Blinking People (In Honor of National Running Safety Month)

I like blinking people. Blinking people are fun. And with the time change, we get to see a lot more of them.

For the runner, the end of daylight savings time always means more adjustments than those pertaining to the analog and digital. Calibrating a clock face is one thing. Heading out for a long run late in the afternoon is another. One moment we’re basking in the eight o’clock glow of a summer evening, and the next we’re watching the sun sink behind the horizon at a blasphemous time—like 4:53pm, or something ridiculous like that. It’s like the chronometric powers that be upended the celestial democracy, abandoned elections altogether, and concocted a brilliant truce of party politics.

“Fine,” they said, “during the summer months, the Daylight Saving Party gets timekeeping duties, and during the winter months, we’ll cash our daylight checks like they’re going out of style. It’s the best of both worlds!”

Perhaps they figured that by giving both the chronometrically conservative and liberal their respective turns, at the end of the year, the daylight budget would be happily balanced. That’s all fine and dandy, but in the meantime, we mortal runners are left to deal with the light-saving fallout.

Maybe it’s just me, but fallout seems to manifest itself in an odd assortment of running accessories. Case in point: I recently started a fifteen-mile run at 4:07pm. I was wearing sunglasses and a headlamp.

Yeah. Exactly.

My plan was to run due west for approximately five miles before turning around and engaging in a somewhat nauseating series of loops to fill the final ten miles. The first five miles would be directly into the sun; the last ten would be sans sun and streetlights. Thus, I was fantastically accessorized for my run. In addition to my sunglasses and headlamp combo, I boasted a reflective vest, a hat, gloves, my Garmin, a water bottle, my iPod, and knee-high CEP socks. I was the high-performance embodiment of a soccer goalie, a miner (or spelunker, if you will), and a chief supervisor with the Missouri Department of Transportation, Highway Division. It also appeared that I considered myself in great danger of becoming dehydrated.

With the severe satisfaction that comes with excessive preparedness, I headed out for my run, looking not unlike I had just looted a local costume store’s “After Halloween” sale and, in my “Everything Must Go!” excitement, donned my entire purchase in one fell swoop.

Ten miles later, it was really, really dark.

It’s funny how quickly our circumstances can change, on the roads and in life. I was feeling rather chipper at the beginning of my run, my wardrobe screaming “Clearance Prices!” even as I reveled in the beauty of an autumn sunset and the golden hues cast upon a harlequin landscape. The air was crisp, my senses were piqued, and my mind was clear.

An hour later, closed in by an unusually opaque darkness, I harbored the vague sensation that I was about to be shot—and not at random, mind you, but at mile 14.9, with full knowledge and ceremony.

This unpromising premonition may have had something to do with the current song playing on my iPod (might I suggest sticking to perky music when running at night?); but regardless of the reason, I somehow found myself feeling very alone.

Nevertheless, I continued blinking and reflecting my way down another despairing mile of road when in the distance I spotted something. Something twinkling. Nearer it drew. I looked at my watch. Mile twelve. Comforted by the thought that I still had three miles to go before I needed to be on the lookout for the man who was going to shoot me, I continued forward, one barely visible step at a time.

There was something distinctive about the light. It was bouncing. Bouncing and blinking.  This specter was another runner. The beam from my headlamp caromed off the reflective strips across the apparition’s chest as the distance between us closed until, for a split second, we were side by side. Then we passed each other and ran on. There were no greetings or formalities, just a simple salute via a knowing nod of the head. A signal that said, “Yeah, I get it. I’m right there with you.”

There is a certain fraternalism that comes with blinking accessories. It is a brotherhood (or sisterhood, if you will), and we wear our membership quite literally on our arms and sleeves and chests and hats. Blinking People recognize going for a run as a perfectly legitimate way to spend a Friday evening. Blinking People see the beauty in retina-damaging neon colors and a battery-operated wardrobe, even when they can’t see anything else (because it’s so dark). Blinking People understand that you don’t have to be able to see the finish line in order to take your next step. Blinking People know that what they are doing matters, even if it’s inconvenient, even if it looks crazy, even if it means harboring the unfounded suspicion that firearms may be involved.

We were just two spandex-clad ships passing in the night, my blinking stranger-friend and I, but I was encouraged by the encounter. His presence reminded me that I was not alone.

Blinking People are both practical and inspiring, which is fitting for a sport that juxtaposes the ridiculous and the profound on a daily basis. Yes, we may look ridiculous (I prefer eccentric) in our radioactive apparel and slew of accessories that can be measured in watts. But in our very pragmatism, we represent a higher purpose and a deeper resolution.

Everybody runs in the dark at one point or another. Sometimes we run with the luxury of others; sometimes the glow of a light bulb strapped to our foreheads is our only companion. Sometimes it is very hard. But never is it futile. Driven by conviction, we place one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

So rise, Blinking People. Blink because you get it. Blink because you are determined. Blink because you will persevere, even on the darkest nights. Blink to inspire others. Blink to inspire yourself. Blink because you don’t want to get hit by a car.

Blink on, my friends. Blink on.

Connect With Us

see the latest from Fleet Feet St. Louis