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Night Fever: Tips for Running in the Dark

There’s something alluring about running at night.

The daylight hours bring the same sights, sounds, traffic, and predictable daily grind;  at night, everything changes. Darkness brings cooler temperatures during the summer, less foot and car traffic, the chance to spot otherwise elusive nocturnal animals, and the opportunity to see your city or town in a new light. Running at night also allows you the flexibility to schedule your workout around your job or other life obligations. Although it might seem like a chore at first, with a little extra gear and the right mindset, it’s easy to run at night and do it safely.

And, if you read nothing else about running at night, keep these things in mind: carry ID, be visible, be aware of your surroundings, have a plan, and have fun.

Road Running

Around Town

Depending on the city you live in, running at night changes only two things: your ability to be seen, and the people you’ll see. It’s best to be prepared for both.

Keep things simple by finding a well-lit route, learn it during the day, and then run the same route at night. Although it can be tempting to try to blend in when you run in the city, your ability to stand out actually makes you safer. High-visibility clothing and accessories should be a staple in your wardrobe. Stick to the sidewalks and walkways where you can, and if you have the option, run with a buddy, a group, or a club. Should you run across some unsavory characters, safety in numbers can work to your benefit. It should be fun an exciting to see your hometown under the glow of the moon, streetlights, or even your headlamp, so don’t forget to take a pause and enjoy the experience.

On the Road

Once you leave the sidewalk, your number one goal is visibility. Always assume that you won’t be seen by traffic, so it’s your job to be proactive. Carry a flashlight or wear a headlamp and always run against the flow of traffic so you can easily spot anything headed your way. Leave the headphones at home, too; your ability to hear your surroundings is just as important as your ability to see.

Again, it might be tempting to ditch the bright colors for the simple stuff, but fight the urge and go as bright as possible. Every manufacturer of running clothing offers tops, bottoms, hats, and gloves in high-visibility colors or with reflective detailing. Don as much as this stuff as possible and if someone asks you if you recently warped in from the ‘80s, take it as a compliment. And, if this isn’t your cup of tea, consider a lightweight reflective vest made specifically for running. They’re cheap and they won’t win you any fashion awards but they’ll quietly save your bacon more often then you’ll ever know.

Trail Running

Near a City

Here, artificial light, communication, and preparation are your best friends. You must be able to see the trail and be able to spot rocks, uneven terrain, ruts, and anything else that might pop up. Run with a lightweight flashlight in hand or a headlamp on a low or medium setting. Too much light will wreck your night vision, but too little light will leave you guessing about where to put your feet. Consider a headlamp with a three-way headband that not only goes around the circumference of your head, but also over the top too. An over-the-top-style, adjustable headband keeps the headlamp secure and helps eliminate bouncing when you’re moving quickly over rough terrain.

Petzl Tikka R+ Headlamp

Because you’re less likely to run across other people when you run trail, it never hurts to run with a buddy or, if you’re going solo, be sure to tell a friend, significant other, parent, or roommate where you’re going and how long you plan to be gone. Take a touch more water than you think you’ll need and a bit more food than you have a stomach for. Should you get injured or stuck on the trail, it never hurts to have extras. No matter what distance you run, a lightweight first aid kit can be a lifesaver; remember, even if you’re close to the city you might still be far from help.

In the Boonies

Assume total self-sufficiency when you run trail at night and far from the safety of a city or town. It’s imperative that you be prepared and that you clearly communicate your plan to a friend, family member, or significant other. Running with a friend is highly recommended, if not for the safety, than for the simple camaraderie. All the same gear recommendations apply here, but take a little extra of everything. Know the trail you’re running, how long it’ll take you to run, where to bail if you need to, who to call for help, whether you get cell service where you’re running, and whether there any additional factors to consider like wildlife or weather.

UltrAspire Alpha Hydration VestEven if you’re not running far, a running pack will help you carry the extra gear you need to feel confident tackling miles of trail at night. Temperatures can drop rapidly and quickly changing weather can go unnoticed under the cover of darkness. Keep a lightweight hat, a Buff, and some gloves in your pack in the spring and summer and a waterproof breathable jacket for the rainy months. Winter is a whole different ball game, and if running in the snow at night and in the wild is your thing—all the power to you, we’ll assume you’ve already done your homework.

Never feel the need to rush when you’re running trail at night. Just take your time cover the miles safely. You can worry about speed, splits, and heart rates when you’re on the track. There are few experiences on earth as satisfying as challenging your endurance amid the peace and quiet of the wild under the stars.

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