Running is a relatively new thing to me and as such I haven’t yet experienced running in winter. The rain and cold weather is one thing, but the change in season also brings darkness. Gone are the lush, well lit evenings I’ve become accustomed to over the summer, and instead I am faced with the prospect of dark, slightly unnerving, runs over the winter.
It’s also only very recently that I’ve ventured out running on my own; previously I’ve preferred going out with a running group owing mainly to the fact that I knew I would need a giant kick up the backside to get me out there in the first place, but over these last few weeks I’ve plucked up the courage to go out by myself.
I’d like to say it’s because I love running SO much that I want to fit in a run whenever I can, or that I now have the confidence to brave it out there on my own, but no sadly it’s neither of these… The real reason?
I Hate the Dark!
It’s true, I proper HATE running in the dark, to the point that I would rather go out in the daytime on my own, instead of heading out en masse with the run group of an evening. I’ve tried it twice and each of those times I just did not like it one little bit and here’s why…
- The first night I went out was Halloween…umm hello? Killer clowns!
- I have a real problem with not being able to see what I’m standing on, especially when there’s so many leaves on the ground. There’ll be dog poo under there somewhere, you mark my words.
- I don’t feel safe and for that reason I end up running faster, way faster than I can actually handle, which screws my breathing right up and means I have to stop more often.
- And talking of breath…in the daytime when there’s so much more commotion and general noise going on, it’s so much harder to hear your own breathing. Yet when it’s dark and there’s no one around, less cars and less noise, it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable knowing that my heavy breathing is exposing me out as a potential target. Note to reader: Where I live is hardly like living in the ghetto; it’s a rather well to do market town in Hampshire (think Cath Kidston mum rather than drug addict slum!), but hey you’ve still got to have your wits about you, right!?
- Stay in with my pjs on, heating pumped up, a glass of wine in hand and the TV on, or go out in the cold, wearing a million lycra layers, freezing my bum off, a torch in hand and Strava on…yeah, exactly!
- Since I was little I’ve had a slight fear of being in the countryside in the dark because I worried that a fox or badger might run out of a bush at me. Totally ridiculous I know and as I type this I realise how silly it sounds, but the threat is real I tell you!
- OK, OK, so I’m a wimp!
Having spoken to others, most people I know seem to prefer running in the dark, with the main reason being that they like the fact that no one can see them, that in fact it gives them more confidence. So, it seems as though I am very much in the minority.
But whether you prefer running in the day or at night, one thing that is absolutely vital is safety and for that reason I have compiled my top ten tips for running in the dark:
There are so many different lights available for runners and decking yourself up like a Christmas tree really is one of the safest things you can do for yourself. Whether you opt for a headlamp, arm bands, belt clips or even a torch, anything is better than nothing. The important thing is that you need to be seen and running with a light bobbing up and down is certainly going to get you noticed.
Headlamps are best at lighting the way for yourself; so that you can see where you’re going, and clip lights (ideally flashing ones at the front and rear) are best for alerting drivers and other pedestrians that you are there. The look you’re going for is Blackpool Illuminations on a power surge, you can never be lit up too much!
Carrying on from lights, reflective clothing is also a must if you want to be seen. Those black leggings and black hoodie might make you look slimmer, but it’s going to make you completely camouflaged in the darkness and that is not good. If you’re going to continue running at night you need to invest in some brightly coloured running clothes, ideally with reflective strips down the arms or across the body. Yep, that’s right it’s all about those fluoro’s folks; think lollipop lady yellow, bright Barbie pinks and Lucozade orange. Here’s the golden rule – if you look as though you’ve stepped out of an 80’s pop video then you’ve pretty much got the look bang on! Remember it doesn’t matter what you look like (no one can really see the details, or even that it’s actually you), it’s about being seen by drivers.
I get that some people struggle to run without listening to music, but if you’re running at night it’s a habit you should seriously think about stopping. Your senses need to be on full alert at night and because your vision is that much more impaired it is essential that your next primary sense (hearing) can do its job properly. How can you hear traffic if you’re listening to music? How can you hear if someone is running up behind you? Or what if someone is shouting out to warn you of something? Running should be enjoyable, but more important than anything is your safety, so please keep those headphones at home or for daytime running only. If, however, you absolutely cannot run without music and you won’t even consider running without it, then compromise by only putting one earphone in, so that you at least have one ear listening out to what’s going on around you. It’s better than nothing, but two ears listening out really are better than one.
