What You Need to Know About Running in the Dark

sunset over a paved road

Photo by Tobias Greitzke onUnsplash

How you can stay safe and have fun during a night run

By Laura M. Brenner, assistant coach

Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. That’s just how winter running feels in the northeast when daylight hours are limited, and temperatures plunge. It’s not that I don’t like winter running—I do! But it forces me to re-evaluate my running routine and add a few more items to my pre-run checklist.

If you’re usually a morning runner, you might be able to make it through the winter without running in the dark. If you’re an evening runner, you’re likely already logging a few night runs. Temperature notwithstanding, running in the dark can seem intimidating and full of risk. Don’t let winter derail your training—learn how to enjoy running in the dark safely.

Is it safe to go running in the dark?

In my experience, running in the dark can be safe, fun, and help break up a mundane training cycle. Running in the dark – either before the sun rises for the day or after it sets – can be necessary. Daylight savings means your usual after-work run is now a night run. But don’t let a lack of sunshine keep you from logging those miles. 

Running at night can be an excellent opportunity to reconnect with your body, unwind after the day, or spice up a stale training routine. However, there are a few things to think about before you head out the door or drive to your usual run spot for a night run. Some things we take for granted during the day become risks when running in the dark. 

What you need on your night run.

There are some tangible items you should take or wear when running in the dark. Then there are the intangible things to consider. Even minimalist runners will want to plan, see the terrain, and be seen by motorists.

Location, location, location. Is the place where you want to run safely for you to be there after dark? Are you allowed to be there after dusk (many community parks close after sunset)? If you’re planning a night trail run, be prepared for more interactions with wildlife and know how to handle it.  Another important thing to note here is cell service. If your usual daytime running location doesn’t have great cell service, it might not make a great night run location. If you are injured or feel unsafe on a night run, being able to contact a friend or loved one is essential.

I’m not here to tell you to only run on well-lit, well-traveled roads and trails—I love quiet urban alleys and remote trails at night. My rule: trust your gut; if it doesn’t feel right, pick somewhere else to run.

See where you’re going. If where you’re running isn’t well lit by streetlights, etc., you’ll probably want a light to see where you’re going. Most runners prefer to use a headlamp (picture a small, compact flashlight on an elastic headband). RUN717 likes this basic headlamp by Petzel: (https://amzn.to/3Dl3jt8). Other runners opt for a hand-held flashlight or waist-mounted light. Choose which one works best for you, or run with multiple lighting options. And always, ALWAYS check your batteries—bonus points for carrying spares with you (or at least in your car).

Be seen by others. Being visible to others is essential. This is especially true if you’re running on the shoulder of a road or a shared-use path. You want drivers, bicyclists, and other pedestrians to see you before they get to you. That usually includes wearing brightly colored and reflective apparel or a reflective vest. We recommend the Noxgear Vest (https://amzn.to/3kFazJb). Most running shoes have reflective strips on them, but that alone isn’t enough to alert the groggy after-work driver of your whereabouts. When in doubt, overdo it when it comes to bright, reflective clothing. No shame in that safety game, folks. It sure beats the alternative.

JUST A NOTE: I know so many runners who listen to music or podcasts while they run. Save the earbuds for daytime runs. Instead, on a night run, focus your mind on your form, the mental checklist of accomplishments from the day, or whether or not that dark blob up the road is a tiny bear cub or a tree stump.

What makes running in the dark so fun?

I’ve experienced two types of night running: adrenaline junkie and introspective relaxation. 

Running in the dark adds a bit of thrill and adrenaline to a regular training run. There’s something kid-like about lacing up and running around outside after dark. Is it rebellious? Not really. Does it feel rebellious? Heck yes. Invite some friends to join you to up the ante on the fun. There’s nothing like a group run in the dark, headlights bouncing around on the ground, faceless laughter to appreciate running in the dark.

Night runs can also be great “me time.” Guess what, at night, you don’t have to say or nod “hello” to every passer-by. Introverts may find night runs to be more relaxing or productive than daytime runs. You can also focus your energy on yourself during a night run. Without daylight distracting you, listen to your body, focus on your mindset, or simply let your mind wander.

If you’re looking for a way to break out of your training routine, RUN717 can help. Contact us to learn more about our coaching services and custom training plans.

To find more running tips, check out our running blog.

*Disclosure: We only recommend products we would use and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that, at no additional cost to you, may earn us a small commission.

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