My Spring training block had been going well so far, although my recovery from the Canyons 100k took a little longer than I expected. I tried to listen to my body and go easy while allowing myself time to soak in the full adaptation from an April that saw lots of miles, lots of vert, and some bronchitis that really knocked me down. As my legs, mind, and chest began to feel better I started to focus on the fact that I had not made it out to Mount Diablo yet in 2019. I had been scheming at how to get out there, while a bit weary of the ever increasing daytime temperatures and dryness. And then, the universe aligned and both of our kids had sleepovers scheduled for a Friday night. Me and my wife could both use a big run in our training schedule, and so I pitched the idea – what about a Friday Night Date Night threesome with good ol’ Mount Diablo?
After finishing a hectic week at work we dropped the kids off at their respective friends’ houses and decided to skip dinner and hit the local liquor store instead. Two snickers, a Coke, and some M+Ms later we headed out to the East East Bay for a night time circumnavigation and summit attempt at everybody’s favorite local vert-fest.
Some runners click off the majority of their miles after the sun goes down due to work or family scheduling constraints. I am not one of those runners. I don’t really like running after dark by myself, and I get tired at night and would usually rather be huddled up in my comfy bed than running through the trails. But running at night is a slightly different skill set than running during the day, and it’s a skill I have recently been working on. My longest night run of my career so far had been pacing my friend to a 4th place finish at Rio del Lago in November of 2018. Because he was moving along so quickly there was only about 4 or 5 hours on the trail after the sun went down to the finish line. I knew that I needed to keep practicing my night runs with the Gran Trail Courmayeur 100k and Ultra Trail Lake Tahoe 100 miler on the race schedule in 2019, and Diablo seemed like a perfect place to do it.
We left the car about 7:30pm and it was still over 80 degrees outside. This was meant to be a full trial for our Courmayeur kits – our collapsable poles, larger packs, tights, Gore-Tex shells, etc. We were loaded down and happy to go as slow as we needed. I had done this route multiple times so was confident that I could keep us on trail, and with the kids somewhere else this was likely the latest we were going to stay out in a long time!! We were looking at somewhere between 22-26 miles and about 5000-6000 feet of vert
So what’s different about a night run?
The meditative darkness
Something special happens when the sun goes down and the headlights go on. You can’t really see anything that’s not in your flood beam, and while this seems a bit unsettling at first if you can relax it becomes a very meditative moment. It can feel like you’re swimming in a sea of darkness across the trail, and if time and space usually melts away during a long-distance run, these effects are even more pronounced in the dark of night. The world doesn’t become silent but the volume is definitely turned down, and the noises you hear are a completely different set from the noises of the day. When I met my buddy who had been running all night at the Groundhog’s Day Lupe-fest, he was a bit melancholy when the sun rose in the morning. At the time I didn’t understand it, but now I do. Things are so simple when running at night – when the sun comes up it can easily overload your senses as you take in all of diurnal activity around you.
Things that go bump in the night
The coolest thing from our night time Diablo expedition was the fauna that we saw along the way. Animals that usually wait in hiding while you run by in the day are either more active or easier to spot in the night. The eyeball lenses from deer, owls, and even spiders come alive with in the reflection of your head light. On this trip we saw multiple tarantulas, scorpions, and toads just sitting in the middle of the trail (it’s amazing we didn’t squish a single toad!). Add to that pit spiders waiting for prey that would duck into their holes as we rain by, a baby owl nestled in ground cover as we descended to the backside, and bats and birds flying over head. Perhaps we see that much wildlife in the daytime as well, but at night it really felt more pronounced and obvious.
tired of crowds? head out after dark
We literally had the entire park to ourselves. The only other people we ran into were a group of campers night-hiking on the trails, and we actually only heard them from afar and saw their headlights in the distance. Being on the summit without the usual throng of tourists was a magical experience in itself as we looked out onto the Bay Area lights under the watchful eye of the summit beacon. Secondly, you guarantee that any other people you do run into are going to be pretty cool and into the same things you are!!
logistics – how can you pull it off
Getting ready for a night run isn’t really any different than running in the daytime, but you will need a bit more equipment. A good headlight is vital – I made the mistake of running the Castle Peak 100k with a cheap headlight off Amazon and paid for it dearly in the after dark descent from Mount Lincoln. If I had a brighter light I literally could have finished an hour earlier. I really like the 18650 Battery type headlights like the Skilhunt H03 in Neutral White. They are super bright, last for a long time, have easily changeable batteries, and are a fraction of the cost of the fancier Petzl NAOs.
You’ll need to research local park regulations and access points if you’re not trying to illegally poach the land. Everything that I read said the road access and gates to Mount Diablo close at sunset, but I didn’t find anywhere that the trails actually closed after dark (which makes sense when you have campgrounds inside). We won’t talk about how we accessed those trails that were open after dark, but the point is – know your regulations, know where you can park, and make sure you can get your car out at the end of your run.
Finally, make sure you have proper clothes for the trip. Often you will find that the metabolism and activity of your body keeps you warm while you are running, but if temps are going to be dropping at night it’s important to have enough clothes to get you out of a bind. I carry tights as well as a thermal layer and a shell when I’m out after dark, just in case something bad happens and I have to wait until the morning for a rescue. Lightweight emergency blankets are a good idea as well as they will reflect your body’s heat and keep you warmer in a pinch until help comes.
That’s pretty much it! What are you waiting for? Grab a buddy (or a date!), get a headlight, and head for the hills after the sun goes down!!!