Although we earn a small reprieve from the early morning darkness with next month's time change, many runners are just settling in for a long winter of running in the dark. Whether you rise early to beat the rush before the workday begins and the kids wake up, or fit in a run at the end of the day, nighttime running is a fact of life for many athletes. Here are a few tips for staying safe and maximizing these workouts until the sun reappears.
While running the same route again and again might seem unappealing, or stopping your awesome tempo run briefly to make sure a passing car sees you, it is always worth it. Stick to routes where lighting can help provide safety and mark your path, even if that means doing multiple loops around a few block radius. Head to a local track and run while kids are playing soccer or lacrosse under the lights in the evening. Put off exploration of that new trail until the weekend when you can run in the daylight. Set aside the headphones so that you can be alert to your surroundings (yes, you can do it).
Choose routes for the presence of sidewalks away from the roadway. Consider places of business where early morning activity takes place in a typically safe manner, such as a gas station, bagel shop, or Starbucks and include them on your run. Check for daily sunrise and sunset times so you can safely estimate when you will need to be in spots that are safe for those times of day. In short, give yourself at least one more measure of safety precautions than you would ordinarily take. That may mean boredom and repetition, but is always better than not being able to run at all or risking adverse events
See and be seen
Many running apparel companies and specialty brands have introduced reflective clothing and devices to help runners stay safe in the dark. Sometimes we focus on being visible to cars and others by wearing reflective gear, and other times we focus on keeping our path lit with headlamps and other illuminating devices. In reality, both are important at all times. A hard fall because of an unseen root or sidewalk crack is dangerous, and of course it is crucial to be visible to vehicular traffic. It isn’t always possible to be completely visible in the dark, but taking care to be seen and to seeing where your feet will travel can be a crucial safety precaution.
Keep others in the loop
Whether you live with others in your household or reside independently, leave a note, a text, or other word where you plan to go every time. If you encounter any trouble on an evening run, it may be until daylight before anyone is aware of your extended absence or be able to see you in distress alongside a road. Particularly if doing something strenuous or extended, such as a long run for a marathon training cycle, estimating a time of return can help ease the mind of others who aren’t used to the length of these runs, as well as determine when you are indeed overdue. Whenever possible, try to meet others for nighttime runs. Both as a safety measure and as added encouragement when the winter is at its darkest and coldest point, a partner or group willing to meet you at a nighttime hour can make all the difference.
Roads and outdoor tracks may not be the only venues for getting in runs. Enclosed walkways, indoor public spaces, the perimeter of a well-lit parking lot, and even a circuit of long hallways in winter-affected cities might provide occasional safe locations for runs when things are truly awful and dark. Consider a short-term gym membership, even if just to break up the workout by running there, doing some miles on the treadmill, and running home. If winter is really getting the best of you, consider sampling some indoor cross training disciplines you have been waiting to try, or investigate the possibility of all-comers indoor track meets in your community as a way to get in a good hard effort inside.
While nighttime running may not be pleasant for many, runners across the country and around the world have thrived with a schedule comprised primarily of workout times before dawn or after dusk. The good news is that sunlight is likely around the corner as spring returns, and the challenge of darkness is an opportunity to exercise the type of commitment and persistence that will serve you well when faced with a rough patch in your next goal race. Embrace the challenge, stay safe, and keep up the good work.