The Joys of the Nighttime Runner
There is this window of time that exists between when the rest of the world has either shut themselves down or when they are still under the sandman’s watchful eye. In most parts of the world, the sun has set and the streets have quieted down, it is dark and the only illumination is probably the closest street light. Its nighttime for the rest of the world, but for some of us… its time to run.
The reason why most of us start running in the dark is necessity. Most of us have normal work days that run 8-10 hours and we all know how your lunch hours get crammed into a meeting or maybe you work from your desk while hurrying to eat something. You may have little ones at home and you want to spend some amount of time with them before they go to bed, so that leaves you little choice. You get up early in the dark or you wait until late at night when the sun is long down and then toss your significant other the reigns and you hit the road.
Some weird things will happen at first. You will start to run faster than you have before, it’s that fight or flee mentality we all have. Your mind is feeling some level of inherent fear associated with the darkness and thus you run faster than you normally would. You will consciously need to check your pace to make sure you don’t over exert yourself and kill your run early.
You will be dressing warmer than you normally would because it’s probably 10-15 degrees cooler than when you normally run and you will find that shorts have been switched for tights and maybe you have added gloves or a stocking cap to your wardrobe. Gloves are a must FYI because while your body gets warmer as you go, the hands definitely do not. As for running tights guys, yes you may not love the way you look in them, but its dark, get over it.
The most compelling part about running in the dark is really experiencing your surroundings at a different time of the day. You will run by restaurants that are busy with people toasting their days or maybe a lively bar or two. You will see the lights of people’s TV through their closed windows, smell the fireplaces during the winter, or hear the chatter from people’s homes where parties are going on. In the morning its much quieter, the roads are emptier as are the sidewalks. Aside from the other really early risers, you feel like the earth is at a standstill, its serene.
Running in the dark gives your mind room to wander and think about your day or to just zone out altogether and clear your mind and focus on the road ahead. It can be meditative as it puts you in touch with the world around you in a very different way than may have ever expected. So get off the sofa and hit the pavement, its right outside the door just like always, its only a little darker than normal.
This is paramount and probably the biggest concern people have when you mentioned running at night, but this can be drastically mitigated. First, you need to wear the right gear and there are tons of options. Most apparel and footwear manufacturers now include high visibility (high viz, hi viz, flash, reflectivity, etc) aspects to their design so the odds are your current gear may have some in it already. If not or if you need more, then plenty of companies like Nathan Sports have entire lines devoted to adding some reflectivity to your current gear. The other big thing is lighting and a lot of folks don’t bother with this, but I think its crucial for safe run. A headlight or runner hand flashlight helps you see whats in your path as even the smallest cracks seem to jump up and grab you at night. Using an armband LED or strobe can also be incredibly helpful because the hi viz gear doesn’t work until a car is 50 yards or so from you, a light can be seen much further away.
Next, have a good idea of your route prior and know what its like at night. You’d be amazed how much one street can change when the sun goes down. So just scout it out and make sure people know your routes. The night is not the right time to randomly check out that one area of town you wondered about, so be a creature of habit. Know your limits and your routes and stick to them.
Also, try enlisting a friend or two to join you or even start a little club. Running with friends at night can be a ton of fun and gives you a great way to start or end your day.