Top Tips for Running in the Dark Safely

Why would you want to Run in the Dark?

I live in the United Kingdom, which as it sits in the Northern Hemisphere is subject to seasonal changes. It's the middle of November as I type this and Autumn is upon us. Winter is not far away and the daylight hours are dwindling. So the chances to get out and run in the daylight are dwindling too.

This can also be a crucial training time - if you have a Spring Marathon to prepare for. So, missing out on training now could have a negative impact on those Spring races. 

Whereas continuing to train through the dark of Winter will make sure you can at the very least maintain and ideally build your fitness and improve your VO2Max

So, at this time of year us runners are left with some decisions to make if we want to continue our running and training regimes: 

  • Change the time of day you run - if your work, family or social responsibilities will allow this.
  • Change your running routes to well-lit streets or a running track or sports pitch with floodlights.
  • Get used to running in the dark.

Keeping fit during Winter months is not the only reason to run in the dark. There are plenty of races that take place in the dark. In whole or in part. 

Run in the Dark Virtual Race

As with so many races, this race has gone virtual this year.

There are many other night races that take place around the world. Lots of the multi-stage ultras will have a night running element within them.  

In the past I've also commuted to work in the Spring, Summer and Autumn months. Starting out at ridiculous o'clock, either in the pitch black or half-light.

Is Running in the Dark Dangerous?

It can be if you don't take some basic precautions. There are 3 main dangers to consider when running in the dark:

  1. Not being seen by others - especially drivers. If a driver can't see you clearly at a distance, then the chances of them stopping their vehicle before it hits you are dramatically reduced.
  2. Not being able to see as well. Humans are not a nocturnal species. We don't have great night-vision, our eyes require light to work at their best. So it's much easier for us to step in a pot-hole and twist an ankle or run into something in the dark.
  3. Risk of attack. It depends where you live in the world obviously. As some places are much safer than others at night. But statistics do indicate that physical assault, robbery/muggings and drunk driving offences take place more often at night than during daylight hours. If you live somewhere where there are large nocturnal carnivores - there's the added potential of becoming a meal !!

There's no need to be scared of running in the dark, as there are plenty of things you can do to combat these dangers and reduce the risks.

Coach D's 12 Top Tips for Staying Safe When Running in The Dark 

What to wear and what to do to remove some of the fear and feel safer and more confident to run in the dark:

Head Torch & Proviz Bib

Wear Something Reflective or Bright/Luminous Colours.

I prefer to wear something reflective. As you really stand out to drivers when their headlights are pointing in your general direction. In this photo I'm wearing a Proviz Bib/Top.

 Proviz produce some of the best reflective clothing that I've ever used. Largely due to their Reflect 360 fabrics, that use glass beads.

If wearing a bib is not your thing then there are plenty of other options with lots of running kit with reflective detailing in the Proviz Range. Including hats/caps, gloves, back-packs, leggings and hoodies. 

I really like the Explorer jacket (see pics below). It looks so cool at night, but it also looks really good during daylight hours too. Double-whammy bonus for the fashion conscious runner!

Obviously Proviz are not the only option available to you. Pretty much every running gear brand (Asics, Brooks, Nike & Ronhill for example) have a range of kit with reflective or luminous elements. Designed specifically for running in the dark.  

Bring your own light.

I suggest wearing a head torch or chest torch.  Like the example pictures below. So that your hands can be free to move smoothly as they're meant to whilst you're running. I don't recommend using a hand held torch for the same reason that I don't recommend running with a bottle in your hand. Because holding and having something in one hand introduces imbalance. Which can cause your running technique to get sloppy and one sided. 

Running in the DARK
Chest Torch

My preference is the head torch. Because it's much easier to direct the light where you want it to be - simply by turning hour head. If it fits well, it's also pretty much always pointing in the same direction that you're looking. 

Silva are a good brand as are Petzl. But I've also experimented with cheap headlamps from Amazon and have been quite impressed by some of the rechargeable version available there. Especially those with CREE bulbs.

Breathe Right.

If it's cold enough for you to see your own breath condense in the air. Then I suggest you exhale out the side of your mouth.

This will direct your breath away from the beam of your head torch. Because if you just exhale forward directly into the main beam of light coming from your head you can seriously reduce your visibility. Especially if you're off road or in an area with no street lights or light polution.

It can be like you're your own fog machine.  Learning to direct your out breaths to the side is the answer to this problem.

Be seen.

Providing your own light is a good way to reduce the risk of you slipping, tripping of colliding with something you otherwise wouldn't be able to see. And to some extent could also make you more visible to others too. Depending on which direction they're travelling in relation to where you're pointing your light.  

