It’s dark, very dark. You can’t see a thing beyond the glow of your own headlamp. The trees creak as the wind pushes them back and forth. A sliver of the moon provides little light. You can see other runner’s headlamps on the trail in front and behind you, but no one is within a half mile of you, maybe even a mile. Aspens and scrub oak have creeped in to the edges of the trail. You round a corner and the trail narrows to single track. There’s a rustle in the surrounding bushes. You stop. You listen. You look around. But all is quiet again. You keep running down the trail.
Sometimes, it can be a little unnerving running in the night out in the middle of nowhere when there is no one around to help you if something does happen. You can be in the same situation as above in the light and you’d probably never even think twice about the rustle in the forest. Okay maybe a few of you would. The darkness makes us more vulnerable. We don’t like to be vulnerable.
If you’re an ultrarunner, you have to get over your fear of running in the dark. You can’t stop at every sound in the bushes. You can’t walk because it’s more difficult to see what’s down the trail. Be cautious, but check your fear at the starting line. It certainly won’t help you get to the finish any faster and it will slow you down.
As an ultrarunner you are always balancing the risks such as when you descend a steep rock slope, climb along a narrow ridge, or cross a fast flowing river. Running alone and running in the dark are two more points of balance.
Getting comfortable out on the trail alone during the day is the first step to combating this nighttime fear. Many people run in groups or at least with one other person. There are good reasons for running with another person. You may fall and get hurt. You are less likely to be attacked by an animal (or a person, which is more likely).
Maybe some of you have a pact with another runner or two that you won’t leave one another, even during a race. If you don’t have such a pact, you’re going to end up alone out on the trail at some point during a race. Most races allow you to have a pacer after fifty or so miles. This usually corresponds to the nighttime hours, but not always. It depends upon your pace.
Headlamps are a double-edged sword. You definitely need one to see what is in front of you on the trail. You don’t want to be tripping over rocks and roots and you don’t want to step into a puddle of water or mud if you can help it. The problem with headlamps is it narrows your field of vision too. It makes you night blind and can cause tunnel vision.
Running with a flashlight or with your headlamp lower on your body, such as around your waist, helps with both of these issues but it doesn’t stop it from happening. Even though you can’t see as far ahead, keep you eyes moving back and forth. It helps prevent the tunnel vision.
Once you’re comfortable running alone on the trail during the day, get comfortable at night. Run early in the morning and later in the evening. If you can, plan an overnight run because 12 am to 3 am feels different than 4 am to 6 am.