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The Night Shift: Work all day, run – when?

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So I found myself in the awkward position of being flat broke and it was really interfering with my race plans.
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Illustration by Kevin Howdeshell

So I found myself in the awkward position of being flat broke and it was really interfering with my race plans. I was hoping to race in Hawaii, but my wallet was flatter than a GU pack steamrolled by a sumo wrestler.

That’s when someone, I think it was my wife, suggested I get a third job. Well, one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was working/commuting for 10 to 14 hours a day, which left me with the big question, “When do I run?”

There wasn’t enough time on my lunch break, and I was too exhausted and hungry after a hard day’s labor, so I decided to get up at 3 a.m. and run the night shift. That gave me nearly two hours, as I had to be back by 5 to begin the work day.

The first time my alarm went off at 3 a.m. was a shock to my system. But I had filled a Thermos with coffee the night before, so I slugged it down, checked the outdoor temperature, dressed appropriately, and was out running in 15 minutes. What a rush!

I felt so alive, so primal … so cold, so stupid for running into a boulder and hitting a tree. But after a couple of weeks of the routine, my night vision (and my memory) started to improve.
I read that eating carrots every day for 30 days could improve your night vision by 10 percent, so I did that. (Another good way to improve your night sight is to buy a headlamp. Your choice.)

Anyway, after the first week of slowly overcoming my fear of getting eaten by dogs and bears, I settled into a rhythm. I started to like it. Not many people are out at 3 in the morning and I took to running roads right down the painted lines with my headlamp off. I could see the potholes just by looking for breaks in the line. I never saw more than three or four cars, and the roadways became my own private trails.

I found routes I could do in two hours or less and looked forward to the constellations I’d see with each change in direction. The Big Dipper, Orion, Corona Borealis, the North Star and various shooting stars all became my night lights. When the moon was up, I took to real trails and needed lights only in narrow gorges or heavily forested areas.

The wild animals left me alone, though several close run-ins with foxes and deer scared the bejeebers out of me. Or maybe the coffee I slugged did that. Either way, no one can see the bejeebers on your shorts at 4 a.m. unless they’ve been eating a lot of carrots. The animals seemed like they couldn’t care less, after leaping briefly out of my way.

I was thinking about some friends west of Denver who are banished from running trails at night by their local officials, and how in a similar situation, I wouldn’t be allowed to run trails at all, when I heard it.

The noise sounded like the time I rolled a tractor tire down a big hill through the forest except for the fact it was rolling uphill! It continued for about 10 seconds; then, dead silence. It was not a fox, not a deer. It was big, judging by the sounds of the branches it was breaking. It was over an embankment, but my brain ceased to function rationally, as the drums in my ears were incessantly pounding one frightening thought into my head. “BEAR-BEAR-BEAR-BEAR!”

It took two seconds to shine my light toward the invisible noisemaker, but I quickly realized my vision hadn’t yet developed enough to see through rocks, dirt and trees. I figured it couldn’t, either, so I turned tail and ran without sticking around to find out anything else. For the next few nights I took a different route, but I’m going back tomorrow. If you don’t hear from me, look for bear scat with a headlamp stuck in it.

Bernie tastes a little like chicken.