As we approach winter, and the days start to get shorter, many of us will have to run in the dark. If you run before or after work, chances are you will be running in the dark soon, if you don’t already.
This post may contain affiliate links. So if you click on a link in this post and make a purchase, I make a small percentage of the sale with no additional cost to you. This helps keep this blog up and running. Thank you for your support.
If your town or state acknowledges Daylight Savings Time, then you will have a little more light in the morning for a short time anyway, but then the afternoons will get dark sooner. Meaning it may be dark by the time you get home. It’s no fun going to work in the dark and getting home in the dark. Especially if you work inside all day and don’t get to enjoy the sun while it is out.
This is why so many people can get the winter blues. Not enough sunlight or Vitamin D. This is especially true where I live. We have a very high number of cloudy days in the winter compared to most of the country. That is one reason I could not imagine living somewhere like Alaska that has only 1 to 2 hours of daylight during the winter, plus it’s really cold. I hate the cold! But, I wouldn’t mind the 23 hours of daylight during the summer months and all the beautiful scenery.
I try to run during my lunch break so it is during daylight hours, and it doesn’t take up valuable family time when I get home. But I have spent many hours running and training in the dark over the years. Sometimes because of time constraints, and others due to weather.
When I was in graduate school in Arkansas, I ran with a group that met in the mornings. During the summer, we had to start our runs by 5 just to beat the heat. It was already humid, and I was sweating early on even with just a sports bra and shorts. But we got done early, sometimes before the sun was up, and got to go home, eat, shower and nap. All before most people were even awake. Can’t beat that! So, I have 10 tips to help you have a safe run, no matter the reason you have for needing to run in the dark.
Stock Photo by oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo
Let someone know when and where you are running, and when you should be back.
This is important even if you run during the daytime. Someone should always know where you are if possible. This could be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or neighbor. If you get up before everyone else in the house, you can leave a note stating where you are running and when to expect you back. This way they will know if they need to come looking for you if you are late.
I usually tell my husband where I am running and what time I think I should be done, or at least a range of how many miles I will run. The road I live on is not safe to run in the dark. It’s too hilly, curvy and there are no shoulders to use to get out of the way of cars. So, unless I want to run on the treadmill, I have to drive to a location. I’ll text when I get there, so he knows I made it. Then I will text when I’m finished so he knows I made it through my run and I am ok.
Carry a cell phone and identification
This obviously isn’t a must, as many cell phones are huge and can be a pain to carry. However, it is safer to have one. You never know if you may need it. Even if it’s just that one time. You may need a ride home because your car breaks down, the weather gets really bad, you get hurt on the run, or you feel unsafe or need to call the police. Also, if you have the tracker turned on, someone can find you easier if you need help.
I carry my phone if I am running somewhere new, like when I go on work trips to large cities. That way I have it if I need it, or if I get lost. There are many articles of clothing now that make it easier to carry a phone. If you have one of the basic flip phones, then those may actually fit in your short’s pocket. If you are wearing a jacket, then you can just slip it in one of the pockets, preferably one that zips, so the phone doesn’t fall out.
There are several varieties of running belts available, such as, these reflective belts and these flip belts. Carrying identification with you will help if you get into an accident. You can carry your driver’s license with you in your shorts or jacket pocket, or also put it in a running belt like the ones mentioned above.
A popular form of identification is the Road ID Bracelets. They just fit on your wrist like a watch or wristband and they come in many color and material options. You can include your name, name and number of a contact person, and location. There is also a website you can go to to enter other important information, such as, allergies to latex or medications, blood type, or medical conditions you may have. Doctors or nurses can access this information if needed.
Choose route carefully.
Stock Photo by Kaique Rocha/Pexels
Run in well-lit areas if possible. This is safer for you because you will have better visibility. It is also harder for people that are up to no good to hide in the light compared to the shadows.
Choose a route where you feel comfortable, whether it’s from your house, a loop around the neighborhood, through town, or at the track. Most parks aren’t open until dawn, so you may not be able to run along the trails in those.
I like to run in places that are more open so I can see my surroundings better. If you’ve never tried it, there’s nothing better than an early morning track workout in the dark. It’s an odd feeling, especially if the track isn’t lit. You can feel like you are flying. It’s fun to do workouts with others that are faster or slower than you so you can chase them or be chased.
Back when our schedules weren’t so busy and before kids, I would often meet my best friend at her house or the track for a run or workout really early in the morning. My husband always felt better if I was running with someone. We would run through town on the sidewalks or through the neighborhoods that were fairly well lit. Although some of the streetlights always seemed to go out as we approached them and then would come back on after we ran past.
