“Runners coming,” the volunteer shouted.
It was midnight, and the Watson Tank aid station on the Stagecoach 100 course sprang into action. As volunteers left the campfire to cheer the incoming relays, I took my place on the trail, adjusted my gear and began swinging my arms to release the tension.
The 2018 Stagecoach would be my first-ever full-moon run. Other than darkness, I didn’t know what to expect. Could I do it? The nervous excitement of racing flooded my body, washing away the tiredness. Twelve miles to Tusayan and the finish line.
The two arriving runners began calling for their relay handoffs; for a moment, chaos. Then, a hug from my sweaty teammate and I was off, clicking my headlamp to light the darkness toward the first turn.
I started out just behind the other team’s relay runner, gaining confidence as he set a solid pace and found the course. But he soon pulled aside to stretch a balky calf muscle, waving me forward into the dark, alone.
My headlamp lit the chalky path, and somehow my feet picked up the trail’s rhythm.
Charged with adrenaline, I ran the first two miles like a rabbit with a coyote on its tail. Then, recalling this was not a 5K, I eased back on the gas. But my legs felt strong, my breathing was even and most of all, I was thrilled by the night; the almost full moon riding high above, the brightest stars and planets guiding my way.
It felt primal, running alone through the dark. Sage shown silver, waving grasses cast other-dimensional shadows, glittering spots along the path turned out to be reflections from spider eyes.
At one point, I stopped and turned off the headlamp. No breeze sighed in the pines, no birds called, no animals cried an alarm. I’ll never forget the sublime silence of that moment. When I started moving again, it was with a confidence in my body and the night’s embrace that I never would’ve imagined when the run began. I left the headlamp off awhile and just let the night flow by.
Later this week, I’m going out to recapture the magic of that Stagecoach run. Full moon is Friday, when the moon rises at 7:33 p.m., half an hour after sunset. Moonrise will be a gorgeous time to watch the eastern horizon if the sky is clear, but I’m planning to start my run well after dark, to give the moon time to rise high above and light the way.
Have you ever run beneath the full moon? Which trail did you choose? If you get out there Friday night, let me know how it goes. What did you see or hear as you ran through the magical darkness? Is running at night different for you from daylight? Do you think different thoughts, feel different feelings as you roll along?
And most important of all, do you take a moment to turn off your headlamp and listen — or maybe let loose a full-moon howl?