With autumn, we move into a season of changing colors, pumpkin spice lattes, and—unfortunately—shorter days. As our daylight time decreases through the fall, you may find that your evening 5-miler, once concluded in the warmth of the sparking sunshine, now begins at the purple-skied brink of dusk or even later, in the coolness of total night. During the week, I often run to and from teaching an evening yoga class; as the fall season wears on, I notice the way home becoming increasingly darker and cooler. Running at night can be exhilarating, but it can also be a little dangerous if you find yourself unprepared. I prefer running on a sunny fall day any day over running at night, but if your schedule only allows for evening workouts, here are a few ground rules for staying safe.
1. Be sure that traffic can see you.
Wear reflective, bright clothing. Run against traffic so that cars can’t sneak up behind you, or so you can jump further off the road if a driver seems headed for you. For those who often run at night, you may want to invest in some of the new, better technology out there, such as an LED-powered high-visibility vest made just for running in the dark.
2. Run on safe roads.
Even with reflective clothing, certain roads are safer for running, period, than others. Use common sense here—if you know drivers tend to speed on certain roads or sections of a road, or if you know of uneven surfaces, be extra alert or avoid running there altogether if possible.
3. Run in a safe, well-lit area.
While I could have easily grouped this with the safety of the roads themselves, this deserves its own point: be sure you know the area where you are running. Avoid any areas with known crime. If you are traveling and in a new city, do not run at night in an unfamiliar place; find a gym with a treadmill, whether it be in your hotel or nearby, or skip your run for that day altogether. (I will do absolutely anything to avoid a treadmill, but even I have hopped on one when I’ve had to travel for work and can only run late in the day …If I can handle the treadmill, you can too!) If you ever feel unsafe while running, trust your intuition and get out of there. If you see someone lurking on the sidewalk ahead of you, find a way to cross the street so you don’t have to run right past them, or just turn around.
4. Bring Mace.
I used to tell my mother that I would just “run away” from potential predators. This is in fact not the best escape plan, despite my ability to throw down a mile in low 5-minute range. Bring some means of protecting yourself. Mace is not expensive and you can get it at anywhere from Dick’s Sporting Goods to the pharmacy.
5. Plan or be familiar with your route.
Running at night is probably an especially bad time to get lost. Exploring is a lot of fun, but don't go off on an epic adventure at nighttime.
6. Use a headlamp if needed.
Along with making sure traffic can see you, also ensure that you yourself can see the road! Now is not the time to trip over an unexpected pothole.
7. Don’t wear headphones!!
This is huge for safety: with headphones on, you cannot hear your environment, but you also look like a distracted, easy target for any suspicious characters.
8. Bring a running buddy if possible.
Safety is found in numbers. Of course, you may be running at night (or the early morning) because your schedule is otherwise rather booked; if running at an unusual time means you are also forced to run alone, be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back.
Once Daylight Savings Time begins, your PM run may suddenly be all in the dark, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop running! Plan your route, find a buddy, bring some Mace, and stay safe.
And of course, don't forget to stretch just because it's dark when you get back!