Night Moves (Dancing in the Dark)

Posted by Filed Under: Running Tips

running tips
There’s nothing like running outdoors. It beats the treadmill (a.k.a. dreadmill) any day. The air is fresher outside than in the stale gym filled with other sweaty runners, there’s ever changing scenery instead of a blaring TV, and nobody is waiting for you to finish so they can jump on the treadmill right behind you.

You can bring your water with you, maybe you have a GPS device to track your route and pace, maybe there’s a trail out there waiting for you. When it’s sunny you can wear sunscreen and when it’s rainy bring a cap. But what about when it’s dark? Really dark.

In an ideal world, it would stay daylight until we finished our runs, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the dangers of running at night. But sometimes life gets in the way and we get home late, or the seasons change and its still dark for that early morning run. At times like this, you need to keep some very important tips in mind.

  1. Option #1: Don’t run. That is always your first choice. If you don’t feel safe or you don’t think a run at night is for you, then do not run. There’s always tomorrow.
  2. See. Your first obstacle is the fact that at night it’s hard to see (obviously). You can’t see the potholes, you can’t see the crack in the sidewalk, and you can’t see the dog poop. So, bring a small light. I carry a small flashlight, like a mini Maglight. But a small plastic flashlight might be lighter and less bothersome to carry. A runner’s headlamp might suit you better. Anything that sheds enough light to see where you are heading. Also, a little light shed on an old stump, prevents it from turning into a giant monster trying to eat you. I’ve seen it happen. Bring a light.
  3. Be seen. You can’t see in the dark and drivers have just as hard a time. They are playing with the radio, or talking on the phone, or joking with their buddies in the car. Or they’re drunk. Something that distracts them from seeing you. If you are dressed in your slick black Lycra running pants, and jet black Lycra top, you are just a shadow to be run over. Wear something white, white shirt, white pants (well if ya got ’em), white socks. If it’s reflective, that’s even better. You can buy reflective running vests or strips for your shirt. Don’t forget that flashlight. That will make you a very visible object near the road. I wear a flashing strobe on my outside arm. On one night run, somebody stopped to tell me I was “lit up like a Christmas tree.” That’s the point. You want them to see you from a long way away, not just before they hit you with their bumper.
  4. Know the road. A night run is not a good time to try out a new running route. Getting lost is a pain in the daytime, and downright dangerous at night. For the 6’9″ black belt runners it’s not so much trouble but, for everyone else, getting lost in a bad part of town at night can mean a world of hurt. Stay close to home. Run the route you know well. If you have a very long run, try doing successive out and back loops of a shorter distance from home or your point of origin. If there is a running park or a place where a lot of runners do night runs, you may want to try there too. A lot of people around can help make a place safer.
  5. Keep in touch. Tell someone where you are going and when you think you will be back. If you get into trouble, at least someone will be looking for you later. Sitting on the side of an empty road in the dark with a twisted ankle really sucks when nobody is going to miss you. Got a cell phone you can carry? Bring it. Even better than telling a friend, bring them along! Running with a partner can be fun, and there’s safety in numbers. They can help scare away the monsters.

Night running can be a really great experience but you should follow some safety guidelines so it doesn’t end up being a terrible one. Run hard, run safe.

  1. Joe Ely on October 17th at 8:30 am

    Well stated, Jon. Same principles hold for morning runs. The strobe is a huuuuuugely positive thing for visibility. I’ve had people react the same way.

    Known paths are also key, as you say.

  2. Dianna on October 17th at 11:36 am

    In the winter, the Running Chicks like to meet at a local college and run around campus after dark. It’s well lit and there are always lots of people around. Plus, there’s an awesome track to run on too, if the mood strikes.

    (and nice Seger and Springsteen references)

  3. Karen in Calgary on October 17th at 1:36 pm

    Be careful when passing someone while running in the dark. Even if the person you’re passing is benign, folks out for a night stroll are often in their own world, listening to music or deep in thought. YOU might hear your own footsteps and think your breathing is loud, but it’s not a good idea to startle someone else in the dark.

    A simple wide circle around the slower person or a verbal warning “On your left” is often enough to be polite and safe.

  4. Karen in Calgary on October 17th at 1:41 pm

    Oh, and dare I bring up the touchy point “Leave the tunes at home” ? One sense (sight) is already challenged in the dark – attentive listening to your surroundings can keep you safer from predators and errant drivers.

    Bring along some food for thought and mull over that instead of the tunes.

  5. Jack on October 18th at 1:26 am

    Tunes in the dark is asking for trouble. Be extra careful in the woods during hunting season, or better yet stay out of the woods during hunting season. This is especially true if the hunters are from NYC – some really don’t know the difference between a cow and a deer, so will they recognize you?