How do you stay safe when running at night? Being an early bird morning runner, this isn’t a question I ever considered. A temporary change in my daily schedule meant my mornings were no longer free, and the only way I could squeeze my run in was by going at night.
Night time running is completely different to daytime running
I soon felt out of my comfort zone. It was more difficult to see, familiar routes felt less familiar, it was colder, and – I’ll admit – a lot creepier.
Through a combination of finding out myself, online research, and asking other experienced nighttime runners, I discovered how to stay safe running at night.
Night time running has its own unique set of risks you need to be aware of to stay safe and to have an enjoyable, productive training session. With the right information and knowledge night, time running will be much easier to take on, and it’s less likely you’ll feel uncomfortable like I did.
Without further ado…
In this article, I’ll be drilling down what I found out and outlining how you can stay safe running at night.
Why do people run at night?
Some people have busy lives and can’t fit a run in any other time. The 21st century is a busy time to be alive.
Family, a career, friends, commitments to clubs and societies, volunteering, and having a social life, being on social media, eat into huge portions of our daily time allowance.
Having a busy life is great because it means we’re fulfilling our goals. We’re pursuing that business idea, marrying the partner of our dreams, raising a family to be proud of, and so on.
However, being too busy and not taking the time to have some relaxing “you” time, can lead to emptiness. As Socrates once said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
Night runners with a busy schedule tend to squeeze the run in, even if it’s nighttime because they understand the importance of having some time to their self.
Some prefer nighttime running to daytime running
Some love the adrenaline rush of running through the darkness of the night. For these runners, the thrill of reduced visibility and the unknown is hugely appealing.
In the daytime, we’re easily able to determine our surroundings and gauge our current pace. At night though, it’s much more difficult with the flitting light of the silver moon bouncing off the pavement as one of the limited references of how fast you’re going.
Some run in the night because like the thrill. If you fancy a thrill, something different, why not give a night run a go?
The day is too hot to run in
During hot summer months it feels like the Sahara Desert outside, and it’s simply too hot to run.
When the sweats dripping, and the ice-cold lemonade comes out, it’s tempting to follow Spanish suit and enjoy a ‘siesta’ (an afternoon nap) when the sun is at its most intense.
Those who find it too hot to run during the day seek cool comfort in the flow of dipped night temperatures.
Looking after children
Some twilight runners only get the chance to get their running shoes on once the kids are put to bed and fast asleep. Having kids is a full-time job.
It can be challenging with young kids who depend on you for everything from entertainment, comfort, reassurance, food, clothing, a friend to talk too, and so on. I could literally go on all day.
When parenting is done for the day, those looking after children can finally go for their workout.
Insomnia is described as a ‘sleep disorder that is characterised by difficulty falling asleep’, then physically staying asleep for a prolonged period.’ As a result, insomniacs are often awake for hours before they can doze off.
According to the NHS, a third of the UK population are suffering from some form of Insomnia.
Some nighttime runners are insomniacs who either get bored of lying in bed trying to doze off or insomniacs trying to tire themselves out with a running workout.
It’s a sad truth that some people don’t feel they’re good enough to run in the day when everyone can see them. Some people don’t feel comfortable on display, strutting down the streets of their local town, enjoying a run, even though they’re well within their right to do so.
Low self-confidence is a common reason people run at night. The darkness gives them cover, and they don’t feel they can be judged in the twilight.
Wasting too much time during the day
“I’m too busy to run during the day” is a commonly spoken phrase amongst some of the night running community.
Whilst some genuinely are too busy with demanding schedules for daytime running, others waste a lot of time on unimportant tasks which could be spent running.
Social media, socialising excessively (with no end goal in mind), checking emails for the sake of it, watching that romantic comedy for the 6th time because it’s “your favourite.” Excuses we’ve all used at a point.
According to Ofcom, the average person spends more time on media devices like tablets and smartphones than they do asleep in a typical 24-hour time. When we’re spending this much time on our media devices it’s no wonder people don’t have time to run during the day.
If you want to know more about overcoming common excuses for not running, read the blog post here.
Participating in a night event
Some half-marathons are held at night, for the gimmick and the adventure of taking on the challenge of physical endurance with reduced visibility.
Now we’ve determined the reasons why people run at night, let’s look at the risks nighttime runners are up against.
What are the risks?
Like daytime running, the risk of traffic is probably the biggest risk you’re going to face.
Running on roads, near roads, or crossing roads means coming into proximity to traffic. ‘Traffic’ can refer to anything on the road: cars, bikes, motorcycles, tractors, lorries, horses, and so on.
