Running in the dark – Be safe, be seen

During the months leading up to a Fall (or Spring) marathon as the distances get longer the more you may end up running in the pre-dawn or post-sunset hours. This morning I got up at 4:45am today to squeeze a 7 mile run in before I had to leave for work and the sun didn’t come up until the last couple of miles of my run. This can be a challenge to get out there and put the miles in if you are not fully prepared.

This mornings sunrise calendar

This mornings sunrise time

When I did my first marathon back in the Fall of 2011 I had to figure a way of getting my mid-week runs in before work and on occassions some long runs on the weekend and be home in time for my wife to leave to teach Sunday school. This meant often getting up at 3:00am to knock out a 20 miler and be home in time to look after the boys. So with those challenges I had to make sure that I was adequately geared up so that I was out there safely and I would be coming back home as promised.

Now, I cannot speak for everyone or recommend the best night time gear out there but I have put a list of gear together that I use and you might find useful to research if you haven’t before. Some of this was trial and error but the following seems to be what works best for me.

My every run essentials

Firstly, whether there is sunlight or moonlight, I never leave for a run without wearing my Road ID Sport band. This goes with me on every run. You can read my review of Road ID products here. Additionally, I always take my iPhone with me in either my iFitness belt or in the pocket of my Nathan hydration belt. Everyone has their own favorite way of carrying their personal belongings. Sometimes, even on race days, I will stuff a credit card and a $10 bill away in case of emergencies. When I travel I also bring my driver’s licence with my credit card. But typically it’s just my Road ID, iPhone and house key as I train on familiar routes most of the time.

Road ID Sport

Road ID Sport

iFitness running belt (I use a double pocket on race days for gels)

iFitness running belt
(I use a double pocket on race days to carry my gels)

Nathan Hydration Belt

Nathan Hydration Belt

My pre-dawn essentials

My first purchase when I started running in the early morning was a reflective vest. Even at dawn and dusk it is a useful and lightweight piece of equipment which does not add bulk to you while you run. Since I discovered the Brooks Nightlife series of products I have been a fan of their running gear (I was already a Brooks shoes devotee). This is the vest I personally use but if you look around you will find similar products from other brands. Find something that has good reviews and seems like it will be lasting and finally fits your body well. I use the Brooks Reflective Running Vest. This works well for me.

Brooks vest

Brooks Nightlife Running Vest

I always run with a hat or a visor to either keep the sunlight or the perspiration out of my eyes. I like the Headsweats range of hats and they make a RoadID branded hat which has a lot of extra reflective material. I also use the Brooks Nightlife running hat which in addition to being reflective also has a built in flashing lamp at the rear (which I recently discovered by accident). Here it is.

Brooks running hat in 'Nightlife' reflective material

Brooks running hat in ‘Nightlife’ reflective material

As the sunrises get later I start to wear a headlamp. I use something specifally designed for running which is both lighweight and secure. In addition it provides a wide spread of light for about 20 feet ahead of me. It’s the Petzl Tikkina. It seems to be mid-range in price and they do have others which are more expensive and powerful. Again, I suggest you look at some online reviews and see what you like. I attach a flashing red Road ID Supernova lamp to the back of the strap. This is another reason I wear a hat when running so that it has something to rest on other than my sweaty head.

Petzl Tikkina

Petzl Tikkina headlamp

Road ID Supernova

Road ID Supernova

In the winter months I keep the same setup with the exception that I will swap out the Brooks running vest with my Brooks Essential Nightlife Running Vest if I need an additional layer. I also will wear the Brooks Infiniti Nightlife Beanie. If I am wearing running tights in the dead of winter I may occassionally add some reflective ankle bands too.

Brooks Essential Run Vest (Nightlife series)

Brooks Essential Run Vest (Nightlife series)

Brooks Infiniti Beanie (Nightlife)

Brooks Infiniti Beanie (Nightlife)

Road ID ankle bands

Road ID ankle bands

Rules of the Road

So now I’m all geared up there are some rules of the road that I make sure I stick with on every run.

  • Road ID and phone – always.
  • Tell someone the route you plan to run (just in case)…just don’t wake them up at 3:00am, it’s better to tell them the night before.
  • Map out your route in advance if you are travelling and are not sure of the area.
  • Run against the flow of traffic. This way you see a vehicle even if they do not see you. It may be necessary to cross the road on occassion, for example on roads with tight curves.
  • Stick to the shoulder of the road if there is one. I prefer to run on the blacktop where ever possible to avoid tripping on uneven pavement. Just make sure you have enough room if two cars need to pass at the same time from opposite directions.
  • If it looks like ice or if there is a black ice warning consider taking your run indoors to the gym. Even though you can see ahead of you it is what is under your feet which you cannot control.
  • NO MUSIC. Since I started running in the dark I have had to quit running with music. If cars still cannot see you you despite you being lit up like a Christmas tree you need to be aware of them!!! (I’ve stopped listening to music on all runs but treadmills. Running at night is incredibly calming).
  • Give yourself extra time. Yes, sometimes I do pace runs but mostly I take things just a bit slower. It’s dark, you want to make sure your feet are going where they should be going. Your headlamp can only see so far ahead.
  • Make sure you change the batteries in your headlamp at the start of every season. Having a light that is bright works wonders (again, trial and error).

This is by no means a comprehensive set of guidelines nor is the gear above the definitive list of running gear. This is what works for me. You may find something that works better for you. I know that they make reflective vests with speakers built in to them if you cannot imagine running without music. Other manufacturers make there own range of night running gear (Saucony makes a simliar line of reflective clothing in bright orange). Mostly I just want to be safe. You may think I am being overly cautious with all this preparation (yes, it sometimes takes forever to get dressed and out of the door) but I want to make sure that I can be seen out there. You never know who is out on the road and what condition they may be in.

I will admit that the first time I ran outside with a headlamp pretty much freaked me out. It took a few runs until I was probably acclimated to using it. I found that it is fairly limited in fog and that when you look in the direction of trees and bushes the animals eyes reflect back at you and can make you jump. Also, Halloween season freaks me out because you never know when you will come face to face with an unexpected scarecrow (I’ve watched waaaaay too much ‘Doctor Who’ in my life).

So there you have it. You are all dressed up and have places to go. I hope you found this post insightful.

Be safe out there.

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