it seemed to me we shared the pleasure and satisfaction born of a hard effort.
That workout is a snapshot of the magic I find in running with friends. I treasure its memory and wonder — does anyone else who shared the track with me recall this incident with anywhere near my same profound fondness? As it turns out, that nighttime workout shaped me as a runner.
It’s part and parcel of why I love to run in the dark.
My Tuesdays are now bookended by runs in the dark. I’ve picked up a morning track workout, trying to regain my road legs in anticipation of April’s 2016 Paris Marathon (it may be my 30th marathon…I’ll have to check). I’m joining a regular workout that several friends have held for some time now, so it’s important I rein in my competitive nature and not strain myself trying to keep up.
Steve Sisson once advised me to spend a good six weeks easing back into track workouts after a sustained absence. I’d call two years a “sustained absence,” so I’m limiting myself to straights and curves*, taking my time, gradually increasing the number of laps, finding the feel of the track again, before I give myself a new year’s present of more intense workouts.
The evening Trailhead Running group is winding down for 2015, but there are a few more evening runs before the winter hiatus begins. I’ve missed the last two due to schedule conflicts, but I’ll be there next week. As an assistant coach, I help make sure all the group gets where its going (and then gets back again). Often, I’m sweeper. I love that back position; there’s none of the pressure of leading and all the solitude that comes with everyone ahead and no one in back.
On those dark trail runs, the night closes behind the line of runners, and I feel the quiet creeping toward the disappearing shine of my headlamp. The sound of my breath, the pounding of my heart, becomes the entire world.
I love running in the dark.
*“Straights and Curves”: run the straight-aways hard and dial it back on the curved ends of the track. After 1600m warm-up, I started with four laps followed by 1600m cool-down. Each week, I’ll add another lap.