How to Run in the Dark Safely

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I’ve always loved running early in the morning. Something about being up before the rest of the world, seeing the sunrise, and feeling like I’ve already done something just for me, all before 7 am is good for my soul. Before I had Thomas, I ran with a few friends early in the morning since I was working a lot, and they had had kids who needed them starting at breakfast time. These days, I’m not running as often, and I’m definitely not up before the sun (newborn life!), but I wanted to re-share this post since I know so many of you are running in the darker hours this winter.

Whether you run in the morning because your work, family or other obligation necessitates it or because you simply love it, morning runs work well for many people. Or maybe you run at night — after work, after the kids are down, or after dinner out with friends. In the winter months, there’s a good chance you’ll be left running in the dark, especially during the winter months with limited daylight hours.  (I’m no help with staying up late – I like an early bedtime, but I can help you wake up early!).

While I enjoy running in the dark, I definitely get nervous at times, especially if I’m running solo.  While it’s usually safer to run in the daylight hours, there are a few things I’ve learned about running in the dark to make it safer and more comfortable. I’ve also found some running gear that helps as well.

Let’s jump right in!

How to Run in the Dark Safely

Safety encompasses a number of aspects (cars, route, people), so it’s important to evaluate the risk factors where you run and implement appropriate precautions. While it’s probably impossible to implement all these of tips for each run, implementing a few of these will help you stay safe while running in the dark.

Choose a well-lit route

If you don’t live somewhere with streetlights, drive somewhere that does, if that’s feasible. When I’m meeting friends to run in the AM, I park at one of their houses, and we start together since their neighborhoods have more light than mine. If you live in a rural area, you may be out of luck on finding well lit areas, so make sure you’re wearing enough reflective gear. I love this reflective running vest and these clip on lights. More on those below.

Choose a popular running route

I always feel safer when I park in a busier neighborhood where others are out and about. The only place I don’t typically get nervous running in the dark is a large city like New York City since there are always so many people out early! But again, I’m thoughtful about where I run and choose a popular route.

If you’re not familiar with a popular running route, check out Strava or ask a local running club or running shoe speciality store. And if you do drive to run — whether to meet friends or for a busier route — always carry your car key/fob with you rather than stashing it on or under your car.

How to Run In The Dark Safely

Wear reflective clothes

This should be a no-brainer: don’t wear clothing without reflective and/or light gear. But, I’m always stunned and disappointed at the number of runners I see running in the dark — and sometimes even in dark clothing — without any reflective gear or lights. Being well lit help protect you from passing cars and enough light could even deter an attacker.

My favorite reflective vest is incredibly lightweight and VERY visible. I wear it every single time I run or even walk in the dark. It’s weatherproof and doesn’t bounce around while I run. I hardly notice it while I run, but I am definitely noticed by every car. You can also get little clip lights for your shoe laces that are reflective. My go-to running leggings, Lululemon Fast and Free tights, have reflective material on them too.

Bring your cell phone

I don’t really like carrying my phone while I run, but I ALWAYS carry it when I’m running solo, especially when running in the dark. Always. I’ve taken a few spills on runs in the past, and I was so grateful I had my husband one call away. He came and picked me up so that I didn’t have run with a torn up knee. Clumsiness aside, I’ve often pulled out my phone and called him when I got a weird vibe and just felt nervous mid-run, whether it was a gut feeling, a person’s behavior, or a car following too closely that made me uncomfortable.

If you hate holding your phone in your hand, try this running belt. It’s adjustable and fits my large iPhone. It even worked well running through pregnancy. My go-to running shorts (the best Amazon find ever) and Fast and Free running leggings have the perfect waistband pocket to stash my phone in too.

bring your phone when running

Run with a friend or with a dog

There is safety in numbers. Like I mentioned earlier, friends are a great option for running in the dark safely. Check your local running store to see if they have running groups. Or, if you can run with a dog, that’s a great option too. Maizey ran with me for 7 years before she decided she preferred walking more than running. Plus, running with someone else — including an eager pup — helps with running motivation and can make you a better runner!

