The Twilight Running Club

Not where I live, but looks something like civil twilight

If you are anything at all of a morning person, you’ve figured out that it is a whole lot darker in the morning these days. In less than two short weeks, and a return to Standard Time, we will gain a bit of light in the morning before settling into the wintery progression of dark mornings.

Meanwhile, I’ve been learning how to see in the dark! Or, to be precise, Nautical Twilight. I’ve learned that this is when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. “The horizon is well defined and the outline of objects might be visible without artificial light,” according to the internets. “Ordinary outdoor activities are not possible at this time without extra illumination.”

It is also getting chillier and dark chilly mornings are most delicious for hunkering in bed… but also a pretty magical time to be doing “ordinary outdoor activities,” like trail running. There are a few of us in the twilight running club, we nod and mumble “g’morning” when we pass each other on the trail, or sometimes I see their lights bobbing around on the trail above or below me. I am careful to look away when approaching those wearing headlamps after one blinded me and I saw a giant spot for the next half mile.

There is definitely a greater chance of tripping, the rocks are just shadows that have to be carefully remembered and navigated. Keep the feet up and a sharp focus on what is ahead. This focus creates the most thrilling sense of flow: my feet hitting the dirt, the sound of my breathing, the air as it moves over my ears, and that is all. I challenge myself to run faster, to remember the spot where the trail is narrow, exposed and a little off-camber, where the trail is least wet from the seeping spring, the rut in the steep, short hill that is filled with loose gravel.

It doesn’t feel scary, it feels solitary. I am not being watched or followed, except maybe by a mountain lion or a deer or a coyote, and I don’t think they want anything to do with me.

When I crest a certain hill, the outline of the city and the mountains beyond become visible, I can see specks of light where fellow runners are heading down the ridge from Mt. Wire. This morning I noticed that the grasses on the hillside have dried into what is probably a creamy white color, acting as a giant reflector of the moonlight. The hill was glowing as I traversed across.

As the sky changed to something more like Civil Twilight (the time when the sun is no more than 6 degrees below the horizon), when “one should be able to carry on ordinary outdoor activities,” a coyote ran silently across the trail in front of me. I wouldn’t have seen him in the dark and was happy to know that he was out there with me, almost silent, doing coyote things.

It is dark when I start and light when I finish, like I am a participant in some of the sun’s daily journey. As I head home people with the luxury of a late start are just starting up the trail.

TIP: If you try this yourself, I would recommend sticking to trails that you know very well, while keeping in mind that trails are not static, and things happen to them in the daytime when we aren’t around. Dogs leave their sticks on the trail, or trail crews put in water bars or cut runoff diversions, or the leaves fall and create a layer of real life camouflage over everything. It’s hazardous, but oh-so worth it. If you try this yourself, I probably won’t see you.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA