Running in the Dark

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In the winter, it can be hard to find a time to run in the few daylight hours that are available. You may also find yourself in a race that takes place in darkness. Either way, running in darkness brings its own challenges, both practical and psychological.

1 Practical issues - Lighting

Main article: Running Lights

One option for running in the dark is to stick to well lit paths. If you do this near cars, be sure you have plenty of reflective gear; runners nearly always do worse than cars when the two collide. I would also recommend a flashing yellow/red LED light attached to the back of your shorts. If you are running away from street lights, then carrying your own light source becomes important. You can run by the light of the moon sometimes, but I do not rely on it as cloud cover can make things dim. A lot depends on how good your vision is and how well it adapts to the dark. See Best Running Lights for details on what to look for in a running light and some product recommendations.

2 Psychological Issues

There are a number of psychological issues with running in the dark. The biggest challenge for me running in the evening is that when the sun goes down, I want to go to bed. The feeling of sleepiness, particularly if you have been running for many hours can be overwhelming. I have overcome this, partly with practice, and partly with a different mindset. When I look at my watch and discover it is a particular time, I work to detach myself from the meaning of that time. If it is 10pm, I don't think 'I should be going to bed'. I work to imagine I am in a different country on a different time zone, and generally, it helps. Even on MMT, when I was racing for 34 hours, I did not suffer from sleepiness. Another problem with running at night can be a sense of isolation. Your world can become a small circle of light, with no other points of reference. Running with others, or running near roads can reduce this sense of isolation. I find that the time just around sunset is the worst for me, as it combines with a sense that I should be tucked up in bed, not out running. The darkness can lead to an irrational fear. Being scared of the dark is quite natural, especially if you are exhausted. I was told by an outdoor survival expert that the key is to have a 'predator mindset' not a 'prey mindset'. You have to believe you are the biggest, baddest thing out there. I found this advice really worked for me. Note: this deals with irrational fear, but some fears are rational and need to be dealt with differently. If there are reasons to be afraid of wildlife or people, you need to be equipped to deal with them or take other precautions. Pepper Spray (I usually carry some), bear bells, cell phones and most importantly, running with a friend can all help alleviate risk. My remaining psychological issue is that I run much slower in the dark than the light. I always feel like I am running much faster than I actually am. Looking at my watch that displays pace helps compensate a little, but not completely.