Running in the Dark: Staying Safe

Running in the Dark

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It’s not breaking news that it is dark a lot this time of year. While that is wonderful for cozy nights in front of the fire or enjoying a leisurely dinner with friends, it can be a problem for those of us who want to stay in shape. Running in the dark presents many potential hazards; safety concerns, hidden cracks in the sidewalk, and being invisible to cars among them.

So how can you stay fit and stay safe?

There are a few options runners have to choose from during the long winter months:

  • Hibernate and stay indoors. Tempting, but not realistic if you have races to train for, fitness levels to maintain, and fitness goals to achieve
  • Get on the treadmill. While the dreadmill is a great option for an occasional run, many runners (myself included) just can’t handle the idea of a 100% treadmill running calendar
  • Rearrange your schedule for lunchtime workouts. Another great option if you can manage it. Personally, I’ve never mastered the logistics of noon workouts. Even with short hair and a 2-minute makeup routine, I can’t figure out how to change, run, stretch, shower, and re-do hair and makeup in an hour.
  • Run in the dark. Embrace your inner vampire had head out in the moonlight.

Running in the Dark

There are a few things to add to or modify, in your running routine for it to be dark-proofed.


Under the best of circumstances, running near cars can be dangerous. Wearing your black pants and black jacket while running in the dark is just asking for trouble. Don’t make it harder for already distracted drivers to see you.

The first piece of ‘reflective’ gear I ever owned was Nike vest that had one reflecting stripe on the side. It was better than nothing but was less than ideal.

In the past few years, there has been a ton of new gear whose main focus is maximum visibility. There are now night-specific shoes, pants, tops, and jackets, many of which are totally amazing.

And while I’m not a huge fan of the comeback of ’80s-style day-glo and neon in the fashion world, they make for great clothing options for increasing your visibility.

Accessories & Gear

Get a running flashlight or headlamp. I use a Petzl headlamp and have been very happy with it (Petzl – TIKKINA Headlamp 80 Lumens). 

Running with a headlamp can be a little awkward a first. The bouncing of the light can create a motion sickness type feeling for some, but you’ll adapt and get used to it with a little exposure and practice. While I use a headlamp for night running, I’ve seen handheld knuckle flashlights that seem like a great idea (Knuckle Lights). I’d love to try them sometime.

There are also safety lights that you can attach to your clothing and styles that attach to your shoes. These lights are great for when cars, bikes or people will be coming up behind you. I’ve seen runners with shoe lights, they are much more visible: Night Safety LED Shoe Lights Clip.

Running Mechanics

While running in the dark, it’s a good idea to make some adjustments to your running mechanics. Even with a flashlight, the darkness can mess with your depth perception, making it harder to judge ruts, curbs, cracks in the pavement, or other obstacles in your path.

Shorten your stride a little while running the dark and be a little more conservative with your pace.

Shortening and slowing will lessen the odds that you will step funny on a root you didn’t see and tweaking or twisting your ankle.

Night runs are not the place to try to set a new land speed record.

Safety and Running Routes

Staying safe while running in the dark is a very common concern. It’s what I worry about the most while running in the dark. A few safety tips:

  • DO run on routes you are familiar with, that are well-lit and populated, even after dark.
  • DO run with a group, or at least a running buddy. There is safety in numbers.
  • DO make sure someone knows where you will be running and when you should return.
  • DON’T run with headphones. Usually, I am 100% in favor of running with music or podcasts if that is something that inspires you. But in the dark, you need to remain aware and focused on the environment and your surroundings.

Running in the Dark

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Expecting the Unexpected on Race Day

Confessions of a Running Coach

Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

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