Afraid of the dark
“I’m afraid of the dark”, exclaimed Marcus Torgeby, a high calibre ultra runner, once a promising star in the Swedish National Youth Running squad. It’s a perplexing statement coming from a man who’s just explaining to a packed auditorium that he spent four years living in a lavvu in the deep, dark forests of Jämtland. You are excused if you don’t know what a lavvu is, as the Sami population around 100 years ago stopped living in this rather temporary tent-like structure when they discovered the benefits of housing. And for those unfamiliar with the Swedish geography and ecology, Jämtland is like Belgium – if you just remove the population and cover it in a dense forest of evergreens. Astonishing when experienced with friends in a warm and cozy cottage, horrifying when experienced alone in a tent, one hour away from your nearest neighbor.
“So I’m not the only Ironman afraid of the dark”, I thought. How liberating! My first encounter running in a dark forest was during my first ever 18km run. I had decided one early morning in December that it was time to do 18k. I went to a trail park outside Gothenburg with a beautiful collection of trails ranging from 2.5 km to 18 km all starting and ending at the same place. We used to run the 2.5 km-track as kids in school, and I remember it as a never-ending distance.
In December the sun rises at 08:30 am, but the parking lot was lit up and there was lighting on the running tracks. So I started my run, energized and full of anticipation. After some 5 km there was a sharp left that led me into the actual 18 km part of the trail. It took me a few minutes to realize that the track was no longer lit up. It was dark. Not pitch black, but a very early-morning, foggy darkness that makes everything gray and limits your visibility to a few metres. Bummer.
For a runner, the raison d’être is to move forward. So thinking: “Oh, this is scary. I’d better turn back.” is not something that enters your mind. And even if it did I would not dare to ever utter it, let alone act on it, for the fear of eternal mental retribution by this blog’s co-author. So I kept running. The forest became more dense, the light dimmer and the environment more hostile. My morning run quickly changed from inspiring to horrifying. Behind every tree, rock and bend I could see monsters from Mordor, wicked people and evil animals. Where did they all come from? And why did they disappear when I came closer? My pulse increased. Soon after, my speed increased as well. Most people run to have a healthy life. I was running for life. Did I hear steps behind me? My running speed increased further and so did the speed of me reciting Holy Mary. I continued in horror for an eternity.
Contrary to my expectations the eternity ended and I did arrive back at the start. I was alive, without a scratch and certain of never engaging in such life-threatening activities again. But how did it go for our comrade Markus? He told us that he also saw the monsters of Mordor and that the faster he ran the closer they came! So he devised a new coping strategy. When we was scared he stopped, accepted that he is scared and waited until the fear left him. It took 3 months of practice, alone in a dark forest. So I wont be doing lonely forest runs anytime soon.