But all day Saturday brought chaotic weather patterns. Heavy rain, violent claps of thunder, monsoons raging throughout the day. We weren't sure if the run would be on, if the trail would be washed out, if it would be light enough to even see it.
By 7:30pm, they still hadn't called the race, so my boyfriend and I pounded some energy drinks, had some Gu (GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!
We were given our numbers and told to deck out in glow sticks. Around the neck, through the shoelaces, shoved down the backs of our shirts so that we could be seen by other runners in the woods. No head lamps, no flash lights as they would blind other runners. Just glow sticks. A techno-parade of insane runners taking off into the dark.
The rain held off, the lightening stayed away. And it was completely dark. Even the meager glow sticks didn't hold up, only briefly piercing it with neon brightness. But as runners passed ahead or fell behind, their glow sticks formed hazy auras in the fog before disappearing altogether. At one point, it was just my boyfriend and me, with no runners directly ahead or behind, and for the first time I started feeling twinges of panicked adrenaline. It's a good thing I trust him, because had he been the slightest bit shifty, he might have absconded with me into the dark and sold me into human trafficking. I'm almost entirely certain he had the same thought about me. I'm rather shady.
Because it was dark. I mean, dark dark. You could barely make out patches of overcast sky above through the knot of trees, and the crushed limestone path, which would have glowed in moonlight, was barely visible as a long rectangle ahead and behind, disappearing into clouds of darker matter. There was no visible destination ahead and no way of verifying where you had been. The woods were dark and deep, as Frost declared, but the loveliness was shrouded in an eerie stillness. Nothing moved in those woods, except for us. There was no way to tell if we were headed in the right direction, if danger lay ahead, or if the safety of a water station awaited. There was no way to see if the path was clear and safe, only the trust that the runners that had gone on ahead hadn't returned and weren't lying on the sides of the trail, and so had pushed onward into the darkness.
It was almost like a dream, with the haze from the fog creating halos of dark against darker. You forget how vulnerable we humans are; how utterly unprepared to survive in the wild without the benefit of fire, light, and GPS.
E.L. Doctorow once described writing in this way: "like driving a car at night; you can never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." This felt like that. Six miles in the complete dark, and you can only see as far as twenty or so feet in front of you. If that. But you run, you put one foot in front of the other, and you trust that you'll make it. Having my running partner there was crucial. Had I been alone in those woods, with no runners anywhere nearby, I might have panicked.
In a way, the night run was an adrenaline rush that might not have come had the moon been out in full glory. The creepier elements of the woods certainly hurried my feet a bit more, and nothing was more welcoming than the finish line, laid out in glow sticks. And the pizza we ordered and demolished around midnight once we got home was a welcome victory meal.
The run was the way anything is in life: on a path with limited vision, seeing ahead and behind only as far as you can, and going on the knowledge that if you fall, if you run into something, if you crash, if you get off-course, there will be something or someone there to help you. There is no guarantee and no certainty that danger will not befall you; just the trust in yourself, in what little of the path you can see, and the people surrounding you.
And, of course, the hope of victory pizza and beer to guide you.