There is something wonderful about running at night. Well trodden trails can feel completely new and fresh when seen by moonlight; the picking out of features with a single beam of light, is almost restorative when normal life is so full of visual drama and the enveloping darkness can feel really special when you know most people don’t experience this very often, anymore.
In our days of central heating, round the clock lighting and cosseting from the natural elements, we can lose touch with our senses and our understanding of night and day. With so many of us glued to desks or with family responsibilities during daylight hours, running at night is a good practical solution to getting the miles in. But just like there is more to trail running than running, there is more to running at night than darkness. It can add a whole new dimension of adventure to your runs.
For many, the idea of running after the sun goes down, glimmers with excitement but for others venturing out after hours comes with worries about safety and the unexplored. But a few useful tips can make all the difference and so don’t let the unknown put you off having a go.
Test out twilight
Starting out in the light and running into the twilight and then full dark can be a great way to build up to running at night. In this way it can be less of a big deal than stepping out of the front door into pitch black. Plus there is something magical about seeing the light change and especially smells of the land as it cools.
Those who run together have fun together
If you are new to night running, or unfamiliar with an area, joining a group or club that runs at night can be a brilliant introduction. Honestly the ‘BOO’s’ from your mates turning off their torches to scare you is funny the first time! If you do go out on your own and I regularly do, make sure you mention to someone what your plans are.
Shine a light
Get a torch that works for you and for what you want to do. It’s easy to get caught up in the brighter is better game but this usually comes with an accompanying price . If you are intending to run where there are street lights or in open fields where the footing is generally smooth, then you can get away with a much lower Lumen (how the amount of light emitted is measured) than if your local runs are in dense woodland, littered with feet tripping roots and stomach lurching ups and downs. I often use a brighter torch when leading groups of runners, so I can make sure I can keep them happy too. The same applies to whether you wear a torch on your head, or on your chest or in your hand. Whatever you use make sure the batteries are good / charged.
Use the tech
Use an app to check out when sunset and last light are. That way you can make sure you are not caught out but also you can make sure you are on top of that hill for the great views of the big orange fire globe melting into the horizon. If you are really keen you can use an app like PhotoPills to work out the orientation of sunrise and sunset and work out where to go to get the best view of the sun for those IG photos.
If you are new to night running, follow a route you already know. It will give you confidence and you can concentrate on where you put your feet and torch. I promise you can have run it a 1000 times but running at night is totally different.
Normal trail technique rules ok
Good running efficiency with fast leg turnover, feet landing underneath your body active upright posture with a reasonable knee lift, are great technique for trail running full stop and apply just as much for night running. If in doubt go slower to start with until you build up your confidence.
Oh what a beautiful morning
Mornings, before the sun comes are well worth an early alarm call. It is magical to see those first rays of light break through and to feel the warmth of the sun on your face.
What to wear
Stick your nose out of the door before you set off to check the weather. It can be easy to think dark means cold but just like in the day you will warm up when you get going. Having said that taking an extra layer is a good idea as if you stop as with no sun to warm you, a chill can set in.
Embrace the experience
Try turning off your torch and letting your eyes adjust to the darkness at least once in a run. You will be surprised by how much you can see and again it offers a new perspective and a feeling of being immersed in an area rather than flashing through it. One of my favourite things when the ground is dry is to lie down torches off and look up at the stars. Enjoy the experience and forget the time taken, your pace and what Strava says.
Our bodies and heads thrive on challenge
Use night running as training. Whether you are doing a long distance event and expect to be running in the dark or whether you are planning to race somewhere you don’t know, running at night can help train you to the unfamiliar and keep you on your toes, physically and mentally.
Jude Palmer is a England Athletics Trail / Fell Running Coach based in the south east, UK. To find out more click here or follow @runsurreyhills