One aspect of running long-distance ultramarathons that has always fascinated me is running at night. It seems to be a somewhat overlooked skill in the context of racing but one which clearly has an impact on performance and success. Certainly, the equipment issue is significant as there are a wide range of opinions about headlamps, flashlights, and more. But it also seems to me that there are real skill needs that factor into night running that should be part of any runner’s preparation for a night ultra.
This is particularly relevant to me this month as I am preparing for the Grindstone 100 Mile in early October. While it will be my 31st 100-mile race, it will be the first race I have ever started at 6 p.m. While I know atypical starting times have always been a part of the ultra scene, I have, for whatever reason, always run hundreds that start in the early-morning hours. As such, I do not have as much experience running through the night as many others do. As part of my preparation over the past few weeks, I have run several night runs in an attempt to test my gear and acclimate myself to this new world. The four lessons I have learned in this process may be informative to others:
- It is probably obvious to everyone but there is clearly no substitute for a highly functioning, comfortable, reliable light source. Whether you are a headlamp person, a handheld person, or both, it seems to me that the first step in becoming a successful night runner is your lamp.
- Get used to running while sleepy. While there is certainly an adrenaline rush that comes from starting any 100-mile race, it seems to me that inevitably, in the wee hours of the morning, fatigue will set in. No matter how much I try to adjust my sleep patterns to anticipate the fatigue, I think the most successful night runners just figure out how to keep moving when the sleepiness comes. And, then hopefully enjoy the ‘bump’ that comes with the sunrise.
- Embrace the simplicity of it. One thing I have realized on my night runs is that the world around me seems to shrink. I am alone with my thoughts and the beam of my headlamp on these night runs. There are no external distractions to get in the way and therefore I can get into a steady zone of just running that can be at once cathartic and meditative. It may sound odd to some but running in the dark just seems a bit more clear than running during the day.
- Take a leap of faith. One of the most fascinating realizations that running at night has opened up for me is the faith that it takes to gain confidence and comfort on the trail. While it can be, on the one hand, disconcerting to not know what is around the next bend, it can also be quite liberating to just leap into the darkness. In fact, the more I run at night, the more I seek to run freely during the day as well.
I am sure I will learn additional lessons on my last night training run this weekend and certainly when I toe the Grindstone line at Camp Shenandoah in October. As I have often said before, even after 20 years of running, there is still much to learn on that next run.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
From Knee Deep Brewing Company in Auburn, California comes Midnight Hoppyness, a great American Black Ale that packs a punch at over 9% ABV. It is less bitter than other black ales and is a true celebratory ale that belies its name.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Night running, how often do you do it? What do you love about it? And what are the challenges for you?
- What lessons have you learned about night running over the years that have made doing it easier for you?