Whether you are a seasoned in-the-dark runner, or are considering starting a routine that requires pre-dawn or nighttime running, it’s important that you take extra precaution to do so safely.
Running at night doesn’t have to be dangerous. Having a safe run in the dark means making smart decisions, wearing the right gear, and taking the necessary steps to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
Whether it’s short days, it’s too hot to run after the sun comes up, or your long work hours means it’s the only way it’s getting done, let’s find out how we can all be as safe as possible when running at night.
Why would you run at night?
Some runners might have no need to run at night. Though I’ve definitely skipped a run before or brought a run to the treadmill because it “got too late”, I can generally avoid any nighttime running. So a lot of people are probably in that camp, too.
So far I’ve only trained for fall marathons meaning all of my training is completed before the end of Daylight Savings (bummer!) This means that I’ve previously been able to fit in a run before or after work while it’s still light out. This isn’t the case for winter training.
But there are times that you would likely need to run at night. Here are a few examples:
It’s too hot to run in daylight: I follow several runners on Instagram who live in very hot areas of the U.S. Think Florida, Texas, Las Vegas…you get the idea. Sometimes the heat index of these places is so dangerous that residents are encouraged to stay inside. And that definitely cancels out running, too. That means that they complete their runs in the early morning hours before the sun comes up and it gets too hot.
Your workday begins in the dark and ends in the dark: This is very likely in the winter months! What that means is that if you’re going to get your run in, it’s probably going to be in the dark, too. Squeezing in a lunch run could be a possibility, but not everyone can do this. Additionally, that 1 hour may not be enough time for how many miles you need to fit in.
It’s just the only time you can fit it in that day: You may be able to complete most of your runs during daylight hours, but what happens when there is one day where 8 pm is your only available time slot? If you promised yourself you’d do it, then it might mean having to complete it in the dark outdoors. Having the right nighttime gear available (that I’ll show below) when this happens might mean the difference between getting your run in or not.
It might just be that you don’t have much other choice than to run at night on some days. But it’s also possible that you just prefer it! Let’s look into some benefits of running at night.
Benefits of Running at Night
It’s hard to say whether a certain time of day is better than any other for running, there are a lot of other factors to consider, afterall, but Healthline cites some studies that suggest evening running may be a great way to go. And if your “night” running happens in the wee morning hours before the sun comes up, there are definitely benefits for that, as well.
1. Allows you to get in a run you wouldn’t otherwise.
Knowing that there are safe ways to run at night means you can’t make any excuses about not fitting it in. With our busy lives, it’s justified to say you can’t make a run work during daylight hours – especially during the part of the year when there may only be 9 hours of daylight.
2. May Lead to Better Sleep
You may have heard otherwise, but this study from Experimental Physiology states that “evening high-intensity interval exercise does not disrupt sleep or alter energy intake.” Done early enough in the evening hours running can actually prepare your body for sleep since we know that aerobic exercise can be a natural remedy for bouts of insomnia. With that said, running close to bedtime isn’t for everyone. If you’re someone who experience night sweats, as we discuss here, your night running may be a culprit.
Are you a marathon runner? Sleep is so important! Read: “How Sleep Can Give You the Edge You Need in Marathon Training.”
3. Helps Avoid Unnecessary Eating or Drinking
How many times do we eat without actually being hungry? Those late night calls from your fridge for a snack or a beer can be avoided by going for a run instead. (But after burning all those calories and you’re truly hungry…this gives you a perfect excuse to indulge just a little before heading off to bed. Food is recovery fuel afterall!)
4. You’ll Feel Like You’re Running Faster
Ok, so we all want to actually run faster, but it’s a great feeling to feel like you’re running faster, too. So, why does it feel like you’re running faster when it’s dark out? According to Outside Online, when running at night, “You can only see objects that are close to you, which means the only objects you’re looking at to gauge your speed will look like they’re going by quickly.”
This will make you feel like you’re running faster, even if you’re not.
Even though 80% easy running is where it’s at (more on that here), I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need a confidence boost with my running to motivate me, and this sounds like a good way to do it.
