TrailRunMag 15.07.2011

We all get why trail running is so damn good: the weave, the waft, the dirt, the sheer wilderness experience. It lights up the senses: your nostrils fill with the sweet odour of fern-scented air, moist dirt and, if you’re working hard enough, your own pheromones (c’mon, like flatulence, you like the smell of you…admit it, we’re friends, you can be honest…); your leg muscles are twinging, screaming, roaring, yet at once laughing at each well-placed step executed; your mind is hop scotching – working in supersonic tandem with your eyes, a ultrasensitive  radar picking up blips of rock, low hanging branches, pot holes, roots, sudden hook turns on the single track or a creek to be delicately crossed lest you bust an ankle(let’s not mince words); and let’s not forget your ears – they’re listening, hanging out for that comforting sound of a clean, soft footfall…and otherwise just enjoying the tweets and creaks of a soothing bush soundtrack.

As the sun goes down…the mud monsters come out to play. Image: Petzl.

‘Tis enough to make you want to go run. Now.

But wait. It can get better. Your senses can dance to a higher pitch my trailite friends, trust me, and the fun factor (okay, the challenge factor)  is only magnified in inverse proportion to the number of wattages lighting up your chosen singletrack landscape.

Yep. Switch the  lights off, people. Or at least wait until that omni-bulb we call the sun decides to sink for another day. Wait. Hold off. Dusk is not dark. No, no. Wait. Maybe get an hour or two’s kip. Wait.

Midnight? Ah yes. Now’s the time a time to go running – when you’re body clock is all skewiff. When the clock hands both point north, that’s a perfect time to waken the senses and tell them they have a bigger, knarlier task ahead. And they’d better work or it’s your face smashed against a rock (or muddy ground shoved suddenly and unceremoniously up your shnoz,  if you’re lucky).

I’ll be fair: I’ll let you use a headlamp. But don’t be a gear freak – go with minimal wattage, light and not too bright. Test yourself.

A week back, I pottered out my back door, a lightweight Black Diamond Sprinter on noggin, and ferreted around in a patch of State Park nearby: tight, twisting trails rushing through kangaroo grass, ducking under low slung headbangers, goose stepping over unexpected logs…I had a smile a mile wide as I swam in the high intensity, hyper-aware state that night running on constricted trails rouses.

My movements started all jerky, unsure, as the darkness that enveloped beyond the tunnel of my light stung at my running confidence. But slowly I battled back the black. I attuned my senses, asked more of them than would be the case on a daylight dash. And it was like a drug. I wanted to push faster, take more chances around the next blind bend. Push, push…I was chasing what many ultra athletes chase (even if they won’t admit it): failure. Only failure in this case meant a fall (I’d say’ from grace’ but anyone who has seen me run knows that lumberjacks aren’t graceful).

What prompts me to write this remembrance (I admittedly haven’t been on a night jaunt since) is a Skype chat I had with our good NZ Editor, Mal Law, last night (mulling over the goodness planned for Edition 2, if you must know. Yes, with a glass of red in hand: creativity needs some form of fuel).

I digress. He was juiced up on a high of the non-alcoholic type: anticipation.

Mal and a hardy crew are setting off tonight (Friday), yes, at midnight, to crack along Hillary’s Trail in something known as Midwinter Midnight Madness. Seventy something kilometres of mud in the dark of night on a trail that is a rollercoaster of a ride.

It’ll be cold, wet, muddy, gruelling…and I am so totally jealous.

May the mud monsters be on your side my Kiwi friends…and may your trail senses remain on song for the long but enjoyable night (morning?) ahead.