Friday, August 25, 2017


I know a lot of people like to get their running - especially long runs - done first thing in the morning. As a matter of fact, I know some people who get up absurdly early and run through the sunrise (I'm looking at you, #before5amrunclub)! They're badass ultrarunners who go fast and far and generally rip things up out there.

I am none of those things, and I take a completely different tack for my Saturday long runs.

I run through the sunset instead.

Which has its photogenic side, apart from any other benefits.

Part of the reason is necessity: we do 90% of our grocery shopping at the Cambridge Farmers' Market, which is only open Saturday mornings from 7am-1pm. The later you get there - particularly in summer, when many more people take advantage of the nice weather to patronize the market - the less chance you have of being able to purchase everything you came for. They've been known to run out of some of the choicest goods before 10am! That means I'd have to get up at 3am latest in order to get ready (which takes at least an hour straight from bed); go for a 3+ hour trek through the trails (which takes at least 4.5hrs with travel time to the trailhead and a few stops for photos along the way); then change, eat something, and get down to the market. 

Not. Happening. I get little enough sleep as it is.

So, instead we go to the market first thing when we get up. I usually ride my mountain bike down the trails for a bit of fasted cross-training, which is a delightful way to start a weekend.

Chasing down the green tunnel of the Grand Trunk Trail

After picking up all manner of delicious things to eat and a couple of excellent cups of coffee from Roy's Roast at the market, we head home to put everything away and I cook us up a hearty brunch. We take care of any errands or chores that need doing while we digest, then I change into kit and we head out to whatever trail is calling my name that day. Last weekend it was a return to Dundas Valley Conservation Area to run the Sulphur Springs course, with the addition of Canterbury Falls.

I shouldn't have to explain why.

I set off at 6:15pm, knowing I would be out for around 3 hours and that the sun would set an hour before I finished. I brought along my headlamp and gave'er, needing its illumination by the time I started my descent off the Headwaters loop. It was pitch black when I met up with Tanker - who had been hiking while I ran - partway up the Martin Road hill. We walked up together, had a picnic "lunch" (at 9:30pm!) in the car, then drove home to shower up and make dinner.

The next day I ran the Mill Run Trail from Hespeler, and started just 15mins before sunset.

Though some bits of it are always pretty dark.

I managed the first 6km with no headlamp, but had to turn it on when I came through the little deer path cut-across in Riverside Park and needed it the rest of the way back.

The view by headlamp - loving my Petzl Actik!

You may ask yourself why I wouldn't try to get out earlier - after all, I'm certainly not at my freshest when starting a long run at 6pm when I've been up and doing since 8am, and there is an increased risk of ending up in a bad situation (injured, lost or hypothermic) when running into the darkness. Apart from scheduling constraints - trying to get to businesses when they're open, or needing daylight for outdoor chores - I do have a big reason why I don't mind going into a long run a bit fatigued and knowing I'll lose the sun along the way.

That's exactly the same way a lot of my races will end, and it's excellent mental training for that eventuality.

Also: incredibly pretty.

My main goal race this year was the Sulphur Springs 100k, and I was well aware of the strong possibility (and eventual truth) that I'd finish after dark. My next race is the Haliburton Forest 50 miler, in which I'll be starting out before sunrise and almost assuredly finishing after sunset. I am already comfortable alone in the woods at night, but I had to get myself accustomed to moving with purpose (I won't say "fast") on the trails after dark. It takes a bit of practice to spot the difference between a bit of mud, rutted dirt, roots or rocks by headlamp when everything is approximately the same colour, but the psychological benefits of the hours I've spent in the woods at night after a long day outweigh even that bit of practical experience.

By the time the light fades on the trail, I definitely won't be fresh as a daisy - I'll have been on my feet all day, traipsing through the forest and trying not to get eaten by a bear. Many people will find that their spirits drop along with the sun, knowing they're doomed to pick their way along in the tiny pool of light offered by their headlamp. Hopefully I, on the other hand, will simply get on with it...since it's just like any other Saturday.

"Don't trip don't trip don't trip don't trip.."

Funny to think that as recently as last November I'd only done one nighttime trail run. It's amazing how something that was once such a point of trepidation can become like second nature, if only you're willing to put in the time.


  1. Do you have any magic to actually get to sleep after running at night? If a run finished past about 7pm, I find that my body just doesn't want to go to sleep. Definitely hydrating a lot helps. On weekdays I try to have my head hit the pillow by eleven, but I'll usually have an hour of trying to sleep if I've run.

    1. Well, I find chronic exhaustion helps...but I suspect you're looking for something a bit less destructive.
      Magnesium may be the ticket. A lot of people find it calms both mind and body, preventing those restless legs and muscle spasms that can happen after a long/hard run when you climb into bed. Other than that, all the usual stuff like chamomile tea, avoiding the blue-tinted light from screens, and a cool, dark room will help whether you've run or not.


Go on, have at me!