Know When the Sun Will Set
Last month I traveled to New Jersey on business. I was thinking on the flight over that I had not been to the state since 1996. It’s easy to remember as during that time I was on tour with the international troupe Up with People. Good times!
One of the parts I really enjoy about traveling is exploring an area on foot. You get a different view of a place compared to driving around in a car. I have run through Angels baseball stadium, along rivers, and through some sketchy parts of towns.
On my last night in town, I decided to run a half marathon. No official race or support. Just me and a water bottle out for a run. I figured it would be a good 2 hour run and get to explore a popular trail in the area. This specific 70 mile route is called Delaware and Raritan Canal trail. The weather was slightly cool with a drizzle of rain. That gave me a good opportunity to test out the new The North Face Thermoball Jacket! Spoiler alert: go buy one! It is comfy and breathable … great for hiking and running. I imagine being warm in the Thermoball jacket even if it was snowing.
Onto the run!
I planned ahead and let everyone know that I would be done for the day at 4:30p. That would give me time to get back to the hotel, change, fill a water bottle, and be out the door. The trail picked up right behind my hotel. Excellent location!
By the time I got out the door, it was 5:30p. I guessed the sun would set around 7p and should be enough twilight to make it the rest of the way. The plan was run out 6.75 miles, turnaround, and come back. Simple plan.
The trail was crushed gravel or packed dirt. It was clear this was a popular location for runners, walkers, and bikers as it is very well taken care of. The canal was about 50 feet wide and the water didn’t seem to really be moving. If you dropped a canoe in it, I think it would only move if there was a strong wind.
About 4 miles into the run, I started to feel lunch coming back. We ordered in Chinese food. Chicken lo mein, egg rolls, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and dumplings.
Here’s a tip: Never eat Chinese food within 24 hours of a run. Never.
After dry heaving for a few minutes, back to the run.
The scenery was quite peaceful. People were friendly and I was running without music. It was nice to just focus on feet hitting the pavement while control the breathing. Relaxing to say the least.
At 6.75 miles I came to a bridge that went over Route 1. I stopped and looked at my watch for a bit. While I wasn’t trying for speed, I was making really good time. I took a look towards the sky. Hmmmm … the sun is right at the horizon. I looked at my watch again. Holy crap! I’m just over an hour away from the hotel and the sun looks like it would be gone in 20 minutes.
If you look at the data, miles 7-9 were probably the fastest ones of the day!
Approaching mile 10, it was really dark. I was running by the light of my iPhone which is only good for 4-5 feet. Now, I’m trying not to stereotype all of New Jersey, but I have watched almost every episode of The Sopranos.
It’s pitch black, I’m running alongside a canal, and nobody knows where I am. I’m not saying someone was waiting for me, but I was more concerned about running into a bad scenario.
With that, I used technology. Google Maps told me the best exit off the trail to take in order to follow streets back to the hotel. Sadly, the streets didn’t have lights and only a few with sidewalks.
Then I ran out of sidewalks and onto Route 1. This is not a lightly traveled road.
At this point, running hard after a casual 7 mile time was causing my calf muscle to fight back. Each time I flexed my foot behind me in my stride I felt the right calf lock up. As in, can’t put weight on.
So, if you were traveling south on Route 1 and saw a guy running like Quasimodo holding an iPhone in front of him with the flashlight on … that was me.
After a mile, I made it to the bridge that leads to my hotel. As I stood on the corner at the gas station looking across the street, I noticed a sign that indicated no pedestrians or walking across the bridge. It made sense. There were 3 lanes of traffic coming at me and no median to run on. This is a bit of a problem.
I went through the risk analysis and being run over in New Jersey didn’t seem like the way to go. Do I call a cab for a quarter mile ride? Hitchhike across? Imagine that:
Excuse me. Could you give me a ride across the bridge?
Totally normal for someone to walk up to your car at a red light and ask that.
I decided to ask the gas station attendant.
Me: So, the sign says no walking across the bridge, but that’s where my hotel is. Thoughts?
Attendant: Ah you walk across.
Me: There’s no median.
Attendant: There is after about 100 yards.
Me: But there are 3 lanes of cars that would be coming at me.
Attendant: Nah they won’t hit ya.
Me: That’s easy for you to say as you stand here and watch!
So I toed the line. This one was the edge of the sidewalk. I observed the traffic patterns and made my plan to become a sprinter.
The light turned red about half a mile up the road and I took off.
About 25 feet in, the calf went into full on cramp. Back to the Quasimodo hobble, holding my iPhone flashlight in front of me, and and a long line of cars 3 wide coming 55 mph right at me. They probably weren’t going to hit me because they were so confused.
I made it to the median with about 4 seconds to spare. I stretched my calf and made it into the parking lot and into the hotel.
Half marathon + complete.
Folks, if you’re going to run at night, check what time the sun sets. Unless you want a unique adventure exploring and meeting strangers along the way.
Or you could go to a bar, but that sounds boring to me.