5. You Can Let Go of Your Inhibitions
You should never have to feel self-conscious about your running – there’s a place for every type and pace of runner in the running community! But it’s also a valid feeling to prefer to run without having to worry about lots of people having their eyes on you.
Night running can be a good option if you prefer to keep to yourself where you can avoid all judgment.
6. Watch that Sunrise or Sunset
I think this is one is my favorite benefit on the list! Whether your run is happening early in the morning or at night, there’s not a much better than experiencing the beauty and peace of watching a sunrise or sunset while out for a run.
7. “Eat the Frog” as Early Morning Runner
“Eat the frog” is a term that basically means you get the most important or looming task off of your list first. Now even if you love running and enjoy your runs, it is still so nice to have it done before your work day even begins. But in order to do this, you’ll have to run in the week dark hours of morning…especially in the wintertime. Plus, there is just something about knowing you’ve accomplished so much before much of the world is even awake.
Think it’s too chilly to run in the dark during the winter? Here are our top tips for surviving those cold weather runs.
Is it safe to run at night?
So it’s clear there are several benefits to running in the dark, but how safe is it?
We won’t be able to ever say that it’s 100% safe to run at night. But, it’s also not 100% safe to run during the day, either. Crossing roads, wearing headphones, or running on trails alone are all factors that can make us more vulnerable even when the sun’s out. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t do it.
Are there more risks involved in running in the dark? Absolutely. In fact, this article from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that the majority of pedestrian fatalities happen at night. Even though it is an alarming statistic, it doesn’t mean that running at night needs to be completely avoided.
But you do need to do it safely – read on to find out the best tips for doing so!
Additionally, a lot of factors go into whether or not it’s safe for someone to run at night. Someone who lives in a well-lit neighborhood, for example, will probably feel safer than someone running out on country dirt roads. And the unfortunate reality is that women have to be a lot more careful about where they are running in the late evening or pre-dawn hours than men usually do.
I personally don’t want to live my life in fear. We all take small risks every day in order to live life to the fullest. That’s why I’m committed to figuring out how to safely run at night so that I can ensure I’m completing all of my marathon training as necessary without having to use the treadmill more than I’d prefer.
Key Tips for Running Safely in the Dark
Here are 8 great tips to keep us all safe during our nighttime runs.
1. Run with a friend.
“Safety in numbers” isn’t cliche. When it comes to running in the dark, it’s always going to be safer to run with someone else. This is especially true if you are a woman.
Running clubs will also often start early morning runs or finish evening runs in the dark, which is a safer situation than running alone. If you know you’ll need to get in some runs before or after work when it will be dark out, consider joining a running group you feel safe running with. Or, if you have a running friend in your neighborhood you can count on – that works, too!
2. Run in a well-lit area where people are around.
Runners will be much safer running around a neighborhood with streetlights or in a city where people are out and about. Of course, you don’t want it too crowded, but with people around you won’t get caught in a precarious situation.
And even though your neighborhood may be quiet in the early morning or later evening hours, people are still awake in their homes and cars are out and about as they travel to and from home. If you feel safe in your hood in the daylight hours, there’s no reason it can’t be safe in the dark, too.
3. Bring your phone.
This one is probably a no-brainer but you should really bring your phone with you on all of your runs – not just at night. Though 99% of the time nothing will go wrong on your run, you’ll want to be prepared if it does. Even if you got a hamstring pull, etc. it would be a more difficult situation in the dark than in daylight – especially if you had to hail someone to help you. Be smart and bring your phone on all of your nighttime runs.
4. Ditch the headphones.
As much as you may love running with tunes, this is not a good idea to do when it’s dark outside. Your sense of sight is already compromised. This means that you need to rely on your ears to hear more than you would for a daytime run.
Loud music (or even just a podcast) will drown out sounds of cars or any other nearby dangers. This puts you at great risk.
Instead, use this time to get in tune with your running form or work on your mental game.
