You always hear the usual greetings, “ Welcome to the Dark World of Ultra Running”, when you finish an ultra race. The way I understand the greetings or statement is that an ultra runner needs to run and finish the race at all cost with his/her strength within the prescribed cut-off time which can last till night time or till the next day. It also means that an ultra runner should also come into reality that running in darkness is part and parcel of being an ultra runner.
As I progressed from 50K distance to 100+kilometer distance races and in my personal experiences in my multi-day adventure runs, I learned to appreciate running at nighttime or in darkness. It came to a point that I have to train and run more kilometers in my training during nighttime. Slowly, I am starting to appreciate the meaning of the said greetings.
In the ultra races that I organize and direct, most especially on the 100-miler distances, like the BDM 160 and TD100, I observed that runners have the fear of darkness, moreso, when they have almost completed one half of the course. This is where I received information of runners of declaring themselves as DNF in the race.
Despite the completeness of lighting equipment of the runners, the fear of running in the darkness comes into their minds. What could be the reason why runners have the tendency to quit the race when darkness comes? If you ask me, I really don’t know why!
Some runners are afraid of dogs on the streets and trails during nighttime and I could understand their predicament. But based from stories from ultra runners, running in darkness alone saps the strength and mental fortitude of an ultra runner. Could it be that this observaton is only applicable to Pinoy ultra runners? I personally don’t believe so. I firmly believe that Pinoy ultra runners are brave to run in darkness.
So, how do we deal with the fear of darkness in ultra running?
In my experience as past military commander, darkness is always a friend of the troops. Soldiers move silently under the cover of darkness in order to “surprise” the enemy and ultimately, defeating them. Some runners also adopt such stealth tactics in ultra races when they put-off their headlights to “surprise” their targets as they get nearer and pass them. Always think that darkness is your constant ally during the run. Don’t believe on ghosts or vampires roaming around you waiting to strike you. There are no such things or creatures! If somebody appears in darkness and it is moving, most likely, it is a human being like you or an animal roaming around the place.
In this age of high technology, there are lighting equipment, i.e. headlamps and hand-held flashlights which have high and powerful illumination with lesser use of power/batteries. There are also batteries which can give extended period of constancy for the illumination needed for these headlamps. Get these “high-tech” headlamps and flashlights and use them in your night runs. It is advisable to use them during your training runs in order to find out for yourself if the advertised capabilities of these equipment are true or not. Never use “new” lighting equipment on race day. And bring extra batteries for your headlamps and flashlights. For better illumination on the course, use both your headlamp and hand-held flashlight. The headlamp is focused on the road/trail (where the feet are leading to) and the hand-held flashlight is directed on a wider-angle in front of you covering both sides of the road/trail.
Most of the time, fear of darkness is attributed or caused by human beings or animals you meet on the course of your run. In my experience, I usually wave my hand and start a conversation by greeting the individual with the usual “Good Evening” or saying, “We are in a middle of a “Fun Run” or “I am jogging to this place and I started from this place”. Always start the conversation and try to look them on their faces. But most of all, simply smile at them and show on your face that you are having fun and enjoying the run. As for stray dogs, simply walk and observe the movement of the dogs. Directing the light of your flashlight to the face of the barking dogs could also “stun” them temporarily.
Gaining 100% confidence running in darkness is through running the course on nighttime. If the course is not available or accessible, you can find a place that resembles the elevation or terrain of the course. Try running alone on this course using your headlamp and/or flashlight not once but as many as you can. Repetition of such workout during nighttime conditions the mind to be relaxed and focused.
Sometimes, having a “buddy” who trains with you could also give confidence and solve your problem of the fear of darkness. Get somebody who would be your pacer or somebody who have the same pace and strength as with you. But you must be always prepared for the “worst” scenario if your “buddy” declares himself as DNF. Get somebody as your “reserve” pacer or “buddy” or wait for another runner to pass you and stick with the said runner as you continue your run. Make that runner as your “point man” along the course.
If you are preparing for a 100K or 100-mile trail ultra marathon, running at nighttime should be your friend and ally.
Next topic…Fear Of Coldness…soon!