Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Confidence-mas

I'm a bit of a weenie about some things.

Way back in the summer of 2010, I tried running a local easy, non-technical trail after dark. My headlamp was only cranking out about 15 lumens (a sick glowworm probably sneezes out more light), it was 8c and raining, and I could barely see. I had intended to run it out-and-back twice for 20k, but by the halfway mark on the trip out I was petrified. I stuck it out to the far end, and on the way back my knight on shining mountain bike appeared in the darkness - Tanker the Wonder Sherpa had come to save me, and helped light my way as I scuttled back to the safety of street lights to finish up the run. 

Go toward the light..

Since that ill-fated evening, I hadn't tried running trail after dark again until a few weeks ago. A friend had admonished me for my lack of nighttime trail runs and invited me to come run with her at some point, but after buying a new (and much brighter) headlamp, I decided to head out on my own one evening in early November. I even went back to the same trail, and had much more success - I even enjoyed it a bit. 

Even if Tanker did take a "last seen wearing.." photo before I set out.

Fast forward just shy of a month and I felt like a bit of a badass for running another easy, flat bit of rail trail after dark without a headlamp for the first 9km, just because the moon was bright enough to light my way until I got into some coniferous forest that blocked its light. The next day I raised the stakes again, running yet another bit of rail trail through town after dark while a flurry of snow fell. Not enough to accumulate on the ground, but enough to give that neat running-through-hyperspace feel by the light of my headlamp.

I had, however, turned down the opportunity to go for a Saturday night trail run with some friends because I thought they would probably be running more aggressive terrain than I was comfortable with yet. A week later, winter had blanketed the region, and on Sunday night I went and ran the original rail trail in 4" of fresh snow while even more fell around me. This time I didn't use my headlamp at all for the 10km out-and-back; the sky was so bright from the clouds reflecting the glow of the city that I didn't need it.

It was enchanting.
Seriously one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.

I still hadn't run anything technical in the dark, though (I don't count getting a bit lost in the Agreement Forest at dusk), and was somewhat dreading it. We got a big dump of fresh snow on Friday the 16th, and I knew it was supposed to freezing rain on Saturday afternoon and into the evening, so I wanted to make sure I got the 4hr ramble I had planned around Puslinch Tract done early in the day to avoid all that.

Because this seemed like enough of a challenge on its own.

Problem: we got home late from my company Christmas dinner quite late on Friday night, and were tardy rolling out of bed and down to the market. By the time we'd put our groceries away, had a bite to eat, and done all of the necessary prep work, I hit the trail in the first of the freezing rain showers with just an hour until sunset.


It was hard bloody work slogging through the fresh snow with the weight of the rain on top - while some fat bikes had been through some of the trails and packed them down nicely, it was knee-deep in other places. I got through about 1h45m before stopping at the car to refill my hydration pack with water (I didn't want to run out while somewhere inaccessible), then switched my headlamp on as I headed back out in the fading light. I managed almost another 2 hours in the silent darkness as the freezing rain continued to fall, occasionally catching my small beam of light and tricking me into thinking there was some other weirdo out there stumbling around in the snow.

Knees up!

It took me 3h40m of moving time to cover 27km, and by the end I was completely knackered. I had, however, finally run some technical trail in the dark - and survived! I'd also put in my longest training run prior to the Run4RKids 8-hour (just over 2 weeks away now) in some pretty tough conditions, leaving me with a welcome sense that I might just have made some fitness gains and recovered from the load of fall racing I did.

As just one more little Christmas present to myself, I did a bit of basic math that has me feeling slightly less terrified about not being able to use trekking poles for the Sulphur Springs 100k next spring:

  • Dirty Girls had 2 major climbs per lap. I did 9 laps - 18 climbs - and only used poles for the last one. Thus, I climbed 16 times without poles.
  • The Fat Ass Trail Run BadAss 6-hour had 2 major climbs per lap. I did 7 laps - 14 climbs - and only used poles for the last one. Thus, I climbed 12 times without poles.
  • Sulphur Springs has 2 major climbs per lap, and I only have to complete 5 laps equalling 10 climbs total.
Now admittedly I've never run more than 72km in a day and I'll have to climb Martin Road at both 79km and 99km, but at least I can take some comfort in the fact I've already done more unassisted hills in a day.

Before I sign off for a long weekend that promises to be filled with Christmas cheer (by which I mean I have 8 million things to get done before my Mum arrives on the afternoon of the 25th to spend a couple of days with us), I'd like to wish every one of you a season filled with love, laughter, joy and light.

From Tanker the Wonder Sherpa and some dork.

Even if it turns out that the darkness isn't so scary after all.

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