When you have kids and you work, trying to fit outdoor exercise into daily life is hard. Especially so in Scotland in the winter, when it gets light after 8am and dark around 4pm. It’s easy in summer, with endless hours of daylight in which to run or ride. Before Jasmine came along 9 years ago finding time to train was rarely an issue; I didn’t have kids so could always fit in a run at some point. However, children bring a whole new dimension to not having time to yourself. Especially between the hours of 7am and 8pm your time is rarely, if ever, your own, and so running after the kids have gone to bed is an obvious solution. There was just one small (well actually quite big) problem. I WAS SCARED OF RUNNING ALONE IN THE DARK!! Not a rational fear of murderers or rapists lying in wait for me, or tripping and hurting myself. Much less rational than that. I put it down to too many horror movies as a teenager; Lost Boys was one of my favourite films. The scene where they rip the roof off the car and gobble up everyone inside… well you get the gist, vampires, ghosts and werewolves, following behind, in the dark, ready to grab me!
I have a brilliant headtorch, 1000lumens, like a car headlamp. I can see everything in front of me for hundreds of metres. But behind me… behind me is black, and that’s where the demons lurk…. I would happily run in the dark with other people, no issues there at all, even if I was at the back. But could I go up there on my own? No way. For years the demons kept me firmly indoors at night if no partner was available. Helpfully, Andy just laughed at me. He runs alone in the dark all the time, and doesn’t think twice about it.
A simple solution would have been to run around the village where there would be streetlights, but I really didn’t want to run around the streets; I hate running on the road. I wanted to be running off-road, on our local trails, or even hill-running. My go-to run is the Comrie circular walk, a 4-mile loop which goes from our back door, up one side of a small gorge into Glen Lednock and back down the other. It is a beautiful run or walk, rocky and rooty in parts, and it takes you through native oak woods on both sides. But my over active imagination was stopping me from running alone. I had to wait until someone else could run with me so that I had company. For a years I ran with my friend Rhian but then she moved away, and winter training opportunities became less and less.
Three years ago I decided to do Marcothon, a personal challenge where you run a minimum of 3 miles every day in December. But I was only going to do it if I could do a quality trail-run every day. I wasn’t going to do 3 miles around the streets; that’s not how I run and wasn’t how I wanted to complete the challenge. My plan was to run the Comrie circular walk daily as a minimum. I managed quite a few runs in the daylight that December, at weekends and during my lunch break. But it soon became clear that the only way I was going to complete Marcothon, was if I could get out there and run, on my own….IN THE DARK!
On the fateful night, when it could no longer be avoided without abandoning Marcothon (and for me abandoning a challenge is not an option), I hugged Andy and headed out of our back door, headtorch on, basically terrified. I absolutely expected to be sprinting back in the door 5minutes later, when I couldn’t handle it.
Now if you’re expecting a horror story at this point, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Of course no vampires grabbed me from behind and tried to suck my blood. Instead I had one of the most exhilarating, life affirming and life changing runs of my 25 year running career. I arrived home 35 minutes later with a whole new world of running opportunity in front of me. No longer would I be constrained by my fear of the unknown. I knew immediately from that point on that solo night time runs would become a staple of my winter training
Now I find the dark almost comforting. There are eyes that reflect the torchlight back at you. But they are just deer or other woodland animals. Instead of searching for signs of danger, my senses are alert in a different way. Listening to the crackle of leaves under my feet. Looking at lichen which seems to naturally reflect the torchlight. I must confess that I now absolutely love running in the dark.
One of the top ten runs I have ever had in my life was one November night. This time I wasn’t on my own, Rhian and Andy were with me and we were running one of our favourite 8 mile loops over the Comrie hills. We headed uphill through the woods and came out onto the hillside to a moonlit wonderland, it was frosty, the sky was clear and there was a full moon. We decided to turn our headtorches off to run by moonlight. It was incredible, we could see everything perfectly with the moon casting shadows over the glistening frosty ground. We must have run at least 3 miles with just the moon to guide us before having to turn our torches on when heading back into the woods and down to Comrie. We were all high as kites, endorphins in full flow. It was amazing to be out on a night like that feeling like we were experiencing a secret that everyone else indoors had no idea about.
So, I guess what I am trying to say, if you, like me, let your irrational over active imagination run away with you – DON’T! Get out there and enjoy the exhilarating experience of running in the dark, either on your own or with a friend, you will not regret it I promise.