Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Thoughts on Night Running

Running at night is one of the funnest things that I, personally, have ever done.

Sun's going down. Time for lamps.

Every trail feels new and unexplored. You don’t freak when you see hills. Easy trails become more challenging. The Sounds and Smells of the trail change, or there’s less traffic on the roads.

I fully encourage everyone to run at night.

Most of this applies to Ultra Trail Running, but much of it crosses over to any kind of night running. This does not encompass every aspect of night running. You are responsible for your own safety. 

Some things to consider, and of course, Safety First:

If you can, run with people. Preferably 2 or more. If something happens out there, somebody can stay with the injured party, and someone can go get help.

Bring a phone.

Safety Space Blanket!!! Especially you 24hr/100milers. Be prepared. There is a lot that can go wrong. Freezing to death should be avoided. Safety blankets weigh next to nothing. Stick one in the bottom of your pack and just leave it there. Heather and I used ours at our last Ultra. Trust me please. Pack a Safety Space Blanket.

Have an Illumination Plan: 

Make sure your lamps are charged a week out from the event, and again a day or two prior. This will give you time to get new ones/batteries if needed.

Ragnars:  You have at most 7-10 miles. For Road Ragnars you need a reflective vest, red rear blinky and a headlamp/handheld (double check the event page!) On race day you can run with your lamps on full power. Especially Road Ragnars, you want to be SEEN! Be as visible as possible. Trail Ragnars, you also should be able to go full tilt with lamps. Most lamps will go about 2hrs on full.

Ultra Runners: You need to either conserve or have back lamps/batteries at the ready. If there’s more than 2hrs between Aid Station/Drop Bags keep your beams on the lowest, yet safest setting. You may be in the dark for 10hrs. ALWAYS have some kind of back-up lamp. If you’re on a looped course or have drop bags you can strategize with switching lamps each loop/drop bag. Have your crew charge or replace the batteries in the lamp you just dropped. (If you’re extra ambitious, train with no lamps to get used to running in the dark.  Although you shouldn’t rely on it, the moon can create some excellent illumination.) Did I mention to always have a back-up lamp? Have one. And not your Cell Phone flashlight. You may need that for an emergency.

If you are planning on using Trekking Poles, you’re going to want Head Lamps! Trying to juggle trekking poles with handheld lamps is just not a good idea.

This is more than a few hours into the Knock on Wood Hundred Miler.

Watch where you’re stepping. I like to run real close behind Heather.☺ But at night your vision changes and shadows really come into play. Give the runner ahead of you some space (this also prevents them from being confused by your lamps) so you can fully see the trail ahead of you, and you won't land on them when you trip.

Pick those feet up! You’re going to miss something and trip over it. A root, rock or curb, something. Try to keep a nice light step.

If possible, use two kinds of lamps simultaneously. Some lamps cast more of an ambient light and others cast a focused beam. I currently sport ambient on my head and focus in a handheld. This allows me to see both what’s directly near me and use my handheld to see further up trail and point objects out to those behind me.

Photos are also different at night.

Sounds are different at night. There are different creatures stirring in the dark. Most of them are afraid of you. Avoid the ones that aren’t.

Keep a first aid kit in your pack or car. You’re going to eat it at some point. Try not to bleed out.

Don’t do speed work on a trail at night. Find a track. A nice illuminated track.

Unless directed otherwise by race officials, always run AGAINST traffic.

Back up lights, got them yet?

If you are on the road, there is no such thing as too much illumination. Reflectors or lamps on the feet and hands are especially effective.

Even trail runners should have some reflectivity as well as illumination.

If you can’t find people cool enough to Nite Run with you and you must go solo:

  1. Tell somebody where/when you’re going and what time you’ll return.
  2. Bring any and all safety items with you, especially a Whistle and Safety Blanket.
  3. Have that back up light I keep talking about.
  4. Have enough food and H2O, as well as some form of ID 
There’s a huge variety of lamps out there. I’ve run with a bunch of different ones.  $15 Walmart lamps to $60+ Nathans. They all have their pros and cons. If you have buddies that’ll lend you some stuff, try it out. If you like their gear, buy the same stuff. That way you can swap batteries, straps, etc as needed. If you need recommendations I can tell you what exactly what I've used. Reflective vests are cheap.

I hope you enjoy night running.!


  1. Good advise!

    And beware of bikers (non-motorized) using the same path/trail... Some of them are not illuminated. Pardon the pun (if any).


    1. Good call! We often "bump" into them coming out of the woods at dusk wearing all black. On our local trail we give way to cyclists, so it is definitely challenging to yield trail when you can't see them coming.