As featured in this month's Trail Running magazine...
Copywriter and mum-of-three by day, Sally is a compulsive runner by night/weekend, and spends most of her spare time pounding the local hills and trails of Deeside, Aberdeenshire. Winner of the 2016 Illuminator Night Trail Half Marathon (www.illuminatorrun.co.uk), here she shares her top tips for safe and satisfying off-road running in the dark…
Take it steady if you’re new to night running. As simple as it sounds, running in the dark can be daunting at first – your whole environment changes significantly and can take some getting used to.
Run with others, preferably those familiar with running in darkness. Company will ensure that night-time running is fun, sociable, safe and something you want to keep doing.
Arguably your most essential piece of night running kit, a decent headtorch is a must. I use the Silva Trail runner 2 which is lightweight with a long battery life, and the Petzl Nao, which is more expensive but gives a brighter and longer beam. Other things to consider when choosing your headtorch are durability and fit - it should be snug on your head even when bumped around.
Whether you run first thing in the morning or late at night, high visibility clothing is a must, especially if you have to run in traffic. A reflective top or jacket is your best bet, while reflective accents on tights, and high-vis bands on arms and ankles are another great way to ensure you are seen.
Remember even during warm spells, early mornings and evenings can be a lot cooler, so wearing and carrying enough layers is crucial. Long sleeved, breathable tops are most versatile, along with a reflective water and windproof layer (OMM do some great ‘shell layers’, see www.theomm.com) for inclement weather. Long running tights or capris will keep legs toasty. Gloves are a must in winter, and wearing a hat until you warm up is a good idea.
It’s worth knowing your route by day before tackling it in the dark for obvious reasons. Expect it to take longer in the dark, and tell someone where you’re going, so you’ll be missed if you’re not back by a certain time. Be prepared for a route you know well in the daylight to feel completely different by night.
For long night trail runs, a map, GPS watch, or phone can be useful for knowing your location and how far you’ve gone.
With vision reduced, your other senses are heightened in the dark, so make the most of them, especially your hearing, which will alert you to any traffic, and give clues to your location on more remote trails. Your sense of touch will help your feet feel changes in gradient and undergrowth that your torch beam may have missed. Tread lightly over tree roots, particularly in the wet, and stick to paths and trails where possible - heather bashing is even harder in the dark!
As in the daylight, avoid heading out on an empty stomach, and carry a small amount of emergency foods like gels, energy bars or jelly babies. Power gel shots from Powerbar are great for a quick boost when you’re running on empty.
It’s worth carrying a basic first aid kit for longer night runs, particularly if you’re out alone. Carrying a phone is useful in case of emergency.
Most important of all, have fun! Night running is exciting - it can even feel faster than normal, as you adapt to your reduced vision and the surrounding blackness. Whether first thing on a wintery morning, or a run home from work after a long day, night running is a great way to fit in your training and feel fabulous as the nights draw in. Is it dark yet? Get out there!