5. Use GPS tracking.
There are two GPS methods that I currently utilize for the added safety benefit (even on daylight long runs). When I start running at night, I will be using these for all of my runs no matter how short. I use:
- Garmin LiveTrack on my Garmin watch. If you have a Garmin watch you can easily set this up within the app. I put the email address(es) of whoever will track me and once enabled they can see where I am for the duration of my run.
- Road ID is another great app you can use if you don’t have a watch with GPS tracking capability.
6. Carry pepper spray.
If you will be out of sight from homes or stores, etc. for any period of your run, carry pepper spray. Whether it be dangerous animals or a potential attacker, you can never be too careful. I know it sucks to have to even think about this as a reality, but it could. As a woman, especially, you need to prepare yourself. This is an excellent line of defense once you’ve trained yourself how to properly use it.
Gel pepper spray is a recommended option because it “does not atomize like traditional pepper spray and deploys in a powerful stream from nozzle to the target’s eyes while virtually eliminating wind blowback.”
7. Stick to the sidewalk.
Intersections and darkness don’t make for the safest combination when it comes to running. If you can avoid larger intersections when running at night, please do! If you’re running through your neighborhood you’ll likely have to cross some roads, so be extra cautious and make sure drivers can see you by wearing a headlamp, light-up vest and reflective clothing.
And adding a few extra seconds to your mile pace to stop and look twice is not a big deal. Ultimately, the more you can stay on sidewalks, the better. (And if you’re concerned about always running on concrete, my article Best Running Surfaces: The Verdict Might Surprise You will show you that it’s not all that bad.)
8. Have the Best Night Running Gear
An important part of staying safe during your low light runs is to wear gear that allows you to easily be seen by others – especially people who are driving. Because wearing the proper attire is such a huge part of your safety, I’ve made this it’s own category below with everything you need to have a safe night run.
Running at Night Gear to Stay Safe
From your head to your toes, the more visible you are to passersby, the better chance of avoiding any type of accident during your nightly run. You should never run in the dark without wearing multiple pieces of reflective gear. Additionally, you need to be able to see where you’re running to avoid any missteps and falls.
Here are some great pieces of gear to enjoy a run at night and protect yourself in the process.
Being able to be seen in the dark is one of the best ways to stay safe during your night runs. You can easily find hats, shirts, pants, and shoes that have reflective features specifically made for running in the dark. These reflective features will allow cars to see you when in the path of their headlights – where you might be invisible otherwise. Which is scary. No runner should be out at night without the proper attire that allows them to be seen well.
When choosing gear, you want to look for clothing with 360-degree visibility – meaning that there are features that circle the piece of clothing allowing you to be seen from any angle. The more reflective clothing you’re wearing, the better chance you have for better visibility.
Special Devices Designed to Make You Extra Visible in the Dark
With the use of devices created specifically for nighttime exercise, running in the dark has become a lot safer. Yes, it’s just one more thing you need to add to your running gear list. But in order to stay as safe as possible while getting your workouts in beyond daylight hours, it’s a smart decision to wear one of these helpful items.
The Noxgear vest is especially useful – giving its users 360 degrees of visibility. I got one for Christmas last year and I love it! Taking your dog with you on your night run? They have one for Fido, too!
Headlamps to See What’s Around You in the Dark
As someone who runs in the dark, I will tell you that having a headlamp is an absolute must. You could also carry a flashlight, of course, but that gets cumbersome (I personally can’t stand holding anything in my hand while running for more than a couple of miles.)
Once fitted correctly, you won’t even know your headlamp is there, but it will ensure you can see where you’re going at all times. It will help you see what is in front of you better and it will also help others see you. In fact, I saw someone out running this morning with one, and I would not have seen him otherwise. Here is the one I have – it works and fits great, and even got me through my first overnight Ragnar Relay.
Want a little extra light? These knuckle lights also come highly recommended so you don’t have to whip your head around at every little noise.
Knuckle Lights Original – See and Be Seen
Run at Night, but be Smart!
So, is it safe to run at night? There is no reason why you can’t run in the dark if you prepare by doing most of the recommendations listed above along with having the right night running safety gear. The other bonus is that it’s one of the most peaceful times of day you could run. Happy night running!