Runners know that getting in a training run can be a balancing act. You are juggling the sport, family, friends, work and more. Sometimes, this means you have to fit in a run in the early morning or late at night. Even if this isn’t your norm, sometimes, you don’t have a choice.
“It’s not ideal to run in the dark, but if that’s your only option, then you have to make the most of it. As a teacher, I run before work and for some of the year, it’s still dark out. When that’s the case, I dress appropriately and make sure I tell my wife where I’m going and for roughly how long I’ll be gone,” shares Marc Pelerin, a middle school cross country and track coach, as well as an online running coach at TrainwithMarc.com. “If you don’t feel comfortable running in the dark, you can always opt for a lunchtime run or a treadmill run. If that’s not an option, you can always cross-train on a bike or elliptical.”
If you can’t hit the gym or run during daylight, here are some important safety tips for those hours before the sun comes up and after it sets, so you can still train and don’t have to skip out on logging crucial miles.
1. DON’T RUN ALONE
If you are running in the early morning or late evening, finding someone — or a few people — to run with is key. Not only will you have someone who can get help if there is an injury or accident, but you also have company to pass the time with.
“Not only is there safety in numbers, but knowing someone is counting on you to show up at O-dark-thirty is great motivation to follow through on your planned run,” note Lisa Reichmann and Julie Sapper, certified coaches and co-founders of Run Farther and Faster.
So, recruit a running buddy or two and help hold each other accountable. Should you not have someone available or they cancel but you still need to get in a run, using an app like MapMyRun is a great alternative. With its live-tracking feature for MVP members, your friends and family can watch your run in real-time to keep an eye on you as you run your entire route.
2. BE VISIBLE
There will be more visibility in numbers, but that alone isn’t enough to make sure you are seen. You should, of course, still follow rules of the road such as running into traffic, but making sure you have the proper gear is crucial.
“There are all sorts of illumination gear, including running headlamps, handheld lights and reflective vests to help drivers see you out on the road,” affirm Reichmann and Sapper. “Even with reflective gear, though, assume cars don’t see you and make eye contact before crossing at intersections,” and always avoid crossing in the middle of the road.
Be prepared to change how you run in the dark and be sure you slow down your pace and
“As with any type of running you need to run to suit the conditions you are running in. Even with a headlamp you still won’t have the same visibility as you would during the day, so you will need to adapt the way you run,” adds Louelle Blanchard, founder and coach of Evolution Runners. “No matter what gear you have, try to find areas that are well lit by streetlights.”
3. KEEP YOUR PHONE AND ID ON HAND
Having your phone and identification on you are important safety tips no matter the time of day, but they are especially important when running in the dark. Not only can you use your phone to track your training, but it will be necessary if you find yourself in an emergency situation and need to call for help.
“I strongly encourage runners to carry their phone on them when running at all times, but especially in the dark,” urges Blanchard. “If something happens — like you have a fall or if you just feel unsafe for some reason — then you can call for help. It is also useful if you do get lost, as you can utilize the GPS maps on your phone and it can also come in handy as another light source if your headlamp happens to go flat.”
Reichmann and Sapper agree and add that if rain is in the forecast or you sweat a lot, be sure to put your phone in a plastic sandwich bag or a waterproof case to keep it dry. Many people will have their emergency contacts stored on their phone, but it is also a good idea to have your ID on hand, as well. If you don’t want to run with a license, the pair recommends getting a RoadID, which you wear on your wrist or shoe. You can not only include your emergency contact info but also your name, birthday, blood type and, if necessary, a URL where medical personnel can find a detailed medical history.
4. LEAVE YOUR HEADPHONES AT HOME
Even though you want to run with your phone, when it is dark outside, you shouldn’t have headphones connected to it or to any music player. It can be hard for a lot of runners to stay motivated without music, but you can talk with your running buddy or use it as a time to work on your mental training, instead.
“Avoid wearing headphones, which can prevent you from hearing what is going on around you and put you in a vulnerable position,” explain Reichmann and Sapper. “If you just really can’t run without headphones, then wear one earbud in and one out. Make sure you can hear any nearby noises and react quickly if necessary.”
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If you run with apps or other training tools that use voice coaching you may have to use the one earbud in and one out method described above, just make sure the volume is low.
5. STICK TO FAMILIAR ROUTES
Finally, when setting out for a run in the dark, sticking to areas you know — and that are also well-lit — is a great way to stay safe. Though you may be tempted to run the same route every day, be sure to vary it.
“Neighborhoods are good options, as there are homes nearby where a runner can go if an emergency arises,” note Reichmann and Sapper. “We also encourage runners who have to run in the dark to vary their route and, as much as possible, the timing of their run, so that they are not predictable. Varying your route not only improves safety, but also fitness by varying terrain.”
Even if you are very familiar with the area and are running with a buddy, it is always a good idea to have an emergency contact prepared. Blanchard says this is as simple as always letting someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be.