Be aware of your surroundings
Cars may not always see you even if you are wearing reflective gear. So, try not to daydream too much while you are running. It is safer not to wear headphones while running in the dark. This way even if your eyes don’t catch something, you will likely hear it.
Also, be aware of any cars or people that are travelling too close to you or appear to be following you. You hear about this more often than you would like, I’m sure. And it’s scary! You hear about runners, especially women, who have been followed, attacked, kidnapped or worse. It really is our worst nightmare.
Unfortunately, many runners don’t run at night or alone because of this fear of being attacked.
There is nothing wrong with that or running on the treadmill because you don’t feel safe anywhere else. I just really wish it didn’t have to be this way. I hate that it has come to this and that we have to be so careful when we are out running. All we want to do is get in some exercise, clear our minds, or train for our next race. Instead, we have to be very aware, almost hyper-aware of our surroundings at all times and keep our eyes and ears open for any signs of danger.
In college, I used to run around campus all the time alone at night. It was my time to myself. It was peaceful. I didn’t have to think of tests, grades or anything else. It was a small college town, so I never really felt like I was in danger. I usually ran along the sidewalks, and they were fairly well lit. I guess that made me the naïve college student.
Foolish, I know!
Thinking back on all the times I ran at night, and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, when it was quiet and no traffic, I realize I was probably lucky. I would have been an easy target, as a small, petite woman. And I didn’t carry any protection, such as, pepper spray. I know things can still happen to people that have protection and who are very careful and aware. The world is full of crazy people.
So just pay attention to your surroundings. If something feels off, turn around and head back to your house, car, or somewhere you feel safe. If you have your phone, call someone to come get you. If you really don’t feel safe and feel like you are in immediate harm, call the police right away.
Run with a buddy or group
This is one of the best safety tips since there is safety in numbers. You can run with your spouse or significant other, a friend, running group, or even your dog (as long as they have some kind of reflective gear on to keep them safe). You help each other watch out for obstacles and cars. Predators, of the animal and human kind, are also less likely to come after a group of people as opposed to an individual.
It’s also a motivator knowing someone is waiting for you to start their run. So, you are less likely to come up with excuses to skip a run, even when all you want to do is stay in bed or go home and relax. I like to run with friends because it gives me someone to talk to. I do most of my runs alone, but friends help to pass the time. Especially if you have a long run to complete. It keeps your mind off of the miles you have left, or how much your legs ache. And besides, who else is willing to listen to you for hours about your races or mileage.
Because I know our families get tired of hearing about nothing but running, and they don’t know how far a 5k or marathon is. Am I right?! Oh, you ran a 10k marathon. Ha ha! No! A 10k is not a marathon!
So, there are many benefits to running with a buddy or group (link to another post). If you don’t have anyone to run with, a good place to start is finding a local running group. Many actually run early in the mornings before work or in the afternoons. Maybe one of them lives near you or is willing to meet at a time that fits both of your schedules.
Having some type of protection on you is always a good idea.
There are many types of protection, such as, pepper spray, small handgun, knife, Taser, and even a whistle. What you can carry, will depend on your state’s or country’s laws. So, make sure you know what is legal to carry so you don’t get in trouble for trying to protect yourself. Although, to me, it seems crazy that you could get in trouble more than a perpetrator for using a certain type of protection like pepper spray.
If you can’t carry any protection, then take some self-defense classes to increase your odds of fighting off an attacker. You are a runner, so learn to use those strong legs. Although running away is usually the best option, from a person, not always safe if fighting off a dog or wild animal. Often in those cases, you should stand your ground and look big and be loud. Many runners also carry protection in case of wildlife encounters, such as bears, mountain lions, or coyotes. I carry pepper spray to protect myself from dogs.
I’ve had many close encounters with so called “friendly dogs”, dogs that like to chase, big dogs, and small dogs. There are a couple of breeds that like to chase me, so if I see one, I’m always ready. I’ve also been attacked by 2 dogs while running down a country road, just down from my aunt’s house. I had left my pepper spray at home, so I had to use a blue barrel that was nearby to protect myself from more bites until the dogs’ owner finally came to get his dogs. So be aware of objects around you that you can use for protection in a pinch, such as heavy sticks or rocks, you can use to throw at or hit the animal.
Wear reflective gear
Reflective gear will make you more visible. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive. Gear can include a reflective vest, belt, or jacket, technical running shirt, or a hat. Most running shoes already have reflective material on the heel, so you are visible from the back.
