Running in the dark is the best therapy


About a month ago, I heard someone say that the meaning of life is nothing but endorphins. I wasn’t sure if they were joking or not, but I gave the comment some serious thought. Endorphins act as a body’s self-defense mechanism in response to pain; the body tricks the mind that pain produces happiness.

I thought about this as I drove to the school one morning at 5 a.m., ready to go on a run before zero hour.

I contemplated going to the YMCA and running on the treadmill, but no machine-simulated running could beat the real deal: the cold air, all too scarce for my lungs, passing in and out of me with each short breath.

The road leading up to the school was pitch black, and my heart rate sped up just driving toward the parking lot. The school was an eerie, bland darkness; nothing disturbed the tranquility of the roads until my piercing headlights carved out a path for me to follow.

I think that running in the dark is a new kind of thrill; every step is another one toward what seems like oblivion. Running at night can be frightening because I associate the late hours with ominous events, but morning running is not tainted with fear.

Before the world wakes up, the ground is calm. The black sky seems friendly; it invites me warmly into its scope. I run at it.

The tree line can barely be discerned from the sky behind it, and such is the similarity between the colors of the morning. I run with my phone’s flashlight for a little bit, carefully stepping with each stride so that I won’t trip or twist an ankle.

Soon, though, I feel a bit ridiculous: who did I think I was, with a meager light trying to illuminate the night?

As I approached the next hanging street light, I saw my flashlight outshined. The orange halo of light engulfed my phone’s bulb almost immediately as if I had poured a few drops of water into an ocean. I turned off my flashlight.

The atmosphere around me- the mist, the energy, the quiet- reassured me that I was microscopic compared to the grand scheme of things.”

Into the night I go.

I’ve run down Cascade Road a million times; I’ve driven down it even more times. Now, though, I see the long stretch in a way that I have never done before. I knew that driving dulls the effect of Cascade’s magnitude, but I realized this morning that even running down the road during the day doesn’t do the beauty justice.

Never have I seen Cascade so vast.

Never have I seen it so mysterious, fog settling on the treetops I can barely make out. Never have I seen it so peaceful, basking in the absence of cars and people. Never have I seen it so large, as if boundless– as if I could never reach the ends of it.

It was therapeutic, the way Cascade Road made me feel insignificant. The trees towered above me in a way that seemed taller than they were during the day; the bushes on the other side of the road seemed light years away.

I looked up the slight hill, the top of which was probably half a mile away.

I felt small.

Being reminded of the power of the world was refreshing. The world is so much bigger, so much stronger than any one human. As a race, humankind can try to test the limits of nature with every scientific breakthrough, but the cold, hard earth will always win in a fight against man. The atmosphere around me- the mist, the energy, the quiet- reassured me that I was microscopic compared to the grand scheme of things.

I can’t explain why that felt so good. It made me feel safe in the complete darkness. I was in no hurry to run away from some shadow. Rather, I was taking every breath and every stride slow.

Eighty minutes and eight miles later, I had seen part of the world wake up. My run back to the school saw many more cars than the one away from the school. The nighttime’s flashing yellow stoplights turned into the normal identities they adopt for sunlit hours; I saw the normal cycle of green, yellow, and red guide the trekkers of morning on their way.

All the while, I was smiling. My shins protested constantly, and I was always scared that I would twist an ankle. But the thrill rushed into my lungs, again and again, giving me peace and excitement all at once.

I don’t know if endorphins are the only true meaning of life. I don’t know that endorphins can solve all of one’s problems. I don’t know how long one can rely just on endorphins.

I do know, though, that they certainly help.