With Fall in full swing, I spend most of my time running in the dark. It’ll be this way until mid to late April or even May depending on my schedule. Being a dad, a spouse of a grad student (who also works full time), having a full time job, working to start my own business, being a part of a local leadership class, being on the board for a local non-profit, and having a million other things to do during the day, I could easily find an excuse to pass on running most days. So to make sure I get my training done, I generally leave my house between 3:30-4:30 am 6 days a week. By scheduling my training time first thing in the morning, I lose all my excuses to skip a day to my schedule. This means I spend a lot of time on the trails and roads in the dark. I wanted to share some of my tips for running in the dark.
- Get a good headlamp! Gear really is key. If you can’t see where you’re going, your chances of falling are high! I use a 250 lumen headlamp for the trails. This gives me great vision directly in front of me so I can see upcoming rocks, tree roots, hills and glowing eyes in the distance. You don’t have to have something expensive to get good vision at night.
- Fresh batteries- although your cell phone might have an amazing LED light on it, if you’ve ever had to use it, you know it isn’t fun to carry around… Carry extra batteries! It will save you the headache in the long term. I change my batteries every 75 miles or so. If I feel my light is dimming, I go ahead and put fresh batteries in so I don’t have to stop and fumble around in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.
- Dress for the weather. I always take a jacket and gloves with me in my pack. The weather can change without warning and the last thing you want is to be 10 miles from your car when the wind picks up or it starts snowing… It’s important to think ahead and make sure you’re prepared for weather changes. Don’t give yourself an excuse to quit early just because you’re uncomfortable.
- Know your area- This might sound like silly advice, but know where you are! If you want to try a new place to run, either have a friend who knows where you are or scope it out in the daylight. I run the same trails over and over most every week. They look different depending on if it’s night or day. We get turned around and off track even though we’ve logged over a thousand miles in this one area. Be smart about where you are.
- Pick up your feet!!! This should probably be number one on the list. I’ve fallen numerous times, I’ve watched friends fall and I’ve heard even worse stories about tumbles when I wasn’t around. It’s really important to pick up your feet and pay attention to what you’re doing. I know we get lost in conversation, take our focus off running and this is a major cause of falls. Picking up your feet will also lead to better running form and stronger muscles. You’ll thank yourself after you crush your next race!
- Let someone know where you’re going. I enjoy running with friends as much as possible, but some days schedules don’t work out or I just want some alone time with the voices in my head. It’s always a great idea to let someone know where you will be just in case something happens. I live in rural Wyoming and on a lot of the trails/mountains we run there is no cell service. We always have the option for 911 via satellites in case of the worst, but we don’t rely on it. It’s best for someone to know what area you’re in and roughly when you’re set to return. You never know when something can happen!
- Watch/Listen for wildlife. One of the best reasons to run trails is the wildlife! The views, the beauty, the chance to see wildlife up close is a great reason to hit the trails and connect with nature. Be aware of your surroundings. It’s not uncommon for us to get spooked by a moving animal in the wilderness. You always hope it’s a deer, but we have to be on the lookout for bears, mountain lions, moose, elk, and many other types of wildlife (luckily we don’t have snakes!!!!!!). Stay alert and stay safe!
- Don’t forget to have FUN!!! Yes I’m training for Leadville, yes sometimes running feels like a full time job, yes it’s a big part of my fitness, but all in all- I run to have FUN!!! I take a camera on every run because I never know what I’ll be able to capture. Enjoy a selfie with you and your group on top of a mountain. Take pictures of the fall colors and awesome views. Don’t forget- if the run isn’t posted on social media, it never happened… haha.
Running trails in the dark is definitely a unique experience. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned night runner, it’s always important to stay safe and have fun. The challenge of running at night helps the miles to pass and will give you a mental and physical edge going in to your next race.