Use a tracking feature

Garmin watches and Strava have live tracking features so your emergency contact can see where you are mid-run. You can also turn on Find My Friends if you’re an iPhone user. There are running apps that do the same thing and will notify your designated contact(s) if you stop moving for a certain amount of time. RoadID is the one I use most, but there are multiple options. One thing to note about Strava, however, is that people can see your route. So, if you run around the same time and on the same route, I suggest you keep it private. This goes for whether you run in the daylight or dark – don’t make it easy for people to know where you are!

I recently learned about She’s Birdie, and I ordered one right away. Birdie+ is a bluetooth enabled personal safety alarm that you connect to the Birdie+ app. All you have to do is click a button to activate things like instant, 24/7 access to a live support rep, it will send you a fake “excuse-to-leave” call, and will share your location with emergency contacts. Pulling the pin activates its loud siren you can use to deter an attacker and get the attention of everyone around you.

Carry ID

It’s not a bad idea to have physical ID on you. While you may not want to carry your license, there are ID wristbands designed for runners or you can even replace the strap of your GPS watch with an ID band. (They make them for Apple watches too.) Or, get a shoe tag. If you have multiple pairs of shoes like me, make sure you have one for each pair.

Run against traffic and make eye contact

Always run against traffic so you can easily see any approaching cars on your side of the road. Not only does this help you move further off the road if necessary, but also helps you more easily see if any vehicle is slowing down or acting suspicious. If you hear a car slow behind you, turn and look. Don’t avoid eye contact or worry about being rude. Look people in the eye — this goes for every person you pass. Let people know that you see them and are very aware of them.

Vary your running route & time

While consistency helps make habits stick, being too consistent can make you an easier target. Try not to run the same route at the same time for every run. If you have to run the same route for convenience’s sake, try to vary the time of day you run. You don’t want anyone to know exactly where you’ll be almost every day, especially when it’s dark.

If I’m running in the dark, I try to plan my start time so that part of my run has some daylight, e.g. starting in the dark but the sun is rising. Or, if I’m going at the end of the day, I try to start when it’s still light out. That way, I have some miles that aren’t in complete darkness.

Hit the treadmill, turn around, or take a day off

Listen to your gut. If you start to head out but just don’t have a good feeling about it, heed that warning. Turn around. Hit the treadmill if you have access to one. Ride the Peloton. Try a new workout app. Do some body weight strength training or foam roll instead. Take a day off. Safety is better than forcing miles when your gut is telling you not run, for no apparent reason. (Now not feeling motivated or dealing with injuries is another thing!)

DON’T Listen to music

Wearing headphones will distract you from your surroundings, so I don’t recommend it. If you do listen to music, do so very carefully. Keep the volume really low, only use one earbud or use AfterShokz headphones so you can still hear your surroundings. I love listening to music when I run and use my AfterShokz for running, but if I’m running in the dark (or in an unfamiliar area), I NEVER wear them.

Aftershokz Earbuds Review

DON’T run in an unfamiliar neighborhood

When you want to venture out to a new area, take a friend with you and explore it during the day first. And don’t stop on the side of the road if you don’t know where you are. Keep going and find a safe, well-lit spot to stop if you need to call someone or check directions. (Because you brought your phone, right?)

DON’T forget to tell someone where you are going

Always let someone know what your route is and when you plan to be back.

DON’T put mace in an inaccessible place

Bring mace if it makes you feel comfortable, but don’t put it in a spot that’s hard to grab quickly. Mace can be a deterrent but only if you can get it almost immediately. If you go the mace route, consider one that straps to your hand. Another option is a personal safety alarm that lets out a piercing noise when activated. I have a She’s Birdie alarm on my keychain and it’d be easy to hold while you run.

Running should be enjoyable (it’s why we do it right?), but always be vigilant and take a few precautions.

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