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TRAIL STOKE: Get The Full-Moon Trail Fever

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Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
– Mark Twain

As I started off on an evening trail run recently, I was absolutely struck by the full moon rising on the eastern horizon line.

It’s not that I wasn’t aware that the full moon was coming soon, it was more that I was caught off guard by its enormity and its brightness as it first appeared. In those initial moments, I couldn’t stop looking at it and, as it started to rise, I felt a burst of energy that pumped through me in a visceral sort of way that I wasn’t expecting.

I’ve often thought the moon always does what it wants, perhaps because it can seem so distant, disconnected from reality and irrelevant unless it’s glaring in our face. Yes, we can look at the calendar to know when the full moon will appear, but we rarely ever think about it at any other time in the lunar cycle, except in the rare moment that it’s a dark night and offering powerful reflections of the sun while silhouetted against a clear sky.

But as a trail runner, full-moon nights are can be incredibly special, because, often, we can turn off our headlamps and run purely by the light of the moon. (I didn’t even have a headlamp on this recent run, and that might the guiding light seem all the more organic and pure.) Running solely by the moonlight always creates a mystical nuance because it allows us to view the natural surroundings—and perhaps ourselves—in a different lens, one that distorts reality slightly but also purposefully.

Running solely by the moonlight always creates a mystical nuance because it allows us to view the natural surroundings—and perhaps ourselves—in a different lens, one that distorts reality slightly but also purposefully.

Sunlight or daylight seems to represent the present and precisely who we are in that moment. That can apply to trail running or life in general. It’s a clear representation of our current fitness and our current selves—no matter how good or bad or pure or muddled—and how we move over a trail and how we move through life. There’s no place to hide under the exposure of the sun, and thankfully so. It shows us if we’re happy or joyful or inspired or fit or perhaps struggling, sad, depressed, out of shape or just going through the motion, both as a runner and as a human being.

Running under the bright sun immediately exposes our strengths and weaknesses, our absolute truths and even the false flags we sometimes fly. The sun represents our authentic identity, while our shadows represent our persona. In other words, it’s our true self vs. what we want others to see about us or what others truly see about us. In those conditions, we can clearly see the obstacles around us—roots, rocks, steep climbs, sharp descents and other—and we have to consciously engage with mental, physical and emotional dexterity to get through the run.

But running under the moonlight immediately puts us in a fantasy world. Although we’re still there running on real trails and enduring the joys or challenges of running, it’s a half step out of reality and that allows us to immerse, even for a brief moment in time, in a parallel existence if we allow it. If you’ve been there and done that, then you know what I’m talking about.

The low light and soft focus of the definition of the trail beneath us allows us to run on feel and trust our instincts that were developed and honed on dozens or hundreds of runs before that moment. At first, it’s challenging because we are instinctively gripped with fear and anxiety that we might trip and fall. And we do sometimes. And that makes us run slower or run more carefully, or perhaps forces us to run with more trepidation.

However, the more we give in, the more we trust our movements and the environment around us and that allows us to develop a genuine and reliable sense of flow. It allows, and perhaps forces us, to be mindful and separate the real from the unreal. If successful, we find that we are able to run over all types of terrain without any artificial light or guidance. If we’re not, well, then we trip and stumble back to the mundane reality of life.

But, if we have resolved to fully give in to the calm presence of our movements in the half light of the trail, we can temporarily escape to a different place. Trusting our footsteps on the trail, we no longer acutely concerned about our actual connection to the ground. Instead, it’s as if we’re floating over the surface, running unfettered and free in a physical, mental and emotional state of bliss.

Trusting our footsteps on the trail, we no longer acutely concerned about our actual connection to the ground. Instead, it’s as if we’re floating over the surface, running unfettered and free in a physical, mental and emotional state of bliss.

Suddenly we’re transformed to a state in which the preconceived limitations of the real world don’t exist and we’re able to exist quietly and freely in the natural world. Just as a wild animal or a pine tree isn’t limited by outside forces, we can focus purely on being and existing in the environment. Without self-imposed limitations—“you can’t do that,” “that’s not possible,” “don’t even consider that”—it also allows us a moment to envision everything we want to be and what we can be, both as a trail runner and as a human being as we move through life. It’s a time when dreams are born, big aspirations can be set into motion and new realities can be understood.

It doesn’t take a full moon to feel those sensations, but running under a full moon is the surest way I have experienced to engage in those experiences. Other people use meditation, religion, therapy, fasting and even hallucinogenic drugs, but for me a full moon is a regular and natural way to check in with myself and loosen the constrictive ties that bind—even momentarily—to envision the best version of myself, both as a runner and as person, and realign my bearings on where I am heading.

A full moon is a regular and natural way to check in with myself and loosen the constrictive ties that bind—even momentarily—to envision the best version of myself, both as a runner and as person, and realign my bearings on where I am heading.

And what happens when the moon waxes and eventually disappears for several weeks? The thing about the moon is that it’s always full, it’s just that we can’t always see it. We only see parts of it or a face of it at certain times, but that doesn’t mean we can’t understand the power of its reflection, even if we’re running in broad daylight.

“I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”
– Albert Einstein

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner and now serves as a contributing editor.