The part of the day after the sun has gone down and before the sky is completely dark.
I’ve loved the word gloaming ever since I first heard it. It speaks of adventures in the nature of Captain Scott of the Antarctic:
“I’m going to run into the gloaming. I may be some time.”
Off the tarmac, the trail slowly fades into a shared palette of first greys and then indigos.
Your stride shortens, your knee lift increases and you land further forward on your toes; not from a love of great running form, but to avoid tripping over those increasingly hard-to-see trip-hazards.
At some ill-defined point you realise that you are no longer picking your way through a poorly lit pathway, but are actually in the darkness. Your cadence drops and your run has no choice but to makes its route towards the nearest street lamps.
On the Run co-editor Simon Keller has an anecdote that Derek Clayton, the Australian world marathon record-holder, believed that it was best to run in impending darkness because subconsciously there’s a part of us that is desperate to get to safety before it gets dark, so we can summon more effort.
Above the Tropic of Capricorn that darkness leaps out from behind a shadowy palm tree and instantly engulfs you in its blackness. But here in New Zealand that blackness slides up on you gradually, luring you deeper into its web, until it entangles you, far from escape. I imagine that’s what it is like in Scotland too, from where the word gloaming originates. No choice but to pick your way back at a walk – toes testing each step in advance and hands out to catch yourself from falling.
It’s that slippery, weblike nature of the blackness that the word gloaming encapsulates for me.
Interestingly, there is no equivalent word for the period of not quite complete darkness before sunrise. Or at least not one I have ever learned. But if there were, it would need to be like gloaming, but somehow more hopeful, signifying a beginning rather than an ending.
Runs in this half-light are even better than gloaming runs because everything happens in reverse.
First the slow, cold regret of stepping out into the dark, barely able to see where your foot will next land. Gingerly picking your way through obstacles that appear milliseconds before your foot lands.
And then slowly, achingly slowly, the shadows turn into fully-formed grey shapes. And again, at some ill-defined point you find your stride has opened up and you are no longer fearful of tripping. Careful picking becomes joyful bounding. The speed all the more exciting because it seemed impossible at the start of the run.
With luck the sunrise affirms your love of nature and the first beams of sunlight take the sting of cold off your fingertips and dripping nose. But even if the sun is hiding behind clouds, as it was the morning I wrote this, the joy of light bringing an end to night still feels good.
And a new day awaits.