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Running in the Dark: Adventures of a Night Runner

March 20, 2020

Running at night can be fun and exciting. There is just something about going out after it gets dark or early in the morning, from the cool morning air, the silence of the night, or simply gaining a new perspective. However, as much it can be something wonderful, running in the dark also has risks.

Over the years I have run many times at night, both early in the morning and late at night. This was especially the case when I was training to run a marathon. I would need to get up early, before starting the workday, to get in the necessary miles. During the heat of the summer, if I missed my early morning workout I had to wait until the sun went down and the temperature dropped. I often found myself out running at 11pm, but I got it done.

What I have realized is that there are great things about nighttime running. There are also some not so great things. But with a little planning and being prepared, the great definitely outweighs the negative.

Night Running Can Be Scary!

Okay, probably not the best thing to claim coming from the founder of Knuckle Lights, a product specifically designed for runners and walkers to use to light their path in the dark; however, I can still admit that being outside without natural light can be unnerving and at times even frightening.

I have run enough in my neighborhood at night that I have become very comfortable with my path over time. It wasn’t until the Hood to Coast Relay last year when I found myself running along a busy highway at 10pm in the pitch dark, that I had truly felt scared in a while.

running at night during the hood to coast relayOf course I had a set of Knuckle Lights and they worked great, I could see everything in front of me. But one of the things that made the night leg of the relay particularly scary was the cars and trucks that passed by at 55 miles per hour right next to me, so close the gust of wind from the vehicle would propel me forward slightly. That was interspersed with times of no cars on the highway, plunging my surroundings into complete darkness.

At this point I was far away from the city, on a small quiet road heading to the Oregon coast, and the thick trees were so dark my imagination came alive. I don’t know why there have been so many shows on TV about Bigfoot lately, but watching a few episodes the week before this race wasn’t a good idea.

My senses were on high alert and my imagination was working overtime. Every noise was a scary creature lurking in the darkness ready to pounce and I was certain that every vehicle that passed by was inches from running me over. Neither happened of course, but I was so relieved to finish that leg of the relay.

Night Running is Great!

In our lives today it is sometimes difficult to ever truly be alone, even when we are by ourselves. With social media, the Internet and TV, the constant noise in our lives keeps our minds busy. Going out and running alone is very isolating and is truly refreshing, and the quietness you will experience at night isn’t often possible during the day when traffic is heavier and other people are out walking their dogs or exercising.

night running doesn't have to be scary if you have the right gear

When running when it is dark you tend to rely more on your other senses besides just sight, like hearing, smell, and the feeling of the path beneath your feet. Also, running early in the morning you may be treated to a beautiful sunrise and that unique feeling in the air as dawn breaks. The sense of accomplishment will last you through the entire day. Personally, my energy levels are spiked all morning after a run.

Running just before heading off to bed has its own rewards, as you can release frustration and stress from a busy day and tire your body into a restful night’s sleep. Regardless of how bad a day you may have had, it’s over now and a quiet, head-clearing run can be your reward. Hitting the sack after a good night run is a wonderful, peaceful feeling as you drift off into a deep, relaxing sleep.

In my opinion, running during the dark hours is one of the best ways to silence your mind, and almost feels like mediation in some ways, as I focus on my breathing in the night stillness. A familiar running route can feel like a whole new experience when you run it at night, which can truly be a refreshing change of pace.

dark streets can be intimidating for night runners

Night running is terrible!

I have been fortunate enough that I have never had a serious accident or injury while out running in the dark. I did have a bad fall a few years ago during a run in which I broke a few ribs, but that was my dog’s fault—he got spooked by something (no idea what, he tends to see things that aren’t there) and jumped straight into me.

That was the middle of the day though, so I can’t blame the dark (just my dog!). However, I do know many people that have been injured during their nighttime runs, either getting struck by a car or simply tripping over a curb or sidewalk.

For some reason a certain percentage of runners as well as walkers make the mistake of assuming that drivers can see them, regardless of what safety precautions they may or may not be taking. I am often shocked at the number of people I see in my neighborhood running at night wearing dark clothing, no reflective vest and no light.

There is a ton of clothing and running gear available to help make you visible in the dark. Even if you are completely prepared for your night run--you have reflective or bright clothing, blinkers and lights, if you assume you are seen by traffic that can still be a mistake. Drivers may be distracted and are not used to seeing or looking for pedestrians, let alone runners, at night. Having lights and reflectors on the moving parts of your body (arms, hands, legs) help with gaining attention from traffic as they will more readily see the movement.

Certainly not as big of a concern as your safety, but running in the dark typically slows your natural pace down a little bit. The darkness and shadows cause us to slightly pull back on our pace. I have never been a fast runner anyway, but notice my pace will slow down by 10-15 seconds per mile in the dark. Others have actually said they run faster however, as the added anxiety helps propel them.

If you choose to run in the morning, you may find one of the biggest challenges to overcome is the snooze button on your alarm. Like many people, I have had issues with this over the years, as my motivation to run is much higher the night before when I am setting my alarm for 5am then it is when it goes off the next morning.

Besides the threats that can be conjured up in our imaginations, like during my Hood to Coast leg, dark conditions truly do carry serious risk.

nighttime running can be calming and relaxing

The whole reason Knuckle Lights exists is to help keep runners and walkers safe at night. The many stories we have received over the years of how our lights have helped is celebrated as a success as we try to make the whole thing a little less terrible.

Night Running is Essential!

Most of us have full time jobs, kids, spouses, family, friends, hobbies and a million other obligations that take a lot of the hours in our day. Getting up early or staying up after the kiddo's go to bed to get your run in is often the only alternative in this hectic world.

Sometimes even with more flexible schedules, a night run may be a preference, but not having to rush home after work to squeeze in your run or use a lunch break to get a few miles in during daylight hours is definitely a plus.

Personally, I love getting my run done first thing in the morning, simply to get it checked off my list and feel that sense of accomplishment before even starting my day. In some areas the weather can be a consideration as well. I have heard from many people in Florida, Texas, Southern California and many other places that say during the sweltering summer months they have to wait for the sun to go down or get up before sunrise to be able to deal with the heat.

There are definite benefits as well as risks to running at night, all of which should be considered, but realize to keep or even start a running routine, going out at night is often essential in our busy lives.

Stay safe, be seen, and Own The Night!

Dan Hopkins founder of Knuckle Lights
Dan Hopkins
Knuckle Lights

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