Wearing brightly colored clothing will also help. My favorite running jacket, Saucony VIZIPRO< is bright orange and reflective, although it doesn’t look like they make it anymore. So, it’s a double whammy as far as protection goes. The bright color is also very visible during the day. It’s still as bright today as it was when I bought it several years ago. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen runners (or walkers) out on the road in dark clothes. Many don’t carry light or are running the wrong way (with traffic) so I don’t see them until I am right up on them with my car. This is very dangerous! I really don’t want to hit another runner or anyone on the road, for that matter! So, please make yourself very visible. In the two 200-mile relay races I’ve run in you have to sign safety waivers before you run. You are required to wear a reflective vest, carry a flashlight or wear headlamp, and wear a red blinking light in the back.
Wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight
To run in the dark, you’ll need some source of light to help you see. Even if it’s a full moon, a light will help you see the road better. It also makes you more visible to drivers.
I like to carry a small flashlight that has a high number of lumens like this one. It is very bright. It can also switch to a flashing or strobe light for even more visibility. It fits easily in my hand and isn’t heavy, so I usually forget that I’m even carrying it. When a car approaches, I like to wave it back and forth a little so the driver sees me. I also used it during a night trail race. It lit up the trail well so I could see all the obstacles in my way.
A good headlamp will be bright and should adjust so it doesn’t fall off your head. Many runners prefer headlamps so they don’t have to carry anything. This will be a personal preference. Most ultra runners that race or train at night like to use headlamps. After several hours of running, it becomes harder to hold onto a flashlight, as opposed to keeping a headlamp on your head. There is a new type of light available called knuckle lights. They fit onto your fingers, so you don’t have to hold them and risk dropping. They stay on since your fingers are curled in a natural grip as you run. The lights are a high beam light so the light doesn’t bounce around.
Check the weather before your run
Make sure you check the forecast and know what the weather will be during your run.
If the forecast is calling for heavy snow, rain, or storms, you may want to consider running at another time or using the treadmill. These conditions will reduce your visibility and the ability of drivers to see you on the road.
If icy, you may opt to run later or hit the treadmill. There are options of cleats or spikes to wear on the bottom of shoes, but I don’t know how well they work. You can even make your own spikes like mentioned on running.competitor.com. But when running on the ice, you have to consider your location. Hills will be harder to climb and dangerous to go down. You have to worry more about vehicles crashing into you.
Lots of people think they can drive on the ice, but ice doesn’t offer any traction, so you have to be very careful. Drivers likely won’t be able to stop quickly if they begin to slide. Luckily I don’t live in an area that gets much ice. But, unfortunately when we do, it is usually an ice storm, so you’re not going to go outside anyway. I have run in about every weather condition (other than tornadoes and hurricanes, because that would just be crazy!), but it was usually during the daytime when I could see better and cars could see me.
So, just be careful with the weather and also realize it could change instantly. Mother nature isn’t always forgiving or predictable.
Dress appropriately for the weather
When running in the dark, you aren’t going to have the heat from the sun to help warm you up. Wear enough layers to keep you warm.
I wear less layers than most people, even though I’m petite. You generally want to be a little chilly before you run because you will warm up as you move. If you are already warm before you start, you may overheat. Or, you will start to get very chilled if you sweat too much, especially if it’s really cold outside. Have extra layers to put on when you are done running to help warm you up. This way you won’t be shivering as you stretch or cool down.
I wear shorts down to 32 degrees, but I will sometimes wear capri or knee tights as long as it’s below 40 degrees. If it’s going to be windy or below freezing, you will likely want to wear a light jacket or windbreaker. I love my bright orange Saucony jacket. It is water repellant, reflective and very bright. Most drivers can see orange easily enough. I also have the orange reflective beanie for my head and the headband if I just want to cover my ears. If it’s raining you’ll want a light rain jacket and a hat to keep the water out of your eyes. Although I’ve had many runs in the rain without a jacket. I just make sure I change into dry clothes as soon as I’m done with my run.
For mild weather, I like to layer a singlet with either the light jacket or a long-sleeved performance shirt, that can zip down at the top in case you get hot during the run. I really like the ones that have thumb holes so the shirts don’t ride up and it adds a little bit of extra warm to the hands.
You will need gloves if it’s going to be cold. Gloves are a must for me. My hands get cold easily, so I wear gloves if it’s around 50 or below. I usually keep them on during the entire run. I like the cheap ones from Walmart. They can be tossed during races and you won’t feel bad if you lose one on the run. I usually keep several pairs of these around. These are actually what I use for every day, too.
If it will be well below freezing or raining, you can opt for some performance gloves that will keep your hands warmer and dry.
So, what are your experiences with running in the dark? Any other tips that I left out. Leave a comment below and let me know.