Tis the season for running in the dark! | The Range of Motion

Tis the season for running in the dark!

Now that the days have shortened, it’s not just the “crazy” ultramarathoners that find themselves with the need to run before the sun comes up or after the sun sets. Running in the dark presents some fears and challenges, but nothing too daunting as long as it’s approached properly…

Know where you’re running…
When it’s light out, most roads and trails are pretty familiar since we can see everything around us and key off of landmarks as well as the usual signs and addresses. But a magical thing can happen when it gets dark out; places we’ve been many times before can look completely different! This is one of the great things about running in the dark, since the “same ol’ route” takes on new dimension and can feel like you’re exploring a new area when the lights go out. To prepare for this, make sure you know (I mean really know) where your turns are and how far you should be going during each leg of your run. I’ve run many out-and-back night runs where I “somehow” got lost on the way back because I didn’t recognize the turns, even though those same runs during the day are a no-brainer…

Be prepared!
Yes, as I like to say, “luck favors the prepared”, and running in the dark is no exception. Have a flashlight or headlamp with you for you runs, even if the route has lights along it. Unless your early morning or night run is on a completely lit track, it pays to have a light with you. If you’re running on streets in a town, a nice small handheld flashlight (too big and it’s awkward to carry and point) or a headlamp (a running/hiking headlamp is preferred) that offers at least 50 lumens of brightness (a lumen is a measure of light output, and most modern flashlights and headlamps list this on the packaging) should work well. On a dark trail, I like to have at least 80 lumens for my lights since there’s usually few to no light sources around. More lumens can be better, but the trade off is a heavier light and less battery life – I’ve done it, and I don’t recommend being out on the trail at night when your headlamp battery dies! On that note, make sure you check your batteries before each run… 

photo: Peter Beck

photo: Peter Beck

Along with lights to help you see, wearing bright and/or reflective gear is a good idea too so that others can see you, especially if you are running roads in a city. A little can go a long way, so having some reflective strips on your clothing or wearing a reflective vest or hat is usually plenty. Like the way you look in your black or dark running outfit? Save it for the daytime – it’s too easy to blend into the darkness and become part of an accident report that includes the phrase “they came out of nowhere!!!”

Run above the ground…
When running in the dark, you want to make a few adjustments to your running stride to keep you upright and avoid tripping/stepping on/running into objects and features of the road or trail that you’re on. Make sure you keep your head up, shorten your stride, and lift your knees and feet. To make that easier, I’ve adopted the idea of “running about 3 inches above the ground”. That doesn’t mean that I’m asking you to float or levitate yourself while running (though if you can do that, please let me know how!), but by focusing on the idea of running above the ground, your body and movements will adjust. Without having to remind yourself, you’ll stay more upright, have shorter strides, and lift your feet, all of which is also good for efficient running form. I love simple practices that accomplish several things at once, so run above the ground to stay safe and work on improving your running!

photo: Peter Beck

photo: Peter Beck