The Night Runners and the Moon
Shorter days and longer nights – this is the time of year that means that some people ease off on their running and excuses abound about the dark, the cold and the weather. I notice even some of the real fitness bunnies on the internet are talking about “moving it inside” to the Dreadmill. But in avoiding nightime running, are many people missing out on something magical? Specialised running sites like The Running Bug do advocate continuing to run through the winter nights. Indeed they’ve suggested many ways to stay safe at night including sticking to well lit up areas. In some places, especially the cities, they may have a point especially (if regrettably) for single women. Others, like We Are Runners are less afraid to advocate the rural or remote night run, emphasising the use of proper equipment, especially a decent headtorch. But this is not a post about Lumens.
In truth the Tentsmuir Runners “Nightshift” have been embracing the darkness for years. We are blessed by living close to a forest that includes an 8 mile stretch of beach, which allows for a very decent and varied 15 mile circuit without doubling back over any part of it (See the Garmin stats and map here). Quite a few of us have knocked in longer runs than that over the years, in terrain which includes landrover tracks, sand dune routes, dirt footpaths, deer trail and that wonderful soft calf-busting sand as you round Tentsmuir Point. A favourite.
However, around the end of September each year, we pick an evening and from then on and throughout the winter we let it be known across the local running groups that at least a couple of us will be heading into the forest from the same starting points each time. Over the years we have been joined by dozens of newbies to night running, many of whom are familiar faces on the weekly run to this day. Some people use the opportunity for training for particular races such as Aberdeenshire’s glorious The Illuminator 15 mile night time trail race. Others for the monthly jog around the forest we mark out for the local Run4It shop which, by nature of the seasons, has also moved its monthly event into the night and still attracts some 70 runners each time for the 5 & 10k routes we mark out for them.
But for most of the regular Tentsmuir Runners, the Tuesday group run is only one of several times we will be in the forest each week. Sometimes we are alone, sometimes we have company. Often the run descends into a festive celebration of nature and the seasons – “Is that not what it’s all about?” I once asked.
We don’t deafen or distract ourselves with pulsating rhythms from the latest in running headset “Zombie Kits”. Nor do we always distract ourselves by light and very often we simply switch the head torches off and enjoy the tranquillity of running along the shore guided only by the ambient light. It can be breath-taking and humbling in the same moment.
I’ve never seen “Attack ships on fire off the shores of Orion” – but I have seen Orion. Indeed, with my friends I’ve witnessed The Northern Lights, Meteor Showers, Comets; We have heard seals barking in the darkness offshore as geese thump a different beat in the air overhead.
Some don’t like it when we move to the middle of the forest and again stop, switch off the lights and simply gaze up at the stars (one timers we call this sort, for they seldom come back – tree huggers some have called us in return). But the forest at night is not to be feared, it’s to be embraced. It’s not that “We’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” – it’s simply that we take the opportunity to go there; to stop, to listen and yes even in the dark, to see. See things that are there all the time, but that most people will never take the time to make space for in their lives. Although by virtue of being runners we are on the move in a physical sense, on the Tentsmuir Nightshift some of us feel we nevertheless Cultivate Stillness in our own particular way.