I've had a big obstacle to overcome this fall. Running trails in the darkness of the early mornings. I've spent the last two winters training for road marathons, so it had never been an issue for me.
When September rolled around, I attempted to run the Highlands Ranch trails in the dark. I immediately faced two problems. One, neither of my headlamps lit the trail up enough, so my pace suffered tremendously. I couldn't make out the ruts and undulations of the trails and had several "hyper-extending" experiences. Very frustrating. Second, those little bunnies rustling in the leaves just off the trail suddenly sounded like huge beasts...that were ready to attack.
In the backcountry of HR, we have deer, elk, coyote, fox, porcupine, and a whole bunch of smaller critters. None of them are anything to fear, but when it's dark, my mind likes to play tricks by getting me to abandon rational thinking. Rational thinking tells me these animals want nothing to do with a runner huffing and puffing on the trail. They see and hear me long before I see or hear them...and they run away. Irrational thinking finds me believing that they see me coming, get hungry, and will charge or coordinate an ambush. It's never happened.
This morning I had 5 deer get spooked and scamper 50 feet off the trail. Then I had an encounter that made me jump higher than anything before. A mouse...yes, a ferocious mouse scurried right where I was about to step and caused me to perform a flailing maneuver in order to avoid squishing it. I've also had several porcupine encounters, but only one was close as I came barreling around a corner. They sort of mosey along, and with a coat of quills, I'd probably not be in a rush to get anywhere either.
So how have a rectified my issues? Two things. I bought a Coleman Max 115 lumen LED handheld at Walmart ($24). It's amazing. I must look like a locomotive coming down the trail. I love holding it too. When at chest level, I see every shadow on the trail. When going fast downhill, I drop it to waist level and I can see every rut, rock & root. I'm now right back to the same paces I run in daylight. For kicks I raised it to "headlamp level" to see if a 115 lumen headlamp would do the trick. The angle was not nearly as effective for making out everything on the trail. The light takes three AAA batteries that only last 6 hours, but I bought some rechargeables, so I'm good there.
Regarding me being fearful of the creatures lurking in the dark, it has just taken time and practice. I've done it enough in the last two months that I feel comfortable with the whole thing now. One solution that has helped is to bring along my iPod Shuffle and listen to music. I know that most people would prefer to hear the rustling in the bushes, but I don't. The music blocks that out and I can run in peace...versus getting frequent, quick, and unnecessary releases of adrenaline. I've decided to only care about what is on the 20-25 feet of trail directly in front of me. The flashlight takes care of that, so I know what's coming.
With my running plans this winter, I needed to come to grips with running trails in the dark. If I couldn't, I figured my plans would need to change. I'm glad it's working out so far and my confidence is building. I'm sure the day after I post this some elk is going to plow me down, but until then...I'll be out there.