This Small Change Upgraded My Running Experience

Auriane Alix
Running in the dark makes me fly above the ground.
Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash

I’m new to the running world. I tried it several times over the past few years, but never came back the next day. I thought it wasn’t for me. But a few months ago, I met someone. Someone who runs. One day I went with her, just to try again. To my surprise, I enjoyed the experience so much that I found myself buying running shoes, and even starting to go running on my own.

This time, there was a shift. To my surprise, I took pleasure in it, and something kept me going and made me want to do it again — the positive exhaustion that comes afterward; the meditative state that strikes from time to time; the need to move my body after a day’s work sitting in front of a screen.

Whatever it is, I’m in it now. And it seems that I have found my secret trick.

I’ve finally found my flow trigger

I am constantly looking for this state of flow, whether in sport or at work. It’s an incredible feeling that makes me melt into what I do. That’s where my best work comes from. And that’s where I got my best run from.

A few weeks ago, I experienced something that I have been searching for ever since. I felt like going for a run, except that the sun was already down and I found myself walking through the door in total darkness. At first, I hesitated. I am a young woman running alone. But I went anyway.

I had the best running experience of my (little) runner life.

After the first 20 minutes, things got easier — to the point where I didn’t feel the effort anymore. It was as if I was flying above the ground. As if running had become my new way of walking. On top of that, I entered a kind of meditative state, from which many positive and useful thoughts came. My mind was at peace. My body was at an ideal level of effort.

I easily went over 45 minutes, then over an hour, which is way past my usual 40 minutes. I forced myself to stop after that as my parents were waiting for me for dinner. I felt like I could go on for several hours.

It was exhilarating.

The next day I went out, excited to get that same feeling again. Except it never came. I watched for it mile after mile, but the jog remained hopelessly plain.

And then it happened again

There was nothing to be done. The flow wasn’t coming back and I had no idea where to look for it. So I decided I wouldn’t chase it at all. It had found me by itself, after all.

The other day I went out around 5:30 pm, after my day’s work. My legs were restless after sitting all day. I put on my shorts and jumper, laced up my shoes, and went outside, happy to feel the energy flowing down my spine and filling my whole body.

I ran through a few streets and quickly reached the soft ground of the park. The first 20 minutes were still the hardest. I reached 35 minutes, then 40. I enjoyed the sight of the sun slowly setting behind the hills and looked at the beautiful colors of the sky before the night replaced the day. The loop is barely lit by the houses around.

That’s when the flow came back.

I felt it shyly pointing its nose as soon as my surroundings slipped into darkness. “Here it is again,” I thought inwardly, delighted. I had the feeling that my energy reserve was becoming infinite. It was like my feet were flying above the ground. The forward movement seemed effortless. Fluid.

I felt connected to both my body and my environment. I felt here and alive.

Science only partially explains it

I looked for documented explanations for this intense feeling. It turns out that there are not that many. The only explanation I have found is called “optical flow.” This is why I feel like I’m going faster than I actually am. After checking, I was still at my surprisingly constant 6.58 minutes per kilometer.

“Optic flow creates a perception of movement relative to someone’s surroundings. Through trials on a stationary bike, the researchers found that when the subjects’ surroundings were going by them more quickly, they felt like they were working harder and going faster (even if they weren’t).” — in Running Magazine

The optical flow also changes the runner’s perception of distance, making the whole process less daunting. Other than that, nothing. So I guess it doesn’t need to be explained. Not everything has to be.

It makes everything more intense

Running in the dark makes all the senses of my body more alive, more vivid. For someone looking for a more intense feeling of being in the world, it’s amazing.

The smells, the sounds. Everything is more alive.

My eyes no longer stare at things. They get lost in a blur. This helps me to reach a meditative state because I am then more focused on the inner aspect of myself, and on the overall view of my environment, the contrast making everything more present. I enter a different reality. I am no longer focused on the effort it takes to cover those kilometers.

I no longer need to slalom between people and dogs. I can enter my bubble. Nothing matters anymore. All the cells in my body and mind are doing what they are doing now: running.

I feel invisible. Splitting the air dressed in black.

I like being in this intermediate — and somewhat transgressive — atmosphere.
I strongly advise you to try, while being very careful. Make sure someone knows where you are, and keep an eye on your surroundings. Nighttime brings its share of dangers.

Give it a try. It really is another experience.

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