Beauty in Darkness

Author's note: this week's Herald column is an excerpt from a longer article on Donald's website, which you can read in its entirety here.

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Many runners have a sense of foreboding about venturing into darkness - the vast unseen, unknown, and potentially dangerous realm that awaits us in the early mornings or late evenings. And at this time of year when darkness consumes larger portions of our waking hours, fear of the dark is enough to keep some runners stuck in bed, or retreating to the drudgery of an indoor treadmill.

Ultrarunners, on the other hand, grow to embrace the dark. Many 50-mile or 100K races require some dark miles at the beginning or end of the course, and 100-mile events necessitate running through the entire night. We build up to the challenge of braving the night gradually, typically rising early or staying up late to get our long training mileage in, developing a comfort level with the darkness in small doses from one workout to another - from one rewarding moment stacking upon others - until the inconveniences of the task are nearly forgotten.

To novices, the darkness causes an uneasiness like feeling adrift on uncharted waters – but once you’ve navigated it a number of times, that sensation becomes familiar, and you develop a greater appreciation for the experience of traveling through. Eventually, for many of us, those dark hours are actually some the most memorable and rewarding portions of our running adventures.

Donald was reminded of this recently, as he has a standing date to go jogging with his 9-year-old daughter one night per week after he gets home from work. In December and January, that means running in the dark for part or all of their time together – a prospect that was initially met with some reluctance by his daughter, but one that she’s gradually embraced a little more with each passing week.

Her acceptance started during the Christmas season, running through neighborhood streets lined with holiday lights. It continued as the stars became more prominent in January, and they talked about the constellations and all the stories across the sky. Finally, it was cemented while running on an abandoned airfield, where the ambient lights disappear, and the darkness becomes expansive. With nothing but quiet solitude and a pair of headlamps, his daughter initiated the following conversation one night:

Daughter: This is kind of neat, with everything quiet while we’re staying in this little dome of light.

Donald: I know. This is actually one of my favorite things about doing long ultra races – you spend a lot of time running in the dark like this, just enjoying the darkness and silence.

Daughter: It’s peaceful.

Donald: Yup. And a lot of other things. I really love it.

They’ve developed a familiarity with the night, finding beauty in the darkness, enjoying their time together and the experience they’re sharing. For Donald, it’s been an unexpected pleasure of these dark, cold months.

Don’t let fear of the darkness prevent you from finding similar pleasures. Grab a headlamp, recruit a training partner (this is a huge motivating factor), and venture outside to chart your own journey through the great unknown.


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