Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I see a darkness

Feathers of sunlight escaped a quilt of clouds in the early afternoon. I used my usual half-hour lunch break to wander the streets of downtown Missoula, soaking in a bit of daylight before the clouds closed in and it was time to return to the desk, until 5 p.m., when the sun sets. That's when I planned to go back out for my two-hour run.

"The winter darkness is hitting me harder this year than it did last year," I confessed to a co-worker later in the afternoon.

"How is that?" he asked. "Last year, you lived in Alaska. It's lighter and warmer in Missoula."

"Actually, it's not either," I replied. "Well, I guess there's technically more daylight here. But I don't often see any of it. I go to work just after the sun rises and leave just before it sets. When I lived in Juneau, the sun set at 2:30, which was also about the time I went to work. So I had all of the daylight hours to myself, every single day. I miss that schedule. Whoever decided 9-to-5 should be standard work hours is not a friend of mine."

And the more I think about it, the more I realize how much this work schedule has affected me. At first, going out after sunset had a novelty to it. The trees carved spooky silhouettes, and darkness and moonlight cast familiar trails in new ways. I acquired a fancy new bicycle headlight, a new headlamp, a slew of batteries and red blinkies, and resolved to make the most of my new, dark world. But then the novelty wore off, replaced by a discouraging sameness. I realized there was little more to see than the narrow island of my headlamp beam, and blinking red lights from distant towers on the mountains. I started leaving my camera at home, because there was nothing to photograph. This was a telling gauge of my enthusiasm. Biking — and running — isn't necessarily about exercise or fitness for me, it's my way of exploring the world. When my camera stays at home, so does my motivation. I feel less excited and more fatigued. I look for excuses to turn around. It doesn't bother me that it's 10 degrees out as I run through wafting snow. I genuinely don't mind going out in the cold. What I'm discovering about myself is that I don't necessarily enjoy going out in the dark.

This is actually a big reason I decided to take up running, which involves less prep time, and less overall time for similar fitness benefits. Then I picked an impossible goal like the Susitna 100 to serve as my main motivator. I know I have a long winter in front of me. Perhaps I will grow to love the night, appreciating the tiny details — the mounds of snow, the flecks of ice — as much as I used to relish expansive views and blaze blue sky. Somehow, I doubt it. But I am thankful for healthy legs to carry me through the snow, for an iPod to stave off the creeping boredom, for my boyfriend and Missoula friends who are often willing to keep me company in the dark cold, and for a camera with a self-timer for those occasional creative impulses that allow me replace actual photo opportunities with personal experimentation.

It's all biking and running, and it's all good, even in the winter.


  1. 'Whoever decided 9-to-5 should be standard work hours is not a friend of mine.'

    I hear ya. And whoever decided 5 days on / 2 days off, isn't my friend either.

  2. You picked a winter 100 miler as your first ultra run?

  3. Jill,

    anywhere and anytime.


  4. You're doing 2 hour mid-week runs on top of the back-to-back weekend long runs? Jill don't overdo it. I realize I am at the opposite end of the spectrum but I don't want you to hurt yourself.

  5. Amy, as far as athletics go, the only thing I have going for me (and the one thing I really enjoy) is an ability to slog out seemingly endless numbers of hours in tough conditions. Thus, as weird as this sounds, I have a better chance of succeeding in a long, tough race than I do in a short, fast one (at least in terms of my view of success.)

    But the Su100 won't be my first ultra. That will be a 50K toward the end of this month, whose purpose is to gauge whether I even stand a chance in the Su. (And pacing 50 miles of the Bear100 was technically an ultra but not a race.)

    I'm actually a great long-distance hiker. This "ultrarunning" experiment is to see whether I can add a couple miles per hour to the equation. It's a jumping point for what I hope will be future long-distance hikes/runs, not an actual career in trail races.

    And Danni, time is short and I feel like I'm being fairly conservative. But my quads are sore so perhaps I've upped the mileage too soon (Feet feel surprisingly good, though). I did a three-hour snow bike ride tonight. It was deep and steep. Toughest rest day ever. :)

  6. I don't comment as much, but just wanted to say I'm still loving your blog and photos. :)

  7. It certainly couldn't hurt to talk to your employers about a shift change, even one or two days a week might make a big difference. True, I work at home, but I do have to let my clients know that there will be certain hours where I'm not available while I ride or run. I think you could work something out.

  8. I ride to work an hour and a hlf before sunrise, and ride home just about the time the sun is going down, at this time of year. The only good thing about it is how much it makes me appreciate the rest of the year, when I do get to ride under blue skies, in the warm sun.

    Hang tough. The Earth continues its yearly dance around the sun, and light will return to you, as it always does. Think how much you will appreciate it...

  9. Growing up in the Texas heat made me just the opposite. I love nighttime. I'd wait until dark to go do just about anything so as to avoid the heat of the day. It made me a total night owl. I love the quiet of night. I loved living in a city with 24 hour gas and grocery stores, so I could run errands when everyone else was sleeping.

    Alas, with a four month old my days start when they used to end.

  10. Huh, I always thought darkness was the natural compliment to ultras. All the distractions of life, sound and sight fade away and you can dive so deep within your own head. Vistas, chirping birds, sunshine - any fool can enjoy those but the real journey and treasures are buried deep within.
    Knowing a hard woman like Jill doesn't accelerate in the dark only gives me more confidence to push forward in my preferred element. Give me slow simmering pain and darkness anyday of the year. In my entire life only my wife and kids have brought me more enjoyment.

  11. Jill I suffer from seasonal affective disorder too so I just bought a therapeutic day light that simulates day light sun (not for tanning). From what I hear, they really make a difference. http://www.amazon.com/Day-Light-DL2000-Day-light-Sky/dp/B002WTCHLC/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1291311802&sr=8-5

  12. In a dark time, the eye begins to see. - Theodore Roethke

  13. Scary, I'm seeing ghosts in that city lights photo!

  14. I say don't settle. There are jobs out there that let you work from home and still pay well.

    Why do you need to be in the office from 9-5 anyway? To be there for that 1 or 2 meetings you have every day?

    It's a system that harkens back to the days of punching out parts on an assembly line and in this day of knowledge workers, are you that person? Do you think about work in the shower and vice versa, do you think about non-work stuff at work? I thought so.

    It took me awhile to find my job but it is worth it. I work from home 4 days a week and only need go in the office 1 day for only part of that day to meet in person. Programs like Skype and other instant messaging and video options are making this more and more a possibility.

    Like I said, don't settle.


Feedback is always appreciated!