So, I’ve gotten really into sunrise hikes lately. On low weeks, when you don’t have the time restraints of a team schedule, getting up really early is surprisingly refreshing (as opposed to sleeping in really late). And, while the sunrise brings out in you all kinds of feelings of renewal and inspiration and motivation, what I’m really interested in is what happens before that–what happens in the darkness.
Talk to anyone who’s ever exercised in the dark (skiing, biking, streaking, whatever) and they will all have the same sentiment from the experience: “I was going SO FAST.” Running in the dark, without any visual point of reference, induces in me the indubitable knowledge that I can outrun anything. That I am the fastest being on Earth. That it wouldn’t matter if it were light out, because the things I pass would be a blur anyway.
A couple days ago, as I trotted through the woods before dawn had cracked, I couldn’t help but feel a little deja vu. I had been there before, I had felt that shadowed freedom, but in another life, in some other dream.
And then it hit me. That speed, that invincibility, that personal illumination in a field of darkness, that’s what it feels like to have a good race. In great races, the world around the course falls into darkness. The timing clock, the splits, the spectators, coaches, other competitors, they all recede into the shadows, leaving little to discern other than what lies right in front of your skis.
When you run in the dark, you see nothing but what your head lamp illuminates. You prepare for what lies a meter in front of you, jumping over streams, skipping through roots, leaping over rocks as they come. You have no choice but to approach the immediate. In racing, the same holds true on the best days. You take on THIS hill, THIS corner, the others in the past or future are of no concern, they have faded into the dark, their existence balks irrelevant to the task at hand. You are present.
It’s October, and from what I can tell, racing season still looms on the far horizon, cloaked in distance and time. But my morning run sparked a brief, familiar encounter with what winter can bring: the opportunity to feel that invincibility, to go SO FAST.
While it’s tempting to spend my time thinking about those winter months, I’ll do my best to keep my focus on what my headlight illuminates now: fall training, technical changes and recovery. I’ll do that because I know that when you focus on where you are, rather than where you were or are going to be, it makes all the difference when that sun finally rises.
That way, at the end of the trail, when the sun peaks over the mountains and brings everything around you back into existence, you can turn around and look at a landscape of peaks and valleys coalesced into a brilliant masterpiece. At the end, you can take off your headlamp and recall each moment for all it was worth, before putting it back on again and heading down the next trail.
(the featured image of this post is a shot by Carl Zoch of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite, my iPhone and I haven’t quite hit that level of skill yet.)