Last Sunday I started my run late in the day. It was 4:15 when I finally got going. I had on shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, and about 10 minutes into the run I decided I had made a mistake by not wearing tights and slipping on a pair of gloves. I also realized that if I wanted to finish my run, I'd be finishing in the dark.
I don't exactly like running in the dark, and I'm definitely not used to it. As darkness fell I felt increasingly tentative about each step, worried I might trip, and I was alarmed by how bright the lights of the oncoming cars were. As I ran I kept thinking that running alone in the dark--and not realizing the dark was coming so soon--was metaphoric... for something. Or maybe not a metaphor; maybe an omen? But that's as far as my brain got; I was too focused on not getting hit by a car to allow my thinking to get even a little complex.
Once done with the run I contrived a couple quite apt, (if cliched) metaphors for my running as the night came on. But the only thing that really stayed with me of those metaphors had to do with the very basic LIFE metaphor. We try so hard, in life, to refrain from running in the dark. It makes us uneasy; our footing is not secure. And we worry that a car, with its bright lights and careless power, will plow us down as we try to get home.
My run on Sunday aside, I generally avoid running in the dark. For years I still did so; I was teaching, and to get my running in I had run in the early, dark hours before school began. To combat my extreme dislike of running alone in darkness I found a group of runners who also ran early and glommed onto them. (I'm still friends with these people. We eventually formed a running club, GNRC.) I still didn't relish getting started in the pitch black, but when chattering away with friends I'd soon forget that we could barely see where we were going.
Running in the dark, especially when done alone, requires courage and it requires faith. You need to believe that you will keep your footing even if you can't exactly see where you're landing; you need to believe that others, driving in their all-powerful cars, will notice and respect you. I don't trust my footing that much, and I definitely don't trust other humans that much.
Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately, I'm not quite sure) we go through stretches in life where we simply cannot avoid running in the dark. But what I wonder is if those periods of time aren't bad at all. Do those times actually do us good by pulling us out of our complacency? When we run in daylight we move without really paying attention: we know where we are going, we can see the road ahead, we know our pace because we can see the face of our Garmins. It's all good. But is it? Because just when you think you have this run thing figured out, you then have a run that starts out well, in the light, but half way through that run you realize you haven't prepared correctly--you are totally under-dressed for the conditions--and you are far from home, and the sun is fading from the sky. We are forced, at those times, to call on our courage and faith, and if it's been a very long time since we ran in the dark, that can be tough to do.
This seems to be turning into a post in which I advocate just getting out there and running in the dark. Develop your courage! Have faith! Put on those running shoes and boldly step into a pothole and get hit by a car while running in the dark!
The command is trite. I know.
I think what I am really after is not the idea that you must put yourself in the dark so you can be awakened, but rather the idea that without running in the dark, we fail to develop our courage and faith. I know faith conjures the religious, and that's not what I mean here. What I mean is that it requires faith to remove ourselves from comfort and declare what we are after. It takes courage to believe we can achieve something if we have no proof we can do so.
The other day a friend of mine posted his belief--online--that he would make it to Kona in 2013. My reaction upon seeing this was something along the lines of WOAH, Bold statement there! What makes you believe that you have what it takes to get there when you haven't yet even completed your first Ironman? But I realized, soon after having that thought, that my reaction had more to do with me, and my struggle with having faith, than it had to do with his declaration. He KNOWS that he must really believe--or it won't happen. To declare it to the world is a way of making it real. I know, and he must know, that he will be running in the dark to get there. But if he believes he will make it through, he just might. That is the way faith works.
I wish it was as simple as deciding on faith. I'm a cynic, and that cynicism extends to my belief in my own ability to achieve. So I'm thinking maybe what I need is to run in the dark--you know--sort of symbolically. Maybe I need to act like I have the faith that I won't step in a pothole or slip on leaves or get hit by a careless driver who could care less about my faith--or my lack of it.
Between now and my first race of the season, California 70.3 in late March, I am designing and following my own training plan. I don't feel like this is running in the dark. I certainly have done my fair share of designing effective training plans for others and for myself. Still, this move requires faith on my part. My plan is different than anything I have ever done before--and therefore it's both exciting and risky. I have had Kurt look at my plan, and he has offered up that it's not totally insane. I'm taking that as endorsement.
Here's to faith and courage.