If you’re not careful you could be involved in a nasty road accident. An accident could leave you badly traumatised at the very least, severely injured, or even result in death. The risk of traffic is truly no laughing matter for a nighttime runner.
Falling over or walking into things due to reduced visibility
When it’s bright, we can see where we are going and navigate terrain easier and more effectively. When it’s dark, we struggle to see where we’re going and often feel like we’re in the ‘unknown.’
Ever tried making your way to the kitchen in the middle of the night and stubbing your toe, because you couldn’t see where you were going? Painful isn’t it?
Having reduced vision means you won’t be able to make your way through the environment as effectively. Therefore, moving in the darkness is a risky business if you don’t take the necessary steps to reduce the risk.
Hostile attackers (unlikely, but still a risk)
It’s highly unlikely, but certainly a base worth covering.
Whilst it’s not a pleasant point, the thought of someone stepping out of the shadows and attacking you is a faint possibility.
Hostile attackers may act in the blanket of darkness because it makes them feel concealed and somewhat invincible. If low-life thugs are out and about to attack, 9 times out of 10 they will be after possessions such as a wallet or phone.
If you are ever attacked on a nighttime run, never resist the attacker. Try to be calm and do what they ask.
Sure that brand new watch and latest iPhone were expensive and extremely cool, but they’re not worth more than your safety. Trust me on this one.
Being too tired to run
We feel ‘awake’ during the daytime and ‘sleepy’ during the night time. Humans are programmed with internal biological clocks to feel sleepy as soon as daylight fades.
If you’re too tired to run, but decide to run anyway, you are putting yourself at risk. Being tired leads to confusion, grogginess, headaches, slower reaction times, and poor decision making, to name a few.
There’s a reason you see signs on the motorway bang on about drinking some coffee or not driving when you’re tired. It’s incredibly dangerous.
Some may chuckle at this point, but it can and does happen all the time.
Runners venture out into the darkness confident at taking on the twilight, only to find themselves terribly lost fifteen minutes later.
As a child, we all experienced losing our parent or carer in the supermarket and crying like a little baby for them to find and save us. Being lost isn’t a nice feeling.
If you take the right precautions, you can easily prevent being lost or overcome the situation should it arise on a night time run.
Ways to stay safe when running at night
1. Wear bright clothing
Bright clothing is a must when running at night. No black, navy blue, or other dark colours, because they’re ‘slimming’ or ‘look fashionable.’ Better to be safe than sorry.
Neon and luminous colours are the best for night time running. Green is the most visible colour to the human eye, so green is a great choice. Purple, yellow, and orange, are also great choices.
When running at night it’s important that you can be seen. If you’re more visible and easier to detect, your odds of being hit by a car, motorbike, another person, or anything else, are greatly reduced.
Wearing bright colours will make you a living and breathing, running beacon, so traffic will easily spot you out in the darkness.
2. Get some flashing LED lights
You’ve probably seen smart cyclists with flashing LED lights clipped to their saddles or helmets. You can see them a mile away, and make sure to stay well out of their way when passing them in the car.
Human beings like shiny things. Think sparkling gold doubloons or a flashing lighthouse. We can’t help but look at things that flash.
Wearing an LED light means you can’t be missed by others using the footpath, or any traffic nearby.
You can get lights in a headband, vest, waist belt, on your shoes, or get a clip on L.E.D. light and clip it anywhere you like.
Get some flashing LED lights so you can be seen properly. Then you can focus on enjoying the night run in peace.
An armband I have tried and would highly recommend is the Move Visible LED Armband. For more information, check out the following post:
3. Tell someone you’re running, and where you’re going
Before setting off for a night run, always tell someone where you’re planning to run too and where you’re going. It will give you, and anyone who cares about you, valuable peace of mind.
The reason for this is someone can come to your aid easily should you need it.
Say you’re running and you suddenly feel huge discomfort in your knee and you’re unable to go on anymore. If it’s dark, cold, and there’s no one around, you’re probably going to want out.
Maybe you’ve tripped over and cut your leg. It would be horrendous having to try to run (not recommended) or limp all the way home.
If you tell someone where you’re running, they will most likely be prepared to come to pick you up should anything go wrong. It’s unlikely you’ll need any help, but it’s always good to have a back up should things hit the fan.
4. Run in well-lit areas
If you’re running at night and have a choice between a well-lit area like streets, or pitch-black woodland, which do you think is the safer option?
Okay, it can be exciting and thrilling going for a trail run in the middle of the night, but it really isn’t going to be your safest bet. Trails are tricky to navigate in the daylight, let alone the darkness. An injury is bound to happen.
Great examples of well-lit areas for night-time running are streets with lampposts, athletics stadiums, empty carparks, a gym with treadmills or a running space.
