Darkness Falls: the MR lowdown on trail running in the dark
There’s no reason you shouldn’t continue trail running at night, just a little bit more kit and a few sensible precautions and you could be adding night time trail running to your training schedule. You’re not afraid of the dark are you?
Words David Taylor
Remember summer? Trail running on light evenings, there were even a few times when the sun was out. But now that the nights have closed in you’re resigned to running under street lights, dodging cars and trying not to trip over pavement. Or are you? You can still tackle trails at on winter nights, just follow this advice.
The only piece of equipment you need in addition to your normal running kit is a decent headtorch. This needs to have enough power to illuminate the ground ahead. Don’t rely on a cheap torch as it won’t be bright enough. Suitable torches include the Petzl Myo XP, LED Lenser H7, Fenix HP11 and Silva X Trail. Starting at around £50 these aren’t cheap but still cost less than a decent pair of running shoes and won’t need replacing after a few hundred miles. If money isn’t an issue you could treat yourself to the new Petzl Nao (approx. £135), a programmable headtorch that automatically adjusts its brightness depending on light conditions and is rechargeable via USB.
Night trail running is no more dangerous than road running, in fact if your alternative street run takes you past the gang of angry youths outside a chip shop you’d be better off alone in the woods. However if you do come a cropper you won’t be able to flag down a passing car or get a taxi home so you need to take some precautions:
- Take a phone. If the worst happens you need to be able to get help.
- Add a spare top, hat and gloves to your bag. If you have to slow down or stop running for any reason you will soon get cold.
- Take spare batteries or put new ones in before the run. If your batteries die on a pitch black night deep in the woods you are going to be in trouble! Even if you have spares remember that you won’t be able to see to change them so a tiny light is a useful addition to your bag.
- Stick to known trails. Unless you are very confident with map and compass save the exploring until you are more experienced. Navigating in darkness is much more difficult than in daylight.
- Buddy up. Share the experience with friends and enjoy company as well as safety in numbers.
- Avoid dangerous routes. The coastal cliff path might be beautiful but isn’t the place for a night time stumble.
- Slow down. You will probably naturally run at a slower pace than in daylight. Take time for your eyes to adjust and be aware that your depth perception is less than in daylight, meaning that it is harder to judge how deep holes and depressions are.
Running off road at night, your senses become much more alert, sounds that in daylight you would hardly notice spring to your attention, you notice the breeze and you are aware of your own footsteps and breathing. Your world shrinks to the pool of light immediately in front of you as you focus on the ground ahead and you notice objects in your peripheral vision. Night running is more than running whilst not being able to see very far, it offers experiences that you simply don’t get in the day: If you are lucky bats will flit around above your head, owls hoot in the trees and you might glimpse foxes and badgers as they go about their nocturnal activities. You might see some people going about theirs as well, for which there is always 999.
We are so reliant on our sight that night running feels alien at first and our mind plays tricks: the small rise in the ground a few hundred metres away appears to loom like a large hill in the distance. The first time you see eyes staring at you reflected in your torch light is startling ( bit like the first time you saw that Paris Hilton video) but after a few times you overcome the racing heart and recognise the sheep and cattle that you pass in the day. However the sleeping grouse that you don’t see until you wake it and it flaps away cackling in alarm takes a little more getting used to.
As well as the training benefit you get much more from a night run. Away from light pollution you see rare sights: A cloudless night with no moon will have you stopping to gaze at the billions of stars, or a full moon emerging from the clouds, bright enough to cast a shadow. You return, muscles tired but mind alert.