Go as a Group
There really is safety in numbers and running in a group at night is a whole lot safer than running on your own.
Not only does it give you company, but it also gives you the added reassurance that should anything go wrong, there are people close by to help you. It also acts as a deterrent to potential attackers as they are far, far less likely to approach a group than an individual runner. If you’re being stubborn and still plan to run on your own at night, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and try to stick to well lit routes with plenty of houses.
Like any good Girl Guide or Boy Scout running in the dark is all about being prepared and properly equipped. Remember to always take a phone, some loose change and, if you need it, an inhaler. It’s also good to have some form of ID on you, such as a drivers license, or you can even get special ID tags that attach to your trainers.
Running in the dark offers far more risks than daytime running, for the simple fact that you can’t see as well and your reactions are therefore not as quick. If you see a lowered curb in the daytime, chances are you’ll spot it in good time and alter your pace to deal with it. At night, that lowered curb becomes an obstacle and, particularly if you’re running too fast, by the time you do see it you’re unable to do anything about it and this is likely to cause an injury. The key is to slow your pace down a bit when you run in the dark. This is actually incredibly difficult to do, as instinct will probably have you running faster, not only because of the slight fear factor involved but also the added desire to get it done quicker so you can get back to your sofa. However, ignore this, slow it down just a touch and it will make your run far less hazardous.
It goes without saying that no matter what time of day you run, you should always have a decent pair of trainers, but night time running means there’s even more of a good reason to go out and treat yourself to a top notch, grippy pair. Even if you run on pavements, during the winter months you can expect leaves, ice, snow, mud and wet ground that require a better grip if you want to run through them unscathed. Rather than order a pair online, I would recommend visiting a quality running store so that you can get help from the experts. Tell them exactly what you want and also when you’ll be running, so that they can guide you in your choices and steer you away from just choosing a pair because they have sparkly laces!
Run against Traffic
In an ideal world you’re best off avoiding running on the road at all at night, but it’s not always possible, so if you do have to then just make sure you do it safely. This is a rule that you should be following in the daytime as well, but at night it’s even more important. It all boils down to the fact that you need to be seen by oncoming traffic and it’s far easier for you avoid cars if you can see them coming. Pay particular caution near bends and if it’s safer, i.e. you and any traffic are likely to be able to see you better from the opposite side of the road, then safely cross over until you are back on the straight.
Know your Route
I would recommend only running routes at night that you have already run a couple of times already in daylight, or at the very least that you have had a chance to walk through.
This will give you a chance to spot any areas that could be slightly more hazardous and allow you to either slightly adapt the route for night running, or at the very least raise your awareness and encourage you to slow down at certain points. You should also vary the route you take each time you go out, as attackers are known to target specific areas and may well learn an individuals running habits, making you much more vulnerable to them.
Try to keep to well lit, well populated areas for optimum safety.
Be Road Savvy
As adults I’m sure you all know how to cross the road safely, however at night, when you’re running, road safety can go a little bit out of the window, especially if you’re trying to set a new PB! Don’t take chances. Always slow down as you approach a road crossing, look both ways and if you have to stop then stop! Being over cautious is no bad thing and your life really is worth more than shaving a couple of seconds off your run time.
Even after following all of my own words of advice, I am still too much of a wuss to continue running in the dark. So, it looks as though winter will see me doing solo daytime running instead, combined with my regular Sunday, slower paced and more fun, run with my son. Choose whatever works best for you and whatever gets you out there, but always, ALWAYS make it safe!
Which do you prefer? Running in the day or at night? We’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, why you prefer one other the over and whether you have any other advice for night time running.
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Lush … nice thoughtful article. I run with a group and I think we’re trying to emulate running Xmas lights! I’ve just twigged that I can tie a cycle light on my pony tail … looking forward to it, just hope its not too distracting for motorists!