11 Safety Tips For Running At Night
It was a cold and icy night and I found myself running along the side of a major highway making my way back home from a long run. Before I noticed my navigational error, I was sprinting towards traffic searching ahead in hopes for a quick exit. The road was busy with speeding vehicles and the shoulder was narrow. I was looking for a shoulder to cry on but barely had a shoulder to run on. It was a few days before Christmas as I was dodging speeding tractor-trailers and even faster last minute Christmas shoppers. With zero lights or reflective gear, I was in need of an idea fast before my night run turned into a nightmare before Christmas. Eventually I was struck with a bright idea (no pun intended). Observing a row of reflector posts on the side of the road, I ripped one out of the ground and held it by my side. Noticeably, vehicles began switching lanes because of my instant increase in visibility. Fortunately, I reached the proceeding exit a few miles down the road and made my way home safe and sound learning firsthand the significance and effectiveness of safety gear. To avoid an unsafe experience of your own, here are 11 safety tips for running at night.
Light it Up
Illumination is critical while running through the night. It’s best to just assume that no driver is able to see you. When running at night, a headlamp or flashlight can certainly come in handy. One late summer night I went out for an exceedingly long training run. As the night began to darken, and with a lack of streetlights on the route, a light became a must have. After jumping in a few stores with no success, I ran into a Toys R Us. Luckily, they had flashlights in stock. I ran out of the store with a small yet useful pink Disney Princess flashlight. (Hey, if it works it works!) Whether it be a headlamp, flashlight, or some sort of safety light, not only does this keep you safe from moving vehicles but it also aids in visual clearance for your runs.
Wear Reflective Clothing
High visibility clothing is most effective at night. It’s an extra safety precaution and increases a runner’s overall visibility. Reflective shoes, reflective straps, reflective shorts, reflective hats, you name it. Running gear manufactured with fluorescent material floods the market and many options are available that fit your needs.
Run With a Friend
Running sometimes places a runner out in the world by themselves for hours at a time. For some, this is the exact reason to run, disconnecting from society and reconnecting with themselves and with Mother Nature. On the other hand, some people prefer to be social while running. Either way, while running at night it’s beneficial to bring along a friend, as they can be an extra set of eyes and ears. In addition, although I’d like to believe the world is filled with pretty rainbows and butterflies, the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has your best interest at heart. To avoid unexpected confrontations, running with someone reduces the risk. If you are not feeling friendly, at the very least, try running in a more populated area. You never know what you may cross your path. Just last month I ran past a couple of wild coyotes and although we only had a stare-off, I realized that you never know what danger you may run into around the next corner.
Stop at Traffic Lights
This one is fairly obvious but let’s be honest, as runners, we don’t always stop at the light. A hiccup in our pace is considered a setback to most. If no cars, then, it’s full speed ahead. Whereas timing the green light starts becoming more of an art form then a timing issue. But remember, at night it’s easy to not see a car and even easier for that car not to see you. So, be smart, follow the traffic signals, and hit the ground running. What I like to do with red lights is turn at the corner and keep on running. When the light changes back to green, I turn back around and cross the road. This will not only keep you safe, but it will also increase your overall distance, but, hey, bring on the distance, we are runners right?
Lose the Headphones
But wait… turn it up, that’s my jam! Yes, for most losing the headphones can be a tough pill to swallow and one I have difficulty with myself. We love music and it provides us with that extra motivation to keep our legs pumping. However, as much as we can agree that music is motivational for our run, we can also agree that wearing headphones can be distracting. Running at night impairs our vision, forcing our ears to become more of a guide than ever. So, make safe decisions and enjoy your run, you can always play your favorite track for a post run celebration.
Take it Slow
Speed training at night? It might be worth slowing down the pace a bit. With a more relaxed and moderate pace, we can become more in-tuned with our surroundings preventing us from dangerous situations like moving cars or random objects in our path. Remember, a few seconds added to your pace tonight can be a few seconds subtracted from your pace tomorrow.
Watch the Ground
At night if you look up then you’re going down! Watching the ground will help keep you on your feet. I’ve tripped over rocks, roots, sewer lines, raised sidewalks, curbs, and plenty other “what in the world was that” objects. Not to mention dodging the unfortunate amount of litter and road kill that floods the streets, more so in populated areas. Keep your eyes on the path ahead and your feet on the ground.
Sidewalks are Safe
Basically, this section is dedicated to remind us that the street may not be the safest spot for nighttime training runs. Although, in general, I personally try to avoid sidewalks, the sidewalk tends to be a safer location at night compared to roads and trails. Roads are obviously unsafe because of moving vehicles and trails can be tricky at night due uneven paths, hidden objects, and wild animals. During a one hundred mile ultra-marathon I went face to face with a mountain lion. In that moment had I a choice, I’d pick increased traffic over a wild animal any day.
Tell Someone your Route
When leaving for your run it’s prudent to inform someone of the route you plan to take. Having family or friends know your whereabouts will provide an overall safety factor in case danger strikes. In addition, bring along an ID and an insurance card if you have one. This simple small action could be a lifesaving solution in an emergency.
Carry your Phone
Carrying a cellphone is always a safe bet for added safety on your run. There’s an app for nearly everything. Some apps have a live tracking session automatically checking you in and informing your friends on your whereabouts. There are even alerts you can set like maximum speed and maximum stop time that will text the people of your choosing automatically. Let technology work for you and benefit from its advancement.
Trust your Gut
Most importantly, go with your instincts. Look, if something doesn’t feel safe, it usually isn’t. No one knows you better than you know you, so trusting your gut tends to be the most rational decision. It’s that alarm, that feeling inside of us that we cannot push down. Recent studies suggest that an individual’s snap judgment can sometimes be more beneficial than taking the time to rationally think things through. Our unconscious mind is much more powerful then we may think or could ever possibly understand. But when it comes down to it, we can measure our risk and make a decision that’s best for our own safety and contemplate on the amount of risk we are actually willing to take. Be cautious, be aware, and yes, be safe.
A Safe Conclusion
I know safety isn’t the most entertaining subject matter but sometimes it’s the most needed. In like manner, when discussing running at night, safety is imperative. Sure, I might be going a little over board but most of the time we do not take action until we experience a close call or an unsafe situation. The more precautions we take while running, the safer we will be while running. With these 11 tips for running at night, you will be off to a safe start, and at the end of the day, remember, safety doesn’t happen by accident.