5. If you must use earphones, only use one earphone
If you wear earphones in both ears, your sense of sound will be dramatically reduced. You won’t be able to hear what’s going on around you as you blast your favourite rock tunes to fuel your way through the run. If you can’t hear the world around you, you’re at risk when running at night.
Though I’d recommend not wearing earphones at night, some simply cannot run without music or a podcast in the background. Fair enough. We’re all human, we all have our needs, and we all have things we simply can’t compromise on.
If you must wear earphones turn the volume down low, and only have one earphone in. This way you can hear the tunes or wise podcast words, whilst being able to properly hear what’s going on around you.
6. The magic of ‘bone conducting headphones’
These headphones sit on top of your ear rather than inside them. They transmit sound vibrations through the bones, rather than through the ears, the sound isn’t as intense, and you can still hear what’s going on around you to stay safe.
Word of warning
People passing by will be able to hear what you’re listening to. Make sure it’s nothing embarrassing! We all have our guilty pleasure. ABBA is mine.
7. Bring a phone with you
In the past 20 years, mobile phones have become extremely powerful and are useful tools in our everyday lives.
Having a phone is one of the most important things you need to do to make night runs safer.
If you get lost and have no clue where you are, don’t worry. Use your phones GPS (Global Positioning System) and set sail for your front door. You’ll be out of the wilderness in no time!
Can’t seem your own hand in front of your face? Use your mobile phones torch app to light the ground. Having a light means reducing the risk of tripping over, and finding your way through a dark patch easier and safer.
If you fall over and injure yourself, your phone quickly becomes your fairy godmother. Use it to call a friend, a relative, or other acquaintance. Politely explain the situation and ask them to pick you. Anyone worth their salt will drop what they’re doing and come to your aid.
Charge your phone before setting off
Make sure the phone is charged! Don’t leave the house with the battery in the red. Sure, mobile phones can make night-time runs safer but only if they’re charged and work!
8. Don’t run if you’re too tired
Running when tired is not a good idea at any time, especially during the darkness of the night.
There’s a reason motorway signs demand you drink coffee or stop driving if you’re tired. It’s dangerous.
Do you know the main reason for the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 where an oil tanker struck a reef and spilt 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil into the ocean, devastating marine wildlife for years to come? Fatigue. Sleepiness can lead to disaster.
Tiredness can lead to confusion, slower reaction times, being off balance, making irrational decisions, and poor performance. Not ideal for someone trying to take on the challenge of night time running. You’re more likely to trip up, stray off course (not good if you’re near a road), and run into objects like lampposts. Ouch.
If you’re not fully awake and in an alert mindset, skip the run. It’s incredibly risky running when you’re tired. Get some sleep, recharge your batteries, and then go for your run.
9. Run with others
As Iman Abdulmajid said, “there is strength in numbers.”
Not only will running with a buddy, or in a group, allow you to support and encourage each other to keep going, it also makes night time running much safer.
If one of you falls and injures yourself, others in the group will be on hand to help.
Hostile attackers (the unlikely threat we discussed earlier) are less likely to attack a group of runners, as opposed to someone making a solo nighttime effort.
Additionally, the effects of the bright clothing and lights worn in the group multiply with each extra runner. As a result, you’ll be more visible and identifiable to drivers and anyone nearby.
10. Carry a first aid kit
Carrying a portable first aid kit is an ideal provision to have in place should anything unexpected happen. It might seem over the top and unnecessary, but you’ll be kicking yourself when you’re lying on the pavement with a sliced open knee after falling on a sneaky slippery patch of ground.
‘Travel’ first aid kits will do the job. A decent kit will contain bandages, scissors, plasters, antiseptic wipes, safety pins, tweezers (handy for picking out gravel from a wound, ouch), and eyewash as a minimum.
11. Wear a running belt
Following on nicely from the first aid kit, having a running belt makes running life on the dark night road safer.
A running belt is worn on the waist and can hold important items like a first aid kit, water, energy bars and gels, a mobile phone, identification, money, and anything else you deem important to staying safe on a night time run.
12. Slap on bands
These ‘slap on’ bands are cheap, easy to apply and make you incredibly easy to spot, increasing your chances for night time safety dramatically.
For added nighttime visibility, apply one slap on band to your wrist and one to your ankle.
13. Have a form of identification
Though it’s highly unlikely anything bad will happen, like being involved in a road collision or injuring yourself so bad you need the hospital, it is – like all things in life – a possibility.
Having a form of identification means hospital staff can identify you quickly which could improve your treatment, or even save your life. Being identifiable means hospital staff can access your records and find out any important information they’ll need to know.
