Tricks of the Trade – Night Running

As the days grow short and the temperature drops, you may find you aren’t exercising as much as you were just a few months ago. In this post, I review three “Tricks of the Trade” that will help you to safely run in the dark whatever the season.

Many people drop their running routine late in the Fall when outdoor temperatures drop, the risk of injury from slips increase and the hours of daylight shortened. While these are all good reasons to reduce outdoor activities, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are still 24 hours in a day, after all. It’s just that running during the late fall and winter means you will be performing at least part of your workout in the dark. In this post, I review three “tricks of the trade” that will help you to safely run in the dark – at night or in the morning, before it gets light.


Limit of Liability: Running involves inherent risks. Running at night increases these risks. The purpose of this article is to make the risks of running at night objective and, then, attempt to mitigate them. This said, there is no way to completely eliminate risk. By reading this article, you are agreeing to hold the author harmless for any injuries that might occur. As always, you should consult your health care professional before making any changes to your workout regiment or medications. Full disclosure: I receive a small commission if you follow some of the links listed in this article and make a purchase.

1. Safety First
For most people, it’s not the temperature that keeps them indoors; it’s the “crazies” out there. (Have you noticed how the plot of nearly all horror films takes place at night?) I’m not saying that it’s safe out there. Just that we should start by separating objective (actual) risks from unfounded fear. This said there are real dangers involved with running at night. Here are a few ways to reduce the threat.

Run with a friend. Running with others will reduce your vulnerability. The more the merrier. Often, when I am running in the early morning hours, I bump into a large group of around eight or nine runners. These men and women usually run in two groups. The thing I notice every time is how much fun they seem to have. They are always talking (loudly) and laughing (a lot). Though we don’t know each others names, I usually get a slap on the back and some words of encouragement as we pass each other. Friends don’t have to be human either. A dog will do. Just make sure to give your canine time to get in shape if he or she isn’t used to running with you.

Pay attention. If you are looking around and aware of your surrounding, you will reduce your risk. That’s because those that prey at night are looking for easy targets. A piece of related advice is to choose your route carefully. Running through dark alleys is not advised. Instead, run where you have good visibility and will see any would-be attackers. I often run along a river trail. I normally see very few souls out at night when I am running. If you plan to run alone, you may want to consider bringing some mace.

2. Equipment
One piece of safety equipment is a flashlight. I particularly like a headlamp. They come in many makes, models and price ranges. The more expensive ones have LED lights which will help you to reduce your battery consumption. Princeton Tec puts out a nice 3 watt LED. If you are on a budget, there are some inexpensive and bright flashlights including this cheapy for $0.99. Some runners recommend two flashlights used at the same time – one on your head and another one held in your hand. This is because light coming from two directions helps to improve your depth perception. I carry two flashlights using the second one as a backup. I also carry extra batteries. Running without some type of light at night is not recommended.

Another key beyond lighting is clothing. There are a lot of choices here. My favorite brand is Nike. They have a whole line of clothes for cold weather running here. Even where I run in Southern California, I usually leave the house with most of my body covered from head-to-toe. If it’s unusually cold, I wear a hat that covers my ears and wear gloves. If you live in another part of the country, you will want to wear something warmer. However, you can really “boil” if you have too much on. If you live where it snows or where there’s the risk of ice, consider investing a traction device such as Yaktrax.

3. Motivation
Let’s face it, getting up at o-dark-thirty or going for a night run after a long day at work takes discipline. What follows are some suggestions to converting your goals into actions.

Get the rest you need. If you are a morning runner (like I am), the trick to getting up early is going to bed on time. If I want to run 10 miles and still get to work on time, I need to get up at 4:15am. The only way this works is if I go to sleep by 9:00pm. Anything later and I will either skip my run or be a zombie at work. If you run at night, you may find it difficult to go to bed early. After your run, you may want to take a shower, grab some dinner and then try to wind down.

Be intentional. Running at night especially when it’s cold, requires a lot of equipment. That’s why it’s best to lay out your clothes when your motivation is high – hours before your run. As you are gathering the items, set a goal about how far and fast you want to run. If you use different routes, visualize yourself at various points along the way. Another option is to set a minimum distance and see how you feel.

Multitask. Though listening to music or commentary at night increases your risk profile, I have found this to be the key to motivating myself. There are podcasts on nearly every subject and they don’t cost a dime. Before I leave the house, I load my MP3 player with several hours of podcasts from the BBC, Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. If you have interest, there are even free language courses available for download. As much as I enjoy listening to podcasts or music when I run, it is sometimes best to shut it all off and run silently through the night with only the sound of my thoughts.

The streets that you run along will be busy with traffic soon. But, right now, they are mostly deserted. You have them all to yourself. There’s a certain feeling of freedom that comes with night running. There are challenges to be sure. But, the results are powerful. You feel that you have conquered something. You have conquered yourself.

Photo credit: Alessandro Pautasso

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