Embracing the dark, Part one: Running!

It’s 11 days until the winter solstice, and these ever-shortening days are feeling rather… short. I know it’s not really soo bad in Portland, but the 4:30 sunset (4:27 today, actually) and 7:40 sunrise is hard. Every year, despite being intellectually prepared for it (“sure, sure, it’ll get dark early, no big deal”), I still find that viscerally, I’m not prepared at all. By the time it’s 7pm, I’m basically fully ready for bed these days.

But! This year, I think more than others, I’ve been trying to embrace the darkness. (This year more than any other I don’t have to be outside in the dark really ever, so it truly is a matter of embracing it without the “have to” of biking to or from work or anything else going on.)

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(fun perk from a foggy nighttime walk to Mt Tabor; picture by James)

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Yes: Some of embracing the long nights does mean sleeping more. I fully believe in the benefits, when it’s dark for longer and my brain and body want to turn off for longer, in making like a bear and semi-hibernating.

But on the other hand, it’s still really hard to consistently sleep for more than nine or nine and a half hours. So I’ve been trying to remember that it’s still fun to be outside when it’s dark.

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(watching it get dark in the Three Sisters Wilderness for my birthday this summer–it was MUCH later for this sunset than it is for any sunset these days;)

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A friend and running buddy of mine has helped me with this a little. Though it is pretty darn easy (relatively speaking) for me to get up in the dark and run very early in the morning as the world wakes up, it is incredibly hard for me to muster to run in the dark in the evening. So having specific running plans with a friend who frequently can’t run until evening anyway has gotten me out of the house after dark to run. We bring our headlamps and our masks just in case, space ourselves at least 6 feet apart, and then run circles at Clinton Park where we can consistently stay far enough away from each other but not have to worry about traffic while doing so. (I will be very excited for the day when I can actually run on singletrack trails with other people again without worrying about germs.)

It’s always super great, and no matter how much I don’t want to leave the warmth and coziness of my house beforehand, I always come home invigorated and glad I went. A classic case of other people helping me do something that I always enjoy when I do it but have a really hard time motivating to do on my own.

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(Mt Tabor again, the same foggy night:)

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Speaking of running in the dark: This morning was the first time since the beginning of pandemic that I got up, put on my running stuff, smooched snuggly sleeping-James goodbye, and then promptly got undressed and got back in bed. I have run at least three times a week every week since the beginning of March, often getting up much before sunrise to do so, and today was the first time I got back in bed. (Full disclosure: usually it’s really hard for me to go back to sleep after I get up intending to run, so I know myself well enough to know that it’s not worth it; that I’ll just toss and turn feeling like I should be running and won’t be able to go back to sleep anyway.)

But this morning I got back in bed and fell back asleep and it was great. BUT, I am a crazy person and I have too much muscle energy, so I promised myself that this evening, after a later work thing, I would take my headlamp, solo this time, and go for a nighttime run at Mt Tabor. Which I did, even though it was hard for me to muster as I knew it would be, and I ran for over an hour, and there was hardly anyone out but there WERE two owls calling, and I loved it, as I knew I would.

So, moral of the story is that, like getting up early, like getting on my bike in the rain, like very many things that I do, I know that if I just get started I will enjoy it. I just don’t have as much practice with this whole go-out-when-it-feels-like-it’s-already-been-midnight-for-hours-even-though-it’s-only-5:30 thing as I do with the others, so sometimes I forget. But I’m working on it, and running is one good way.

Part 2 is biking in the dark:) Stay tuned:)

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