For example, you might have a massive allergy to a certain painkiller. If you’re almost knocked unconscious by a car striking you, and barely able to speak, the paramedics may apply the painkiller you’re allergic too, causing you to have a nasty and potentially life-threatening reaction.
Additionally, having a form of identification means loved ones can be informed you are in the hospital. It’s not a nice thing to think about, but a wise precaution you won’t regret taking should this unlikely scenario happen.
Get a ‘Road iD‘
Road iD’s can provide peace of mind for any runner, and their family.
These are customised bracelets some runners wear containing important information such as your name, emergency contact numbers and relevant medical information like allergies or conditions like diabetes.
Road iDs also have the benefit of typically being brighter, making you easier to see and more visible. They are lightweight, durable, stylish, and easy to slip on before any training session.
Road iDs are a worthy investment for any night time runner.
14. Use the layer system for colder night runs
Wearing a series of lightweight layers of breathable clothing, which can easily be taken off or put back on again, is important for safety on colder night runs. The NHS reccomend you do this for colder, windier runs, and it’s called ‘The Layer System‘.
Conditions change for runners all the time. One moment you’re arms are crossed and your shivering uncontrollably, the next your sweating buckets and gasping for air. Then weather can change in an instant too. Your run might start relatively mild and dry, only for the heavens to open and rain to downpour just a few minutes later.
An example of a layered system for cold night runs would be:
- A base layer consisting of breathable synthetic fabric to keep sweat away from your skin, but thick enough to keep you warm.
- A mid layer like a fleece or a heavier top to further ventilate moisture from the base layer, whilst locking in additional heat.
- An outer layer consisting of a light-weight water resistant jacket. This will help rid any moisture, like sweat, from the base and mid layers, whilst keeping you warm and protected from the elements such as wind, rain, sleet, snow, and so on.
If you dress to the layer system, it’s easier to overcome changes in the weather and in yourself. If it rains, put your light-weight water resistant jacket on. If you’re getting too hot, take the jacket off and wrap it round your waist.
15. Don’t skip the hydration
Nighttime runs are often cooler than their daytime counter parts. As a result, we can be tempted into not drinking as much water. Dehydration can cause a rapid heartbeat, sleepiness and confusion, feeling extremely tired, and possibly fainting. You don’t want to experience any of these, particularly during a night run.
Just because you don’t feel dehydrated, doesn’t mean you’re hydrated properly. Like you should with all runs, drink a tall glass of water 10-15 minutes before setting off to be assured of adequate hydration.
Symptoms of dehydration include dry eyes and blurred vision, darker coloured urine, skin taking longer to go back to a normal colour after pinching it, and feeling disorientated.
If you can, bring a bottle of water with you. Carry it, or place it in your running belt.
16. Bring a running watch
These watches have been making runner’s lives easier for years. A running watch slips onto your wrist, like a typical everyday watch, and uses GPS to track your location.
Depending on which model you own they can record important data such as distance travelled, pace per mile, heart rate, blood pressure, elevation, and so on. These watches are not only handy at tracking various running metrics, they also help ensure your safety, especially during night runs.
For instance, if your heart starts beating erratically most watches have a function to warn you which could trigger you to take it slower or prepare to call an ambulance (should you need to). Additionally, the watches can help if you get lost in the reduced visibility of night time running.
Some watches have a feature to remind their wearers to take a drink of water at set intervals (10-15 minutes, for instance) to ensure the runner stays hydrated throughout the run.
17. Wear proper running shoes with decent grip
The risk of tripping up or falling over is greatly increased at night. Reduced visibility means it’s difficult to make out dips in the pavement, black ice (especially in the winter), and to identify any other trip hazards.
A decent pair of running shoes hugely reduces the risk of losing your grip and tumbling to the floor.
Make sure you’re wearing actual running shoes. Don’t wear old tennis or football trainers. These aren’t designed with thick soles to withstand the impact of constantly hitting the floor, so you risk running related injuries like runner’s knee or shin splints. Not a fun experience.
Good examples of running shoes for night running include: the Asics Gel-Nimbus 20, Brooks Ghost 11, Mizuno Wave Rider 21, Saucony Liberty ISO, and the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus. For reviews on these shoes, click here.
For more information on running shoe brands, click here.
There you have it
These are just some of the useful tips and bits of information I discovered in my research.
Night time running is different to daytime running. After implementing these into my first night runs, I felt more confident in my ability and safe to be running at night.
If you’ve never gone for a night run, it might take a few runs to begin feeling comfortable. Before you know it, you’ll love night runs and -like me- do them from time to time to keep things interesting and mix up your running routine.
Happy night time running!