I used to be scared of dark. I still am, sometimes. I used to hate running. I still do, sometimes. Does this imply I might have a reason not to go running in the middle of the night? Possibly. Does it imply I would listen to this reason? Absolutely not.
I realized that at mile 11 just as I was frolicking in the ocean waves. The moonlight illuminated their gentle crests as they washed over my feet. Somewhere behind me on the soft beach, my friends were having a quiet conversation – the only other sound besides the ocean crashing around my senses. It was a moment, one of the very rare, most perfect moments that stay with you for the rest of your life. And it was possible thanks to and included the two things I used to fear and despise: dark and running.
But let’s start at the beginning.
It was my friend KK’s birthday and even though it was in the middle of the week, there was no way I wasn’t making it. When I sat down in one of the old and dirty seats on BART, it was the first time since 6 a.m. that day when I finally slowed down. I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and if it weren’t for a book I picked up in Point Reyes the weekend before, I would have probably fallen asleep right then and there.
But The Lost Art of Finding Our Way kept me up and one hour later, I was knocking on my friend’s door, being offered pizza and muffins and sharing stories and laughs. Soon after my arrival, our last non-running friends left and there were only three of us left; two experienced ultramarathoners and me, an ultramarathoner-in-training, shall we say. And I was about to learn a lesson.
We were standing in the kitchen, having just cleaned the dishes off the table. I was about to say that I’d head home since it was getting a little late and I had to be up early the next morning, when my other friend, Ian, broke the silence.
“Wanna go for a run?” he asked.
“Yeah, we… could?” KK answered. Then they both turned to me.
“I… I guess? Yeah,” I said.
KK lent me some work-out clothes since I was wearing jeans. I didn’t even have the right shoes for trail – I was wearing my old worn-down trash-worthy shoes with soles so thin I could feel every single rock through them. There’s about 600 miles on them, and they had almost no traction to begin with, but they still have about 2 milimeters of sole left so I deemed them good enough.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned to expect when running with KK and Ian, it is not to expect to know how far we’ll go. But hey, it was late, some 10 o’clock at night. Surely, we weren’t going to go far, right?
We headed out onto the trails and scaled a few fences. Before I knew it, we were two miles into the run, talking about life and sharing our favourite moments of the past year. There’s something very calming and therapeutic about running with people you trust through the night. You share things that make you vulnerable, things that you wouldn’t share with anyone else at any other time. You share yourself as you are, and you’re accepted as such.
Four miles into the run, we reached the top of a hill. I could see the lights of the Bay from there, so close and yet so far. The hustle and bustle of the cities was within reach and still, we were separated from it, enclosed in the quiet of the hills, welcomed by the solitude of the night.
We stood on a bench on the top of the hill, staring off into the distance, counting the singing stars.
“Wanna keep going?” somebody asked.
“How much time do you have?” They looked at me.
“Well, gotta wake up the kids at seven. Until then,… I’m all yours.”
“Wanna run through the night?”
After a little deliberation, we kept going. Down the hills on the other side and to the ocean. Up the hills and through a grove of tall eucalyptus trees. The dark was thick there, the moonlight unable to reach the ground. I remembered my old friend fear, I remembered the days I wouldn’t be able to run through those woods at this magical time. I remembered my old friend pain, and I remembered the days when it would let me barely walk. And then I remembered gratefulness, and it flooded my body and my mind.
We got to the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. On one side, lights of a town that was most likely Pacifica shimmered through the night. On the other side, endless ocean stretched beyond the horizon.
Each of us got lost in our own thoughts. Time slowed down, then ran around us in circles. It was a precious, indescribably beautiful moment. The ocean crushing deep below us. The moonlight just bright enough so that we didn’t need our headlamps. The dark… oh, the dark, beautiful and soothing, the exact opposite of scary.
I lost track of both time and miles. My watch was showing nine miles, and at nine miles, I’d usually be tired and wishing for a run to be over. But I didn’t feel like that at all. I was happy, my legs still felt fresh and my mind wanted to keep going. Was it the night? Was it the chilly breeze? Or was it the company of friends?
We headed back down the hill. Loose gravel. It was too late when I realized I needed to slow down because, yeah, no traction whatsoever on my shoes. I splayed out on the trail, as wide as tall, gravel all the way up my shorts and embedded in my buttcheek. It took me a second to realize what happened; why was I suddenly staring up at the sky? Ian and KK heard me curse a little as I was picking gravel from my thigh and came back for me to help me recollect my composure. We laughed it off as I hobbled down the hill. Soon, we were running again.
Then we reached the ocean. I steered towards the beach. Mile 11 and I kicked off my shoes and started running through the waves – the waves of the ocean and waves of joy. I ran along the beach from one side to the other and than back. Somewhere behind me, my friends were having a quiet conversation – the only other sound besides the ocean crashing around my senses. It was a moment, one of the very rare, most perfect moments that stay with you for the rest of your life. And I realized it; night-time equals run-time. Connecting the two things that I feared and despised made me, for some inexplicable reason, beyond happy, beyond alive.
Soon, we headed back to KK’s house. I didn’t feel exhausted anymore; I felt the most alive. It was 3 a.m. when we finally reached the front door and after KK packed me a pecan cinnamon roll the size of a small house, I headed back home.
It was around 4.30 when my head finally hit the pillow. My alarm would go off in 90 minutes. But I couldn’t bring myself to regret the night, not when my alarm woke me up, not when I was eating the cinnamon roll for breakfast, not when I headed out on another run after I dropped off the kids (what on Earth…?), and not even when I was sitting at school, wearing sunglasses indoors not to scare people with my blood-shot dark-circled eyes (and also because the daylight literally hurt).
The lesson I learned? Oh, there were many. That I can go farther than I think. That I am more loved than I think. And that I can trust people and the dark more than I think.
Our little run turned out to be exactly 30 kilometers (18 miles). A race distance I had to train for only two months prior to this nighttime adventure. Where is this all going? I don’t know. But I’m excited to see.