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

Sat, 12 Dec 1998 09:24:35 -0500

First Light

(from RC 279)

Morning people like me welcome the return to Standard Time. The fall-back of the clock brings up the sun an hour earlier.

I'm a seven o'clock runner all year long. One week in October the runs started in near-darkness, the next week at sunrise.

This is a brief respite, though. Daylight continues to shrink, and through December and January the seven A.M.s will be as dark again as they were before the time change.

Wet and cold I can take. But the dark runs of winter are my least favorite -- and not just because my feet go down on faith that they'll find safe ground, not because I feel unseen by drivers, not because time is invisible unless I stop and squint at the pale green light of the watch.

I'm a morning runner by choice and habit. But in winter this hour isn't the morning; it's still nighttime.

Here in the gray Northwest we wait past eight o'clock to see full light. This keeps me in the dark for most of my runs, which can become depressing.

I feel sorry for runners who work eight-to-five jobs. They're finishing morning runs as mine start, or waiting to run after work -- again in darkness after Daylight Time ends.

Serious cases of winter depression have their own names. Clinically it's known as "seasonal affective disorder," or SAD. Popularly we all it "cabin fever."

I'm not a serious sufferer. Getting out in the air under any light or weather conditions seems to chase away most of the demons.

Recent research tells me I could do a little better at this. Runners whose jobs keep them entirely in the dark at one end of the day or the other could do a lot better.

Timely stories appeared this fall. These reported that the best way to beat the winter blues is to absorb as much light as possible, the earlier in the day the better.

Test subjects sat in front of bright artificial lights at different times of day. The moods of 55 percent improved with morning treatments, compared with only 28 percent from evening light, said study director Charmane Eastman of Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

I'm no scientist, and mine has only been an experiment of one. But I know my wintertime outlook improves as exposure to light increases. Natural light has a greater effect than artificial, and this sunlight can penetrate clouds and clothes -- but not roofs or walls.

My advice to any runner whose mood plunges at this time of year, and the mileage along with it, isn't to quit your job and move to Hawaii. Instead, just get out into the light. First light of day is preferable but impractical, so any daylight is better than none.

Switch the run to noon if that fits into your schedule. Run longer in the morning light on weekends.

I'm a lucky runner who doesn't need to spend all day in an office. Only my compulsive nature compels me to run in the darkness of winter seven o'clocks. It's time to break this compulsion to start early.

Linger longer before going out to run on winter mornings. First light is worth waiting for.

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