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The days are getting shorter and the nights, longer. It’s dreaded territory for most runners, as morning and evening runs become not only cold and dark, but also dangerous and often, unpredictable. Dark figures or figments of our imagination lurk behind every corner bush, while every pine cone, stick, or pothole threatens to take us down in one wrong step. Add to that the fear of not being seen by a distracted or un-caffeinated driver, and one’s worst nightmare can easily come reality. Let’s face it: Running in the dark can be downright scary. But, before you hang up your running shoes til spring, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and still enjoy the great outdoors by foot, day or night.
Fall running is often the height of the season — beautiful scenery and perfect temperatures all day long. Unfortunately, the months from fall into winter also brings about a change in time and the inevitable fact that most avid runners will soon find themselves running in the dark. It’s the perfect time before and after work to de-stress, or the early morning run that starts your day just right. Rather than pack it in for the season and hit the treadmill (because we all know it’s just not the same), we try to beat the winter blues by bundling up and facing our fears. Running in the dark has its hazards, from strangers that lurk the night (so, maybe we watch a few too many movies, one should always be prepared!), to wild animals, stray pets, fallen foliage, unforeseen sidewalk curbs, hidden roadside ditches, and pesky potholes that are sure to break an ankle. If you are one of the courageous ones, hitting the pavement somewhat blindly, be sure you are prepared for anything — or one — that might come your way.
Preparing for Your Run:
- Pay attention to the news. Yes, the news is often the bearer of all things bad, but it’s important that we pay attention to what’s going on around us, especially directly within the vicinity of where we work, play, and run. Pay attention to any crime reports that may be occurring in the area of your usual run route. Take notice of the time of day the crimes are occurring and take precautions if necessary. If that means changing your route, or the time of day that you normally run, do it. Crime may not be the only factor to watch for on the evening news. Construction may also impede your run routes. Being unaware of a road or sidewalk closing on a dark morning may make for a blind and impromptu route change.
- Ditch the headphones. As much as we all love a good tune to keep us motivated, wearing headphones means you won’t be able to hear if someone or something is coming up behind you, whether it’s another person, animal, or car. When your sight is already limited, limiting another one of your senses is a bad call. Keep your ears open and be aware of your surroundings. Listen to the noises around you as you run and use them to determine your safety while crossing streets, running alongside heavily wooded areas, or in instances when others may be sharing the same sidewalk or road.
- Wear bright clothing. This may seem obvious, but if you’re like most getting dressed in the wee hours of the morning — anything goes. (You’re just going to sweat in it, right?) Remember, dark colors blend in with the dark night, making it difficult for cars and people to see you. Wearing bright colors will reflect off of car headlights, street lights, and should catch other pedestrians’ eyes. Think like a road construction cone – you want to stand out as much as possible.
- Wear reflective gear and headlamp. While bright colored clothing goes a long way, including a reflector belt, wrist band, or clothing with built in reflective material will provide extra visibility. A headlamp will provide you hands-free visibility for the road in front of you, helping you to stay clear of any road debris or ankle-biting potholes.
- Bring a cell phone. In case of an emergency, be sure that you are able to call for help. If you happen to trip over a large stick, slip on wet ground, or go down in an unseen ditch (hey, things happen in the dark), you may need to call for help for someone to come get you. The last thing you want is to be stranded.
- Download a safety app. Road ID is a great app for runners who often run solo and in the dark. The app allows close friends and family (of your choosing) to log in and track your activity. If your activity stops for five minutes and you don’t respond to an alert from the app, your friends and family are notified. Before slipping out the door for a morning or evening run, let your loved one know your route, the approximate amount of time you will be gone, and that you will be using the Road ID app. If something should happen, at least someone is aware of your location and is able to keep an eye on the app until you return safely.
- Carry an ID. Identification is important in case an emergency does happen. An unexpected injury or stranger danger may end up involving emergency personnel. It’s best to always have identification on you in case such instances arise.
While on the run:
- Run urban areas. Avoid trails, two lane streets, and less populated areas. While traffic can certainly be a runner’s foe while running in the dark, it’s safest to run in areas where you can be seen and heard. Leave the beautiful wooded trails with all of its natural wildlife, trippy tree roots, and hidden dangers for brighter mornings and stick to neighborhoods with streetlights and sidewalks. If you must run in the road, run against traffic so that both you and oncoming cars see each other, and be careful not to shine your headlamp into the eyes of drivers. Stay aware of traffic patterns and stop lights, understanding that in the dark, pedestrians don’t always have the right of way as they may not be seen.
- Have multiple planned routes, choose one and stick to it. Don’t run the same route, the same time, the same day. Plan your route ahead of time and be sure it’s a route that you know well from previous runs. Running in the dark is not the time to try new routes or you risk running into a few surprises. Try not to deviate from the route during your run unless unforeseen circumstances arise. If for some reason your instincts tell you something doesn’t feel right — a person approaching seems out of the ordinary, a car is driving too slow or parked in an odd place, or a patch of sidewalk is eerily dark — trust your gut and make a change in your route.
- Run with a friend, human or furry. Planning a run with a friend is the best way to not only hold you accountable for a run and make your runs more fun, but it also helps keep you safe for multiple reasons. Running in numbers wards off possible attackers and provides for immediate help in case of a medical emergency. Running in numbers also makes it more likely that you will be seen by oncoming traffic, just be sure that everyone in the pack — including dogs — are wearing reflective gear. If Fido is your running buddy, be sure that the dog runs side by side with you and to the inside of the sidewalk, where they are least likely to be hit.
Photo credits: Ashley