Even though the worst of winter is behind us and the days are (slowly) getting longer, many of us are still heading to and from work in the dark. Which means that, as far as our weekday runs are concerned, we’re in the dark. Still. Hopefully most of you are only facing another few weeks of this, but it’s never too late to go over basic safety.
If you already feel like a running in the dark pro, you can check to make sure you’re being as safe as you can (hint: eating your carrots is not enough!) If you’ve been avoiding heading outside in the darkness, perhaps you’ll be inspired to get off the treadmill and back onto the roads where you’d rather be.
The biggest thing to ensuring your safety when you’re on the roads when the sun isn’t is to make sure that you can be seen. There are two parts to this: you need to be reflective as well as illuminated. Reflectivity will ensure that cars see you as they approach you (typically when their headlights hit you) and illumination will make you visible when you’re outside the range of those headlights.
To be reflective, all you need to do is wear reflective gear. You can pick up a simple reflective vest from a number of brands for around $20-$30. The designs vary, but they’re typically made from a bright yellow-green mesh with reflective strips across the chest and back. I’ve used a few different varieties, and they’re all lightweight, easy to put on, and you can completely forget about them while you’re running. Some apparel companies also produce highly visible apparel designed for use in the dark (for example, Brooks’ NightLife line) and while the bright colors are indeed far more visible than your standard running attire, they don’t always have large reflective patches on them. Plus, you won’t want to be running in the same highly visible shirt in January as you will in June (nor will you want to run in it several days in a row). While these highly visible clothes do have a rightful place in the runner’s wardrobe, they don’t necessarily replace a reflective vest.
Now that you’re reflective, it’s time to get illuminated. Depending on the streetlight situation in your neighborhood, you may or may not feel like you need extra light to be able to see where you’re stepping. However, just because you don’t need extra light to see doesn’t mean that having one isn’t worthwhile. It just means you can get away with a less bright light, since you’ll be using it so you can be seen. Whether the light is helping you to see or be seen, I’ve found a basic headlamp to be the best way to go. Many of them will have at least three modes: bright, less bright, and blinking. The bright mode is best if you need the extra light, the blinking mode is best if you don’t. While you can spend a lot of money on a headlamp with more features than you ever knew existed, you’ll be able to get away with a $30 or $40 model like the Petzl Tikka 2. For extra credit, you can wear a red blinking light on the back of your shirt or vest, so that cars approaching you from behind will be able to see you as well.
I’ll confess: for the first several years of my running career I lived in a city where there were enough streetlights to create virtual daylight, so I gave absolutely zero thought to any of this. It wasn’t until I moved to the suburbs where there were far fewer lights and an outspoken motorist commented on how invisible I was to him that I finally wised and geared up appropriately. Even if you’ll be running on sidewalks, it never hurts to make sure that passing drivers will be able to see you clearly in the wee hours.
Do you run outdoors in the dark or stick to a treadmill? If you run outside, do you remember to gear up appropriately?