Tips for running in the dark

The benefit of the upcoming first day of fall: The weather has cooled substantially here in the great state of North Carolina and the humidity has dropped enough that I don’t feel like I am swimming every time I step outside for a run. The draw-back: For those of us with day jobs, the hours of daylight that are available to us to fit in a run before or after work are (not so) slowly slipping away.

I personally am a morning runner and have already been noticing that walking out the door for my run at what was my usual time (around 6:15) already means starting my run in near darkness. But with fall races just around the corner the darkness can’t become a deterrent from getting in those miles. So here are a few of my top tips for running when it is less than bright and sunny out.

1. Location, location, location

Be aware of the area you live in and how safe it is. Do you live somewhere that you can run in but only during daylight hours? Somewhere that you can run in the dark but only with someone else? Somewhere that you can’t run at all? If you are feeling remotely uncomfortable running somewhere under certain conditions, then don’t do it. If you can’t run in your own neighborhood, brainstorm places that you can drive that may be better to run. Look for places that are well lit, have continuous sidewalks that are easily accessible, and that you feel generally comfortable in.

Regardless of whether you are planning to run near your home or drive to another location, plan ahead. Don’t wake up dead set on running 6 miles first thing in the morning only to start running your route and feel completely sketched out. If you have only ever seen your planned route in the light of day, consider driving around it the night or morning before because sometimes an area can look like an entirely different place when the sun goes down.

2. Timing is everything

The fewer minutes spent running in the dark, the safer you are going to be. If you are an evening runner, try to get your run started as quickly as possible after getting off of work instead of dawdling around beforehand. If you are a morning runner try shifting your morning tasks around so that you are pushing your run as late as possible without making yourself late overall. For example, if you usually do ab or strength exercises after running try doing them beforehand.

3. Buddy up

If you have friends, a significant other, or a pup that runs, has a similar schedule, and isn’t too far away, run with them whenever possible. There’s safety in numbers.

4. Gear up

There is a lot of safety gear to choose from out there so use whatever works for you but I would definitely recommend wearing at least one item that is reflective or that lights up. You can go all out with something like a reflective vest, shirt, or jacket but since my morning route has plenty of safe sidewalk access and I don’t like a lot of extra stuff on me when I run, I use these great reflective bands that my parents got me for Christmas. Remember snap bracelets from back in the day? These are the same thing except they are reflective and have a softer material on the reverse side so they don’t cause chaffing or discomfort. I like these bands a lot because you can wear them wherever is most comfortable and visible based on what you are wearing etc. Brilliant!


Another piece of safety gear that I wear on every run but think is particularly important if I am going to be running on my own in the dark is my Road ID bracelet. I really like knowing that, if something happened to me during my run, whoever helps me will have access to my emergency contacts and important medical information.


Other safety gear to consider carrying: pepper spray, a head lamp if you are taking on the trails, your phone in case of emergency.

5. Defensive, preemptive running

Sure, as runners we are supposed to have the right of way when crossing streets, running on roadsides, and whatnot. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be acutely aware of what is going on with surrounding traffic. After all, you’re moving slower than the cars and are less visible than them so it is going to be easier for you to be on the defensive. Always run on the correct side of the road (against traffic, for the love of god). Don’t assume that a driver is going to do the right thing and yield to you, or that they even see you for that matter. (Case and point, drivers turning right at a stop sign are usually just looking out for traffic on the left, NOT for runners about to cross the street coming from the right!) Look every direction imaginable before crossing roads, including neighborhood side streets.

Okay, I am done lecturing you like I’m your mother. Promise.

6. Embrace the dreadmill

For most of us, passing mile after mile on the treadmill is an idea that is less than appealing. But like I said once already, the less time you spend running in darkness in all likelihood the safer you are going to be overall. If you can’t find a safe place or situation to run outside and can’t find the daylight hours to make it happen, the treadmill is the obvious alternative.

I am fortunate enough to live in a very safe area now where I am able to run through pleasant apartment communities and a country club, but that wasn’t always the case. When I was training for my first marathon I lived in a less than wholesome area of East Raleigh right near a major highway. Never again. Anyway, I can confidently say that over 75% of my training runs were completed on the treadmill in my apartment gym. Am I saying everyone should run 75% of their marathon training runs on a treadmill? No. I’m just saying it can be done. And I guess I’m also saying I wouldn’t recommend that anyone ever live in East Raleigh.

Good luck to all my runner peeps out there! Enjoy the new gorgeous fall running weather, and just make sure you stay safe!

Anything major I missed? What are your top running safety tips?


4 thoughts on “Tips for running in the dark

  1. NO WAY I was going to write about this exact topic before I realized I have zero expertise on the subject so that would be embarrassing haha

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