Time Change Post: How to Run Safely in the Dark

It’s here you guys one of my favorite days of the year! I’m at my heart and evenings are the best runner but I too am occasionally forced to run in the morning. Trust me I’m not happy about that when it happens but here’s how I make that work. So for me, my dark runs are coming to a close for a good portion of the year but I know a lot of you worm eating morning people are just about to start for a while. While that does suck there are a few ways to make it work there are also a few things you should be aware of. While the timing of this post is aimed at morning runners the content is directed at everyone no matter the time of day you’re dark running. 

My nickname around here, alright one of many, is UFO girl due to the way I glow when running at night. Actually, the way I dress up to run at night has more than a few stories. My personal philosophy is that you’ll never regret putting on the item or light that prevents you from getting hit. But if that works you’ll never know which one it is so best bet is to just wear them all. When honey’s kids were teenagers out with their friends they denied that they knew it was me when their friends asked, “Isn’t that Allison?” Our volunteer Fire chief who’s obviously really into safety also confessed to thinking “What idiot is that all lit up? OOOhhhh that’s Richard’s idiot!” You might think this embarrassed me but it did the opposite making me proud to know that I’m really, really visible. So if you want to be your own village’s lit up idiot just follow all of these tips!

Lights, lights baby

Lights are going to be your best bet for being seen but remember both sides count. Make sure you have a light on the front and back and flashing lights catch more attention. Headlamps have the added effect of lighting your way but they are also the hardest for drivers to ignore. Are ya’ll ready for a long sentence? I wear a flashing blue light on my back below my collar, a headlamp pointing forward and a color changing LED dog collar (chest light bar) when I run at night. But I do more than that too…

No dark clothes

Your most expensive running clothes should never be black. A controversial statement I know but let me explain. Things like your winter running pants, running jacket, warmest sweater and that one pair of compression pants will cost you well over $100 (if not a lot more) and you’re unlikely to own multiples. These items are the items I not only have one of but that I’m wearing over and over again for certain times of the year. A lot of mine were presents so I’m also breaking my own advice here, sorry. Dark running occurs more in the winter and summer clothes are cheaper and tend to be owned in at least triplicate (who am I kidding what’s the multiple for 14?). My only pair of really awesome cold weather running pants were a present and are the most expensive pants I own at $185 and I’m almost always wearing them when I’m running in the dark.

When running in the dark you want to go for the lightest colors possible. I know, I know we all love dark clothes because they are slimming, don’t stain and make you look faster but guess what it doesn’t matter it’s dark after all! Light colors are the most visible to drivers and you’ll be spotted soonest if you’re wearing them. They also reflect available light so much better. If there is one thing to invest in it’s a very light or ideally white running jacket or outer layer topper since it’s at driver’s eye level. The one that I have is next level amazing because not only is it white with neon accents, it has reflective stripes right in the material and if you leave it out in the light before it even glows in the dark. I included a flash picture of me wearing it to give you an idea of what drivers see when I’m wearing it. Invest in the best one you can find and if you end up finding an even better one after, pick that up too!

Reflectors: shine bright

Running clothes and shoes do come with a few reflective details but those are generally totally inadequate. My favorite place to add reflectors is on my ankles since they move the most and headlights on cars are angled down. The human eye picks up movement better than still objects so add reflectors to body parts that are in motion first. You can make your own with 3M reflective ribbon available at your local fabric store or here. But I’m not done, I also have a winter hat knitted with reflective yarn, a 3M headband, reflective gloves and running shoe laces. Are we starting to get the UFO thing now? 

Route choices

Now on to route selection. The best roads to run on have street lights, sidewalks separated by medians and are not totally deserted but that’s not always possible and it’s also not that simple. Boys you can ignore this next part and that’s pretty sad. But ladies certain nights of the week certain roads just aren’t worth it. Chances are your not actually in danger but routes with lots of drunk revelers on Friday and Saturday nights are certainly unpleasant. I gave up running after dark around my university in grad school due to all the slurred cat-calling. The beach I live on is also a bit of a drinking hot spot in the summer but I don’t feel so bad because it’s a very contained location and it’s right next to my house where I know literally everyone in every house should I need back up! Alright, gent’s time to pay attention again!

Since roads are generally less traveled at night you should stay to one with a reasonable expectation of some traffic even at that hour. This is two-fold bad actors (extremely rare) are less likely to mess with you if there could reasonably be a car at any moment and if something terrible happens on its own you have a better chance of getting help. Say you fall into a ditch and you’re phone is busted you can holler to a passing car at least. No car = no chance for help.

Behaviors

There are certain points where you’re likely going to run into trouble and that point is intersections and with drivers for the most part. Not that drivers do an amazing job during the day but it gets a lot worse in the dark noticing pedestrians. The problem is that they don’t seem to be looking for you before they make their turns the fact you have the right of way is immaterial. Thinking about it for a moment I don’t think right or left turns are any different for how often you might experience a near miss. When approaching an intersection always assume the driver doesn’t see you unless they do something to make it really clear like make eye contact or wave you through. Speaking of which as I driver I’ve recently started waving at runners rather than just looking at them to let them know I see them. If in doubt wait it out! 

It’s also worth putting out there that it’s a good idea to stay more aware of your surroundings, lower your music volume or keep an earbud out, pull over further sooner for drivers and keep your spidey senses primed for any funny business.

Points to be aware of

  • Bring a charged phone obviously in case something happens but for a few other reasons too. You’re more likely to need a pickup at night for a whole lot of reasons. 
  • You can use the light on your phone to navigate rough terrain or in particularly dark spots.
  • Rain and fog eat up lights and people have to get closer before they see you.
  • Certain weather that’s okay to run in during the day makes running at night too dangerous like heavy rain and snow.
  • Mentally running takes more out of you at night and you need to be extra aware. If you’re super tired or spacey one day just skip it or run during the day.
  • If you’re starting or finishing your run just as it’s sort of getting dark but lights won’t be necessary throw on those ankle reflectors just in case.
Lots of times I’m running in darker conditions than it seems on Instagram

Drunk drivers

This is something we should be past by now and despite what you’ve heard we’re not. Drunk driving is still very much a thing. Look along any roadway or ditch and they are filled with alcohol empties and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most drunk drivers never make the news and I’ll go out on a limb here and say no one is getting caught their first or even 15th time doing it. You might also harbor the delusion that since you run in the morning before work on weekdays you’re good. That my friend is wrong!! Law enforcement around here recently started targeting people in the morning rush for breath testing and arrest levels are through the roof. Lots of people out there at dawn are blowing over the limit too. One more just my opinion point, you might think that’s not that common for people to drink to the point they blow over the limit on their way to work the next day. I would argue you’d be shocked!

Are you a sometimes dark time runner? What are your favorite tips for running safely in the dark?

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