Whether you’re new to running or a seasoned pro, one thing we all might have in common is we do most of our training runs, and races, during the day. Unless you’re a super-early bird runner and are used to the morning grind of donning a headlamp and reflectors, you might not yet know the thrill and excitement of a trail run under the starry sky. With Summer comes the growing tradition of full moon races, and training runs are often more comfortable in the cooler temps of the night. There’s plenty of reason to grab a light and hit the trails.
It’s hard to describe the pure, primal joy of running through the woods at night. It’s something every runner should experience at least once. But what if you’re new to the whole night thing? Where do you begin? Can you make the transition from day to night and enjoy yourself in the process? Absolutely! And here’s a few tips to get you started.
1. You’ll need a light. Not surprisingly first on the list! Headlamps are generally the go-to choice of the vast majority of night runners, but there are a few different types. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, and if you place any criteria for buying one higher than others, choose comfort as your number one priority. No matter how nice and bright your headlamp is, if it’s uncomfortable, you’re gonna want to throw the thing into the nearest pond. Try and get one with at least 100 lumens, though 300 is preferable. Obviously, more is better, but less than that is going to leave you visually challenged.
2. You’ll need another light. Whether it’s a backup light, or a secondary source, carrying a second light just makes good sense. Some runners use waist level lights, or just carry a small flashlight as they run. The light from a single headlamp can make the terrain under you appear flat and two-dimensional. A light held closer to the ground casts longer shadows and brings out the detail in the terrain. But possibly the best reason to have a second light is if one dies, you have a spare.
3. You’ll need extra batteries! Even on short runs, don’t underestimate the need for backup systems. Stow a couple extra sets in your pack, and if you’re using a rechargeable lamp, it’s a good idea to carry a small, battery operated light with, you guessed it, extra batteries.
4. You’ll need some bright clothing. As important as it is to be able to see on the trail, it’s equally as important to be seen. Bright colors and reflective materials allow others to see you, and if you run on trails where there are other runners or mountain bikers, it could prevent a nasty collision. Some race directors require bright clothing, reflectors, and red blinkers. You don’t have to deck yourself out Iike a portable disco, but be smart about where you’re running, who you might encounter, and even if there are road crossings that might put you near traffic.
5. GPS your run. Getting lost on the trail is no good, day or night. You can use a running/hiking app that draws your track as you run, and some fitness watches have a “back to start” feature. I’ve used mine on a couple occasions and it absolutely worked – so much so that I never run without it. Some even have a live tracking feature to let someone else see where you are from a different location. This comes in handy if you’re exploring new areas, or are running solo.
6. Carry a cell phone. Not everyone likes to carry their phone on runs, but it’s another great addition to your safety gear as it serves as a link to the civilized world should you get lost or need assistance from the trail. With all the GPS apps available to runners and explorers, these are modern day flare guns and should have a place of prominence in your trail gear. But what if you’re running in remote areas without a signal?
7. Let someone know where you’re going, and how long you might be gone. As much fun as freestyle exploring can be, it doesn’t give others the opportunity to assist you in the event of an emergency. Providing basic information about your whereabouts when venturing out into the night will give you, and others, peace of mind. That said, I’m all for group runs when doing night training. Gather some friends together and hit the trails. One or more of those friends might be more familiar with the trail and can serve as a run leader.
8. Transition from day to night by starting at dusk. If you’re new to night running, it’s a good idea to do a few test runs at dusk when it’s darker, but there’s still a bit of light from the evening sky. Not only will it give your eyes ample time to adjust, it will build your confidence gradually, and the jump from day to night won’t be so abrupt. If you’re running for an hour, try and start about 15-20 minutes before nightfall to ease into it.
9. Explore new trails by day first. If you’re training for specific night race, or tackling a new trail, it’s a good idea to go out and do some daytime exploring to get a lay of the land. Doing this allows you to familiarize yourself with the general layout, the terrain, obstacles, trailheads, and other features of the trail that you might otherwise miss out on if you only tackle it at night.
10. Mind your footing. Though it’s pretty obvious running trails at night isn’t a daydreaming kind of run, adapting a technique can be tremendously helpful in navigating unexpected changes in terrain and direction. Especially under the light of your headlamp, you’ll want to be aware of what’s two feet in front of you, and what’s twenty feet in front of you, at any given moment during your run; two for what you’ll need to immediately deal with, and twenty to allow you to pick your line and plan for sudden changes in terrain, obstacles, and other things you’ll want to go around or hop over.
Finally, practice makes perfect. Running at night will simply make you a better night runner. Not only will you get more comfortable with night running, you’ll come to enjoy it. The night adds a whole, new dimension to your overall running regimen; your senses sharpen, you’ll hone your ability to react and anticipate, and before you know it, you’ll be flying through the woods with confidence and precision. The atmosphere of a night trail run is unlike any other. It’s both wild and peaceful at the same time. Being prepared both with gear and training goes a long way toward removing the apprehension and mystery of night running. With your new confidence on dark trails will come an experience like no other. Enjoy it!