While the brisk arrival of cooler weather and colorful leaves might signal the start of fall for some people, for avid work-out gurus, it’s the shorter and shorter days that you may be more mindful of. If your go-to method for blowing off steam after work is a jog in the evening, you might find yourself running in less and less light as the season goes on.
The sun starts to set around as early as 6 pm on the east coast in October and then with the end of daylight savings time (U.S.) in early November, you lose even more evening sunlight. So what are late-day runners supposed to do?
Well, nighttime running truly isn’t all the bad if you take proper safety precautions. In fact, night running can be quite nice and offers benefits like:
- Fewer motorists on the road
- Fewer walkers, runners, and cyclists out on your jogging path
- No sun and cooler temperatures (which means more comfortable running)
- New perspectives on familiar routes
If you plan on running outdoors when it is dark out, keep these essential safety tips in mind:
Sure listening to music while you run can keep you amped up, but at night time, it can also reduce your awareness of your surroundings. You want to be on high alert when running in the dark because your visibility may be spotty in areas that aren’t well-lit by street lamps and and signs.
You might not like jogging with anything but your running clothes, however, you will want to rethink this M.O. for night runs. Taking your phone and ID with you on your run will give you the items you need in the event of an emergency. You may need to call someone or if you are injured and unresponsive, emergency personnel will need to easily identify you and get ahold of your family.
Take Familiar Routes
Don’t turn your night run into a time for checking out brand new running routes or local trails. Stick with familiar (but varied) routes that you have run before or drive on frequently to avoid getting lost, attacked, or injured. While you might feel like you can see perfectly fine and memorize new locations in the dark, research shows that the brain can actually manifest non-existent images in the dark without any visual input whatsoever.
Prevent Common Injuries
While routine running is generally low-risk, it is still considered high-impact and can lead to common overuse injuries, like IT band syndrome or Achilles tendonitis, often due to tight and inflamed tendons. Running in the dark can increase your chances of tripping or misstepping as well which can exacerbate an overuse injury (think slippery leaves, potholes, branches on the ground, etc). Give yourself a leg up by wearing orthotic aids that stabilize and support critical joints. These include IT band straps, ankle braces, and knee compression sleeves.
Shorter days likely mean cooler temperatures so night runners will want to start off wearing lightweight, breathable layers of clothing that can be removed as you heat up. Even more critical, however, is wearing apparel that can be easily seen. This might include reflective t-shirts or vests, flashing armbands, or even a runner’s headlamp. To avoid getting slapped by tree branches or having a bug fly in your eye, consider wearing clear glasses and a billed cap too.
Run Against Traffic
You’ve heard it before and experts will keep saying it, running against traffic gives you your best shot at being seen by drivers when road running at night (and really any time). In addition to running against traffic and wearing highly-visible clothing, you will want to aim as much as possible to run on sidewalks with ample street lighting and not on the side or shoulders of roadways.
Ask a Friend to Join You
Pump up the safety factor of your night run by asking a friend to join you. For women, this may be even more crucial. If none of your friends run, consider joining a local night running group that exercises together or even find a dog (yours or a friend’s) that will run with you. The presence of another person or animal could prevent would-be attackers from attempting to hurt you.
Be Smart About Intersections
The truth is that you can never guarantee a driver on the road has seen you running, no matter how much reflective or flashy gear you have on. Play it safe at intersections and always run behind cars that are stopped at stop signs, never in front of them. Try and make visual eye contact and acknowledge drivers on the road as well to more strongly announce your presence too.