As well as wearing a head-torch so you can see where you're going. It can be a good idea to also wear some smaller lights, maybe on your arm closest to the oncoming traffic or on your back. This will make you more visible to vehicles approaching from behind. Especially if the lights flash on and off.

Running in the DARK

I prefer to use lights that are rechargeable, as it saves having to faff about swapping out batteries all the time. But you do have to remember to keep them well-charged.

It can be a good idea - especially on longer runs to take a back-up light. Just in case the batteries die or the lamp crashes unexpectedly. Believe me it's no fun when that happens if you're off road on a dark trail, miles from the nearest street light (more on the specifics of trail running in the dark a bit later).

A small hand held torch, that can fit in a pocket of belt is fine as an emergency back-up. But as mention previously I wouldn't make a habit of running with a torch in your hand.

You could just take your mobile/smart phone and use the torch function on that in an emergency. Again - make sure that the battery is well charged before heading out the door. As using the phone as a torch for extended periods will drain the phone's battery very quickly. And it may be needed for an emergency phone call.

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Carry ID/ICE details with you

I've already mentioned using your mobile phone as a back-up torch. You can also use your phone as your option for carrying your ICE details. ICE stands for InCase of Emergency. It's also a good idea to let someone know where you are going and roughly how long you'll be.

Ditch the music

As it's dark and there's reduced visibility, you'll need to be paying attention to all your senses. In particular your hearing. This means staying alert and listening out for any potential dangers, for example - approaching vehicles, people or animals.

So I don't advise running with headphones at night.

But if you just can't do without your tunes whilst out on your evening plod. Get some bone-conducting headphones. Like these Aftershokz ones. That way you won't have your ears covered and should still be able to hear what's happening around you.

Running in the DARK

I tend to restrict listening to music and podcast to daytime runs only - for this very reason.

Slow Down

Keep your runs at an easy relaxed pace, especially if you're venturing off-road. Save faster paced workouts for when it's lighter and you have much better visibility. this shouldn't be too much of a problem and your running pace can actually feel much faster in the dark anyway.

Run with Friends

If you feel nervous or vulnerable running alone in the dark. It can be a good idea to arrange to meet up with a group of friends or join a local running group. This can be a real confidence booster, there's safety in numbers. Plus this tactic has the added bonus of giving you an incentive to actually get out and run - as you won't want to let the others down.

Vary Your Routes

If the reason for your nervousness is perceived risk of being attacked. Then as well as running with others, I would suggest making a point of varying your running routes. This way it's much less likely that a potential attacker will spot a pattern and be confident enough about your running habits to "lie-in-wait" for you.

Stick to Well-Lit Routes

This should reduce the potential for becoming an assault victim. But also it will make it less likely that you will bump into something, trip or slip. Being able to spot landmarks and have a good understanding of where you are is also helpful to prevent yourself getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

Running Off-Road in the Dark

Running on pavements and roads with or without streetlights is one thing - taking your nocturnal running off-road is a whole other level. 

In my experience it's a lot more fun and can also become quite a surreal and peaceful experience. But to get the most out of running off-road in the dark, I suggest the following:

  • Practice running in the dark, by sticking close to home initially. Get used to your head-torch or light source of your choice. Run on pavements and roads with street lights first. Then progress to streets that aren't lit. Then a park or field and finally go completely off road and hit the trails - through the woods or over the hills.
  • Make sure you follow all the saftey advice above, carry spare lights, a phone, water etc and make sure someone knows where you're going and how long you'll be.
  • I suggest wearing a hat with a peak/visor if you head into the woods. As that will potentially protect your face/eyes from small branches/twigs. This can also be quite useful when running in traffic as it happens - as you can drop your head slightly and protect your eyes from the glare of headlights.

Be Prepared

The thought of stepping out into the dark of night to go for a run can be daunting. But it needn't be something that you actively avoid. Following the advice in this article can make sure that you get the most out of your night time runs.

One other suggestion I have for if you find it difficult to make that first step and transition from your comfy/cozy and well-lit home into the cold dark outside world. Is to simply make sure that all your kit is ready and laid out in a very visible position, so that it can't be ignored. So when the time comes to go for a run, there's less chance of you faffing about for 20 minutes, not being able to find something and giving up on your run entirely.

Finally - Just in case you got here from a google search for the Color Dolor song of the same title as this blog post. I've got you covered - here it is:

You're welcome...

Coach D

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About the author 

Coach D

Hi, I'm Dave. I'm a UK Athletics qualified and licensed Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF), Endurance Event Group Coach and Certified Running Technique Coach. I coach groups and individuals of all abilities both online and in person.

I particularly enjoy coaching beginner and improver runners in the 40+ age range.

I'm also a regular recreational runner and I've been competing in races from 5k to marathon distance for over 30 years.

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