Safety Tips for Running in the Dark

Licorice

Dawn has written 96 posts on Salty Running.

In a previous life, I worked on computers and spent all day sitting. Thanks to running, I've rebooted my career and am now a running and triathlon coach and soon-to-be physical therapist. I've also got the mind and spirit of an elite trapped in the body of a back-of-the-packer.

English: HTC night running

These runners are illuminated, but not reflective. Would you see them from a car? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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This runner is reflective and illuminated. How visible would she be from a car? (Photo credit: AngryJulieMonday)

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?

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8 Responses to “Safety Tips for Running in the Dark”

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  1. Debra says:

    I haven’t run in the dark lately. But I used to run almost exclusively in the dark. I have various reflective shirts and little bands that go around my ankles (about $1.50 appiece). I also have that exact headlamp and a bike flasher that I will hook on the back of my shirt or shorts when I go run.

  2. Amanda says:

    I life in Seattle so running in the dark is a way of life November through March. I’ve gotten much better about being illuminated. I always wear a reflective belt and a head lamp with a light in the front and a red lamp in the back. I also run with pepperspray for safety. Now if drivers would pay attention it might actually be safe to run

  3. Ellie says:

    I’ve been marathon training all winter, and have gotten good at the whole running in the dark thing. My favorite item has been my Amphipod Xinglet. It’s basically a ‘vest’ made of yellow reflective straps, with very little material. It’ll be great for any season, since it adds no bulk or layers. It’s super light and you can’t feel it at all.

    Also, for those of you that run with dogs, you can get LED dog collars as well. People comment on my dog’s collar all the time. I feel better knowing drivers can see him too!

  4. Sassafras says:

    I have the same vest thingy that Ellie mentioned.You really do forget you’re wearing it! I used to feel dorky and would let my reflective gear gather dust, but you know… forget that. I’ve read too many stories about runners being hit by cars even in daylight, so I want to do everything I can to be seen!

  5. 6packmomma says:

    I run often in the dark, early morning hours. I don’t live in a big city, but it’s not rural by any means either. Most places I run in are well lit streets. I have all sorts of almost got hit scenerios that have happened on my runs (both in dark and daylight) and I hear comments all the time about people seeing me out running in the dark. I try to be intentional about wearing reflective gear, most of what I own has it on it in some capacity. I don’t think about it, I just wear it. I own several head lamps and other things to light me up and I’m usually about half mile into my run when I realized I forgot to grab it. D’oh.

    I have found that the issue can me more of drivers paying attention. I’ve had runs where I am lit up and reflective and all that and they still don’t “see me” or swerve at the last minute or give dirty looks, or honk or you name it, I’ve seen it. I have to be diligent myself as a driver. Sometimes I am driving and just am in thinking mode and yeah, I see the road, but am I really paying attention. Am I yelling at my kids or tuning the radio., All little things that can distract me for just a few seconds and take my mind off the road and suddenly there is a runner down the road that I hadn’t noticed before.

    Ok, rambling. Yes, any/all people need to take steps to be reflective and noticable, but we still have to remember that it’s not a guarantee of safety on the road. Either people are purposely being distracted (ie phone, radio, eating, etc) or they just don’t see us reflective/lit up or not. Be safe everyone!

    • Licorice says:

      Yes! This is an excellent point, because all of the safety gear in the world won’t save you from a driver who isn’t paying attention. You definitely need to make sure that you’re staying alert and looking out for vehicles that aren’t looking out for you.

  6. Evan says:

    It’s quite risky to run while it’s dark but you don’t have to worry if you wear safety gears such as reflective vest. Usage of small warning lights is ideal too, I got one blinking on my waist whenever needed. It’s handy and quite effective for giving signal to the drivers while I’m off near roads.

  7. As a long time runner I often found myself running in the dark either before work or after. I would spend my days designing automotive head lamps and tail lamps and then go home and run in the dark. So, I created the LED Light Vest, it pumps out enough white light (12 LEDs) in front to light your way. This means I no longer stepping in pot-holes, trip over sticks or step in a puddle. The back side pumps enough red light (12 automotive red LEDs) to keep you visible on the open road. A common customer comment is cars stop roll down the window and thank me for being so visible.
    M-Live do the following story on the vest http://www.mlive.com/walker/index.ssf/2012/10/tired_of_running_in_the_dark_w.html

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