Night Running: Friend or Foe?

Most runners I know are either early birds or night owls; either putting in their miles in the early morning or late in the evening. This is understandable. Your family, career and social life (what’s that?) mean that you are forced to wake up earlier or stay up later to squeeze in your runs.  Running when there’s little to no light is a whole different game, so it’s no surprise that there is some hesitation to running in the dark for those of us who are used to running when there is light out!

If you have an overnight ultra coming up and have never ran in the dark, the natural tendency is to panic. I’ve seen lots of runners go through the same thing,

So what can you do to adapt and conquer your fear of running in the dark?

You thought that your childhood bedroom was scary as a kid, try running through the woods at night. My fear of running in the dark started when I saw the Blair Witch Project. And this was TEN years ago!

Even if you’ve never seen the Blair Witch project, science has shown us that there is an evolutionary reason why we get scared of the dark. It stems from a time as humans when we were hunted by our prey at night. Source. While the dynamics have changed, this reactionary response follows us in our daily life. Not only this, but when the dark limits our sight, our hearing becomes heightened and we tend to hear a lot more strange stuff!

Show Me The Light

Part of getting over your fear of running in the dark is investing in a QUALITY light. There is a lot of debate on what type of light works best for trails at night. A headlamp, waist lamp or handheld light designed for running with at least 200 lumens is perfectly fine. The higher the lumens the better!

But, what is a lumen? Lumens are the measurement of brightness a light gives off. To give you a reference point, most flashlights from your local dollar store will give off a measly 20-55 lumens. Adequate for finding your way through your house in a power outage, but not so great for running through the woods at night.

Choose a light that is high in lumens, but also has the option of rechargeable batteries. Not only is it better for the environment, but it will save you money over the life of your head lamp, waist lamp or handheld lamp. You can also look for models that have brightness settings, from low to high. This will help preserve your battery for longer runs.

Step ONE of conquering your fear of dark runs, complete!

Build a Running Tribe

Maybe your fear of running in the dark does not stem from the inability to see in front of your, but instead, you’re scared of what you will encounter in the dark woods. Once you have all the equipment to keep you safe at night, the next step would be to put together a group of running buddies to tackle the night together.

Big Foot is known for targeting individuals, not groups! *insert awkward laughter track here*

All jokes aside, there is a comfort in having others around you while you run. Humans are a tribe based species afterall. Just make sure to pick people who have similar pacing to you so that you are not holding back or holding them back!

Dip Your Toes First

Before you commit yourself to running your first overnight ultra, it would be a good idea to gain some familiarity with what it feels like to run at night. The antidote for this is to do some shorter runs in the setting you feel most uncomfortable. Trust me when I say that over time, the fear you have shifts from a full panic to slight unease and eventually…you find yourself looking forward to night runs.

Like most things in life, there are no shortcuts to getting over the fear. You have to just jump in!

I know what you’re thinking…Making that leap from day time runs to night time runs is so daunting!

Before you blindfold yourself and practice runs in your backyard, why not start your runs at dusk? Dusk is still light enough to see most of your surroundings, and as you move through the trails it will slowly get darker. This makes it a lot less intimidating than starting in complete blackness.

The elusive runner’s high might also help you with your fear of running at night. How?

As you run, your body will release chemicals like; dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These are the hormones that give you that “I can conquer the world” feeling during and after your runs! In other words, by the time the sun sets, your confidence will already be at an all time high, ready to meet the darkness with a smug grin.

What’s in YOUR backyard?

What if I am attacked by a bunch of men in ski masks?

What if I meet a grizzly on my run?

Before you get overwhelmed with scenarios, stop and think if these fears actually have any merit. Being scared of being attacked by a mountain lion is irrational if you live in an area that has nothing but squirrels.

On the topic of wildlife, many of the animals that humans fear are indeed nocturnal hunters (they hunt at night). Anything from lions, bears, alligators, and pumas are creatures you COULD encounter depending on your region and landscape. But, what are the chances?

  • The number of mountain lion attacks in the United States have been less than 100 incidents over the past 100 years.
  • Fatal bear attacks in the United States total 158, since 1900.
  • Alligators have induced 376 reported injuries and 15 deaths from 1948 to 2004!

After seeing those statistics, you’re probably feeling a wave of emotions. You went from feeling anxious before reading this article, to quite optimistic to, now very concerned about animal attacks. However, if you look at the size of the US population in comparison to these events, you will realize that the likelihood is so small it shouldn’t worry you!

What about the local serial murderer who roams my local trails?

The U.S Department of Justice has reported that most crimes occur during daylight between the hours of 6AM and 9PM. Crimes start to fall after 9PM and reach a low point by 6AM!

This does not mean you do not need to be cautious, but it shows you that your fear of crimes happening during your nightly runs are largely irrational. Take some steps to make sure you are safe such as carrying a small canister of pepper spray to deter animals or people. Let your spouse or family know if you are going on a night run and make sure your phone is fully charged in case you need to make an emergency call.

Anything we missed? Leave them as a comment below!