Unless it’s under the lights of a stadium, outdoor activity is usually limited to daylight hours. For the most part, running, especially trail running, is no different.
So it might seem a bit odd that I’m encouraging you to wait until the sun falls below the horizon to head out on your next run.
Running at night can actually be used as a training tool, and an easy way to get you out of a training funk. The best part is, it requires only a headlamp to get started.
5 Benefits of Running at Night
How does running in the dark make me a better runner? Here are the top 5 benefits:
1) Cooler temperatures
As those of us in the northern hemisphere begin our transition into spring and summer, avoiding the daytime heat becomes increasingly important. The crisp, cool air of an evening, night, or early morning run in the dark will help you avoid all the frustrations and training risks that come with overheating.
2) Removes distractions
For many runners, including myself, we’re often looking for distractions during a training run. Beautiful views, peppy music, a training partner, we fill our runs with entertainment to keep us from actually focusing on what we’re doing.
While that may work to get you out the door, if you aren’t careful, it can take away from the effectiveness of the run. To become a better runner, it’s important to focus on breathe, stride, cadence, form, pace, and a number of other real time aspects of your running.
Running at night, with nothing but a headlamp or flashlight, removes many of the distractions of daytime running. It narrows your focus and calms your senses, allowing you to concentrate on the workout and your running.
3) Frees up additional time to get in your workout
Ask a runner how they feel about daylight savings, and they’re likely to grumble about how losing an hour greatly limits their opportunity to run in the evening.
With work, family obligations, and social events, you’re opportunities to run in the daylight are often minimized to a very small window. What if you could significantly widen that window?
If you’re able to run in the dark, it frees up early mornings before the sunrise, and evenings after the business of the day has calmed.
4) Good training for ultramarathons
If you’re a trail runner thinking about running an ultramarathon, or any distance over 26.2 miles, expect to run at least some of the race in the dark.
Most ultramarathons start before the sun rises, and many finish after it has set. If you’re running a 100k, 100 mile, or longer distance ultramarathon, you may even run through the night.
While training for my first 100 miler, I spent a significant amount of time running trails after dark to prepare for the night running required during that race.
5) It’s fun and exciting
It might feel intimidating now, but night running can be fun and exhilarating.
The change from your normal daytime run, the heightened awareness of your surroundings, and the slight discomfort that comes from being in the woods after dark, adds a thrill that daytime running never could.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then well, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
Tips for Running in the Dark
If you’re new to night running, especially if you’re running on trails, the thought of it alone probably feels intimidating. But night running doesn’t have to be more dangerous or difficult, if you’re willing to take a few precautions ahead of time.
Here are my tips for running after dark:
1) Carry proper lighting
The most popular option is a headlamp. A good running headlamp secures to your head without much bounce, and lights up several feet of trail ahead of you. Other options include a handheld flashlight, lights on your shoes, or a headlamp fastened to your waist.
It’s generally a good idea to carry extra batteries or a back-up light just in case. Using your cellphone’s flashlight is a convenient backup option.
2) Run with a partner
If you’re new to night running or nervous about security issues, run with a partner. Having an extra person with you will help calm the nerves and offer an extra set of eyes to keep you safe and on the right trail.
3) Tell someone where you’re going
A general safety tip for all trail runners, regardless of the time of day, is to always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. This is even more important at night.
4) Know the trails
Night running isn’t the time to explore new trails or routes. It’s easy to miss a turn or get disoriented if you aren’t familiar with your surroundings. Stick to trails and routes that you know well in order to avoid getting lost.
5) Have fun
This one is most important! Have fun with the darkness. Use it to your advantage and enjoy the experience of moving quickly through the night.
Don’t Let the Darkness Hold You Back
Adding in regular night runs has completely reinvigorated my training. It provides new challenges and excitement, and prepares me for races in ways that day running never could.
Quit being scared of the dark and learn to embrace running at night as a training tool.
With a headlamp and a training partner, the entire night will become your playtime.
- Doug Hay
Doug Hay is a coach, ultra runner and a blogger for the trail running blog Rock Creek Runner