This week Gabby suggested that we begin our weekly long run at 3am instead of our usual 5am. What's another two hours of sleep anyway? The funny thing is that when she made this request I didn't once even question the early start time, and even funnier is that when I told my family I would be starting even earlier than usual, no one even batted an eye.
So early Saturday morning, or late Friday evening depending on your perspective, I was headed out the door for my run just as my oldest son was headed to bed for the night. I was surprisingly awake and ready for my 17-mile jaunt to our local ecological reserve and back. We could not have picked a more beautiful night to practice running at this time of day. The sky was as blue as an indigo crayon, completely devoid of any cloud cover, and the bright, full moon was high in the sky. The moon provided so much illumination that there was no need for us to even carry any light source. This was also the one time of day that during a run not one car passed us by. The night was silent except for the pounding of our feet against the moonlit asphalt.
I have done a lot of running in the last six years, and this was by far one of my favorite runs ever. I don't know why some runs seem so effortless while other seem to require more energy than I can possibly muster. I should have been pretty tired with the lack of sleep I had experienced over the last few days, my Achilles was aching a bit before the start of this run, and yet even running up the steep hills on the way to the turnaround point seemed effortless. My heart rate was behaving, my legs felt powerful, and my breathing was steady and unforced. It was good to feel this way with such long miles and at such a ridiculous hour of the day.
Ultra runners have shared with me that at this time of night people often have hallucinations. As Gabby and I ran up the road toward one of the parking lots at the Santa Rosa Plateau, I saw a heart-shaped mylar balloon floating about 15 feet off the ground. The moon shone behind it and made the floating object look a bit like a spirit hovering and moving in a slightly circular pattern in the illuminated night sky. I had to ask Gabby if she saw it as well to ensure I wasn't imagining things. Luckily, it was a vision that she saw too. I vowed to take a picture on the way back to document that the two of us were not having crazy visions because of our sleep-deprived minds.
Before I knew it we had reached the half-way point in our run and we were flanked by a large grassy meadow with the sun beginning to rise on one side and the full-moon topped hills on the the other. As we looked closer we saw a single deer standing completely still in the middle of the meadow hoping we hadn't spotted her. A little farther on we saw not one but two coyotes running through the amber-colored fields. These are all things we most likely would not have seen had we not decided to run by the light of the moon.
On the way back down the hill, I got that feeling of content that creeps up on ultra runners after making it through the dark of the night. It is a feeling of happiness that comes on so suddenly, you almost can't pinpoint why you are suddenly feeling lighter once again. Coach Ed's wife Martha pointed this phenomenon out to me as she walked my last miles with me at the Nanny Goat Ultra I did in May. Those last miles down from the Santa Rosa Plateau were suddenly easier with the sun finally shining down on us after the dark of the night, that and the downhill course for the last half of the run made things so much easier despite the long miles on tired legs and even more tired mind.
As we ran those final miles back home from the Santa Rosa Plateau, we looked up to the left where the moon still shone brightly in the morning sky and saw the tiny shadow of what appeared to be our mylar ballon floating high in the sky. The sun-warmed air had heated the helium in the ballon just enough to carry it higher into the sky where it was going on another journey just far enough away for us to not be sure that the spot in the sky was our balloon. It was also far enough away for Gabby and I still to be unsure as to whether we really had seen that ballon in the night sky above the dirt and rock packed reserve parking lot at all.
I know that some of my training seems a little crazy, but I would not trade these experiences for anything. I am growing as a runner and I am having amazing experiences along the way. Next up--Gabby and I are planning to start one of our next long runs at midnight. We are both extreme morning people and it will be interesting to see how this time of night affects us both mentally and physically. I can't wait to see what this run has in store for us!