Trail running in the dark can be an intimidating experience if you’re not used to it. The countryside landscape looks different at night, distances seem longer and it can sometimes feel as if there’s someone hiding behind every bush just waiting to jump out at you. But, with a bit of practice, trail running at night can be just as enjoyable as during the day. And it definitely beats an hour on the treadmill or pounding pavements.
What’s more, learning to run in the dark can improve your trail running technique. You learn to become a more instinctive runner and allow your feet to adapt to obstacles in your path, both of which can help improve your speed on different terrains when running in the daylight. If you’re new to running off-road at night, here are some tips to help you enjoy running in the dark.
1. Start on Easy Trails
It’s best to ease yourself into night-time running by starting off on easy trails, such as forest tracks or wide path without too many obstacles. Allow your body and mind to get used to the different experience of running in the dark without having to worry too much about where you’re placing your feet.
2. Get a Bright Head Torch
A head torch is the one essential piece of kit you need for running at night and the brighter it is, the better. Your old head torch you use for camping may look bright enough when you’re standing in the house, but out in the woods, it’s a different story. A bright head torch helps you pick out obstacles and the route ahead and makes you less likely to put a foot wrong. If you’ve been put off running in the dark by previous experiences with a dim torch, then invest in the brightest one you can find. It’ll transform your running experience.
3. Choose a Route You Know
Navigating in the dark is hard. I consider myself a relatively competent orienteer during the day, but I never fail to get lost at night. Small footpaths through woodlands are particularly easy to get lost on, especially when covered in leaf litter. Choose a route you’re very familiar with for your first runs in the dark so you don’t have to worry about losing your way.
4. Shine the Torch Ahead of You, Not at Your Feet
When running in the dark, you want to shine the torch a few metres ahead of you. This may seem slightly counterintuitive, but you need to be looking out for obstacles ahead and trust your feet to deal with what’s underfoot. If you look down at your feet, you’re bound to trip over.
5. Embrace All Your Senses
When you lose part of your sight, your other senses become amplified. You may notice things you don’t normally take in when running. The rustling of animals in the forest, the footfall of your running companion or your own breathing. Don’t be afraid of the strange noises, but embrace the sounds and smells of your environment and the touch of the ground underfoot.
6. Go Running with a Pal
Going running with a friend is more likely to get you out of the house and helps if you feel at all nervous about running on your own at night. If you can’t persuade anyone to go with you, then join a local running club.
7. Be Prepared for Emergencies
Running in the dark isn’t any more dangerous than running in the light, but when the weather is cold, you want to be prepared for any eventuality. It’s worth carrying a phone in case of emergency and consider packing an extra layer and a small first aid kit to be fully prepared.
8. Make Sure You Can be Seen
Your heavy breathing and bright torch may give your presence away to the odd dog walker you encounter, but it’s worth wearing reflective clothing, particularly if any part of your route is on roads.
9. Focus on the Run
Running at night requires greater concentration than running during the day. You’ll find you return home with your brain tired as well as your legs. This need to focus can make the run more exhilarating, but you may need to rethink some of your summer running habits. Leave your headphones and music at home and try not to let your mind wander too much or else you may find yourself tripping up.
10. If You Feel Unsafe, Carry a Personal Safety Device
just to reiterate, even though running in the dark may not feel as safe as running in daylight, often that’s more about perception than fact. But if you want an extra bit of security, then a device such as the Run Angel may boost your confidence. You wear it on your wrist and can set up ‘guardians’ who will receive a text message with your location if you activate the alarm. The alarm itself is ear-piercing – useful if you want to ward off any unwanted attention.