Into the Arms of Darkness

October 16, 2008
By

I began running track in junior high school because, number one, I was an athlete with energy to blow off but, number two, it was the kind of singular endeavor that I could approach all on my own without the immediate concern of teamwork. I loved sports like basketball and hockey but my natural inclination was to find an outlet that channeled my lone self and success and failure would rest solely on me. Yes, the track team mattered in terms of overall points and beating whoever the other school was we were competing against but each challenge, with the exception of relays, was dependent on only one person’s ability.

I was long and lean, almost the prototypical long distance runner body but for some weird reason I saw myself as a sprinter and worked to get stronger and faster, eventually succeeding in my senior year in high school as a viable member of the team. The difference in how I achieved that success was to, ironically, begin running long distances almost a year before my final track season.

My theory was that I’d be able to match what speed I had with the untiring mindset of a long distance runner. At the end of sprints I’d be speeding up rather than slowing down and in the end it worked. But the result of my hard work wasn’t the best part of it because, as it turned out, the process became a nocturnal ritual.

I began to run in the dead of night.

In fact, all throughout the summer preceding my senior year I ran almost every evening but only after it was pitch black with nothing but the streetlights at intersections to guide me through my lightly trafficked neighborhood. Most of our streets at that time were dirt and gravel but to keep the dust in check they would send out trucks that laid down a coating or two of oil and after the road had been traveled enough times the oil mixed with the dirt and would harden into a deep, blacktop facsimile of actual asphalt. That made the road beneath my feet almost as black as the night and I loved running on it.

The neighborhood kids on their bikes liked to follow me around but it was best when they’d head back to their homes and so I began running later and later at night as they peeled away to their families.

There was something ethereal about running through the darkness and as my body settled into its mechanical gate and the endorphins filled my system, I was enveloped by this comfort that made everything work effortlessly, floating through the night, lost in space, unable to even calculate or care about distance or stress.

I have no firsthand knowledge of drug addiction but I imagine that I was having the natural equivalent of that high without the downside of expense and bodily destruction. On the contrary, I was getting stronger by the day and totally addicted to this training regimen.

Throughout the summer of 1968 I ran pretty much every night with little exception other than bad weather or girls and sometimes even that wouldn’t stop me. The fascinating thing about distance running, and I imagine that any distance runner will tell you this, is that after awhile it becomes an automatic function, like hitting ‘cruise control’ on your steering column, you hit the button and then it’s all down to making sure you stay on course.

That’s exactly how it felt to run into the night and the accompanying euphoria that made me want to do it endlessly. In this time and space I could shed the confines of physical exhaustion, temporarily free from the mundane.

In the hold of the darkness there was nothing of importance but the sound of my own breathing and the feint light at the end of the street.

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