Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I run because the night..

I never really thought much about what time of day I ran when I first got turned on to the sport. Morning, noon, or night, the act never really felt markedly different. It was late into my first season of track when I would discover I was a different runner at night.

I was 'tripling' in our first night meet of the season. It was our conference championship and my coach was looking to pull down as many points as possible. I toed the line to lead off the 4X800 relay. I truly hated 800 meters.

800 meters was just pure, unadulterated pain every step of the way. I could handle dull, aching pain all day long, but sharp, intense pain induced by a distance like 800 meters was never my forte. The night was slowing creeping in as the gun fired.

My only goal for two laps was to simply put my team in striking distance of a victory. I wasn't paying any attention to time as I flew through the first lap and found myself in the hunt. 600 meters in and I hadn't lost any ground. Myself and the guy who shadowed my every move surged towards the hand off not giving an inch.

We finished in a veritable dead heat as we handed off to the second leg. I managed a 6 second personal best for 800 meters. I was more than pleased with my personal best, but didn't think much of it as I had the mile looming in front of me for my next event.

Once again, the mile was not a distance I embraced, but the pain was at least marginally less pronounced than what one typically encountered in the 800 meters. The moon was high in the sky as I approached the start.

There was no formal strategy in my mind as we took off. I merely wanted to hang around near the front of the pack and hopefully pick off a few guys who went out too fast in the first lap.

The bell lap arrived and I made my only move of the race and went after third position in an attempt to score some points for the team. I managed to pull down third and break five minutes for the first time. Two races and I had managed two personal bests.

The stars appeared to be aligning both literally and figuratively. Rather than feeling fatigued, I was enervated as I geared up for my final event of the evening, two miles.

Of all the distances I tried that season two miles was the one I felt most comfortable with and tonight seemed to be my night. For the first time in my brief running career, I found myself thinking I could win this race.

I once more positioned myself in the lead pack as the race started and simply hung out for a mile waiting to make a move when the moment presented itself. I would wait another couple laps before the moment arrived. I surged to the front of the pack with just under 200 meters to go.

One of my teammates gave chase and we battled to the finish line neither of us giving an inch. While the previous two races bolstered my confidence, they had saturated my legs with lactic acid and I simply couldn't find an extra gear. I took a close second, but the night had been a victory.

Night became my friend. I didn't know what it was about running at night that turned me on and made me fearless, but I embraced it....and ran with it. With the end of the track season came a hot and humid summer which made running at night the only real viable option as I had no interest in getting up early to circumnavigate the sun. I savored every night mile I logged that summer.

For me, the night has always held an air of magic. The darker the night, the better. Vague fear of the unknown creeps into the margins of your consciousness when you're out on the road at night.

These vague fears undoubtedly trigger a surge of adrenaline which makes running faster easier. Perhaps the inability to clearly see where you're going makes running easier and less daunting as well.

Years later, I stumbled onto a study that indicated the fastest race performances tended to be correlated with races taking place later in the day. Your body temperature tends to be higher later in the day and athletes tend to perform better when their temperature is higher (within reason). Another study suggested your lungs work best at this time as well.

Whatever the reasons, the night has always been a welcome companion for my running. I run because the night.

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