It’s not always easy to find time to run during daylight hours. In the winter months when the sun rises late and sets early, nine-to-fivers often discover it’s next to impossible. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, logging miles in the dark is a reality for many runners.
If you plan on hitting the roads to work out under the cover of night, you should take a number of safety precautions that are less of a concern when the sun is shining. Here’s how to think ahead to avoid some potentially dangerous situations:
1. See and be seen.
One of the cardinal rules of nighttime running: Wear a reflective, highly visible ensemble. While it may be easy for you to see that oncoming car, it will have a tough time spotting you on the side of the road. When in doubt, overdo it when it comes to reflectivity. Choose gear with reflective elements on key biomotion areas — like your wrists, ankles and chest. This can help drivers identify you as a human being on the move, instead of a road sign or other inanimate object. Strap on a headlamp for extra visibility; it will also illuminate the path ahead.
2. Follow the rules of the road.
When running on a road, always stay as far to the left side as possible so you’re moving against traffic. If you have the option to work out on a well-lit trail that isn’t secluded, even better.
3. Be selective about your route.
Choose well-traveled, highly lit trails for obvious safety reasons, and select familiar routes. This will allow you to anticipate tricky traffic spots, potholes and detours that can be more difficult to navigate in the dark.
4. Plan workouts accordingly.
Since you can’t see things at a distance as well when it’s dark, you might feel like you’re running faster than you actually are when training at night. This is because the objects you can see are the ones closest to you, and they appear to be zipping by much more quickly than things you’d be able to see in the distance during the daytime. This, along with the fact that you can’t see the ground underfoot, can present a problem if you hope to log a hard workout in the dark. The best way to approach these tougher sessions is to locate a well-lit area: a track with stadium lights or a park with plenty of streetlights. Not only will the enhanced lighting make gauging speed easier, it’ll also allow you to relax into your stride without worrying about stumbling over a hidden obstacle.
5. Tell someone where you’re going.
Informing a family member or friend about where you plan to run is always a good idea, but it becomes especially important at night. Fill them in on the general direction you’re going, as well as your estimated time of return, so they will know if anything is awry.
6. Carry an ID and phone.
Some runners are uncomfortable carrying a phone, but at the very least you should have identification with you in case of emergency. This can be your driver’s license or a simple identification bracelet or tag that includes an emergency contact and any important medical information.
7. Stay alert.
Keeping your eyes and ears open is particularly important when you’re running in the dark. For instance, it’s going to be easier for you to hear and see a car that has turned into your path than it will be for the driver. What’s more, being alert to questionable people or potentially dangerous situations will help you avoid them altogether.
8. Listen to your instincts.
While you shouldn’t run scared when you’re training in the dark, if your instincts are telling you something is off, listen! Those little alarm bells in your head may mean nothing, but oftentimes your instincts are signaling a danger that your brain hasn’t caught onto yet. By listening to that little voice in your head, you’ll ensure your safety for many nighttime runs to come.