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Embrace The Dark Side

September 8, 2011

“As long as we have some definite idea about or some hope in the future, we cannot really be serious with the moment that exists right now.”

– Shunryu Suzuki

Running several times a week can get old quickly.  So how do you make sure your runs don’t go past their sell-by date?  I solved this problem a few nights ago by going for a trail run at night.

I’ve run at night quite often over the years, although never in Australia.    Donning your head torch and heading out into the darkness, especially on trails, has a unique quality that is difficult to describe.  The closest comparison I have found is the feeling when as a child when you play under the duvet at night with a torch, enveloped in a cave of soft darkness, every fold of fabric becoming a niche to explore.   Running on trails at night even feels different and is a good way of practising balance – with fewer visual cues, you rely more on the feel of the trail underfoot; lift your feet and knees higher just in case you trip; and I tend to run with my body centered more above my legs than during the day when I stride out carelessly.

From the trailhead I started at a slow jog, my head torch lighting a pale circle on the trail ahead.  After half a mile I passed a couple heading home in the liquid blackness with no lights, puffing and looking nervous and glad to be returning to civilization.   I couldn’t help feeling smug.  But when the trail narrowed to body-width and snaked up the hill’s edge with a vertical drop on one side, I realized why I was really there.  I realized immediately that everything looked different.  Flowers lit by the torch appeared to emanate a glow of their own; pale and ghostly on a magician’s black velvet backdrop.  Greenery appeared richer and the daylight world was turned on its head.  The sleepy hills, otherwise ignored, were just waiting to show off their secrets, like the princess in the story who, only at night, reverts to her true form.

The air was warm and the ground was strewn with iridescent gems, which turned out to be a reflective spot on the back of a particular type of spider.  (The following day, my co-workers looked at me like I’d lost the plot when I ordered them to name the reflective spiders for me!)  Living creatures were far easier to spot than in daylight, as their eyes reflected the head torch beam.  Kangaroos grazed at various points beside the trail, and a pair of headlamps swung like a pendulum, and then became a fox trotting sidelong to get a glimpse of this strange intruder.   At the highest point the city was laid out in speckled orange splendor, a milky way of streetlights.  After a spell on a broader track along a ridge, the route descended into a forest, where I saw a koala clinging to a tree.   Running back along the winding forest track, I ducked under a fallen tree and passed several recent rockslides.  Looking up, the sky was full of stars with the Southern Cross peering over the gully rim.

After stopping to photograph some large white flowers by a stream, I arrived back at the car feeling like I’d experienced my own private nature show.  It’s easy to get into a running routine, focus on time and distance, and lose the joy of running as a means of exploration.  I wonder how many runners out there must have their personal favourite run, and I’d love to hear about it.

The Path To The Dark Side

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