Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 6 Nov 2005 08:57:04 -0500

Traveling Light


Late fall is my least favorite time of year for running. Not because the warm mornings of summer are long gone, along with Oregon's brief dry season, but because my early-morning runs have faded to black.

These runs just became a little brighter, thanks to a recent purchase. I showed it to my wife. Barbara knows how set in my running ways I am, so her comment came with a hint of sarcasm: "It's good that after 40 years you've finally seen the light."

In fact, I'm closer to 50 years a runner. And this fall is the first time, ever, that I've used anything to light my way. I've always trusted firm ground to be beneath me when I blindly put a foot down.

A near-accident instantly changed my trusting ways. That October day, most of my pre-dawn run was street-lit. But near the end came a stretch of bike path far from any artificial lighting.

Before seeing anything, I heard a whir. The next instant brought the outlines of a bicycle, headed straight for me a couple of bike lengths away, then a woman's scream. She veered away, avoiding a collision by inches.

The biker didn't stop, and neither did I. She shouted over her shoulder, "I'm so sorry." I looked back and voiced a similar apology.

My heart rate had jumped into the anaerobic zone, even while shuffling my usual sedate pace. What-might-have-been thoughts crowded my head.

What if she hadn't veered the good way? With an impact speed of maybe 25 miles an hour (the bulk of it hers), the results would have been ugly for both of us.

The biker rode without a light. Technically that's illegal in our town, though this is a law more often violated than obeyed.

I too ran without any light. This isn't against any law, but I now realized that it violated good sense.

Runners are warned to wear reflective clothing in hours of darkness. But in this case it would have done me no good.

There was nothing to reflect -- not a bike's, car's or street's light. To be safer, I needed to carry my own light source.

That same afternoon I visited an outdoor-equipment store whose doors I seldom darken. I didn't compare brands and models of headlamps, only pricetags. The cheapest cost $19.95.

Only after leaving the store did I look closely at what I'd bought. It was made by Princeton. The model name is lost to me after throwing out the packaging.

This is a minimalist model. It has a single headband, not an added one that atop the skull. The light (actually a pair of bulbs) is smaller than an egg and about that shape.

My first test of this headlight came the next morning. Like all mornings these weeks, this one didn't yet show any sign of dawning at six o'clock.

I chose one of my darkest routes, Pre's Trail. My light was as powerful as it could be without blinding someone approaching me. It dimly lighted the trail about 10 yards in front.

But that wasn't really the point. I had run for decades without seeing well on almost half the mornings of each year. Now I know that a runner out at that hour needs a light less to see than to be seen.


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