Running in the dark happens, especially as the time change encroaches on a runner’s territory. First the sun starts keeping his nose burrowed beneath horizon’s covers longer and longer, and then once Daylight Savings time falls into our laps, Sunny-boy zips westward with amazing alacrity and nestles below the seam of sky and land before one has time to leave work and lace up shoes. All this is a fancypants of way of say as runners, we either give up on trotting, hit the gym with the rest of the country during hibernation months, or…we get wild and jog in depth-defying darkness.
Despite my propensity for dancing at inopportune moments, I’m actually clumsier* than you’d imagine (yes, you). Thus putting one foot in front of the other when it’s perfectly well lit outside can place me in dire situations; or at least, situations that feel dire because face-planting in front of stranger’s mini-van about to back out of their driveway on a sidewalk certainly has that “holy-crap, that could have been bad” aura about them. Which means running when the sun is still snuggled up requires a significant amount of concentration. So in case you’re a novice to dim running, or like me suffer from impossibly challenging klutzitis, a few pointers:
Eyes Down, Arms Akimbo
A likely tendency is to glue your line of the vision earthward as if gravity itself were pulling your sockets down, straining to see the path your feet are taking, desperately wishing you were surefooted as a horse. If you take this route, I highly recommend keeping an arm up in front of face as a shield when running by low hanging trees. Branches and brambles can be hidden in the shadows, and you don’t them poking an eye out. Almost worse, it’s much preferable for a spider web to get tangled in your arm hair than between your parted lips (it’s okay, we’re all mouth breathers when we run). That arm is protection. Use it well.
Better Yet, Eyes Up
Stalking the pavement with your peepers isn’t required. When you feel comfortable with your path, or with not seeing terribly well, lift that line of vision right up. Look out a ways and watch the road farther ahead of you. The longer your mind has to react to the terrain coming, the more likely your feet are to move instinctively. Less thought on your end, more time to watch for spider webs and daydream about starring in a musical.
Run Where You Know
Darkness is a pretty crummy time to take unknown paths for two reasons. Creative routes are fabulous when you have time to get a little lost or can use visual cues to unwind where you came from, but without light reflecting off objects and street signs, it’s easy to get twisted around and lost in areas you might normally find your way out of. More so, running on paths you are familiar with means you are far less likely to stumble on a strange root (or a strange person for that matter). Your mind is clearer than you realize, and knows the ins and outs of where you run based on muscle memory as much as anything else. It’s like driving at night – taking a road you know is much easier to navigate than plunging up a foggy mountain you’ve never seen before.
Awareness of your surroundings helps keep you incident free. Turn down the iPod (or the inner monologue) and keep your ears open for cars taking turns too quickly or ignoring stop signs (in the cover of darkness, this isn’t as rare as you’d imagine). Note where obstacles are, try not to run into any early morning or evening pedestrians and cyclists, and watch for lit paths. It sounds basic, but it’s the basics we can lose when we’re stuck in our heads. Oh, and beware of paper-delivery dudes. I’ve almost been pelted with The San Francisco Chronicle more than once in the last week alone.
Cover Yourself in Glitter
Admittedly, I don’t own or wear reflective clothing. But I’m going to get mother-hen on you and say “do as I say, not as I do.” Wear something you can be seen in. A sparkly headband. A headlamp. That tape that shines on the back of your jacket. Anything that will make you visible to passing cars and people. Glow in the dark nail-polish. Whatever you’ve got, bring out the day-glo arsenal.
As per usual, carry your ID. If you’re into pepper spray (handy for taking down hounds that chase) grab that. And really, gloves. Freezing hands while you’re running are horribly irksome, and you can always roll them down or let them double as Kleenex if you run out.
That’s all I’ve got. Happy dark-days running!
*Always afraid I’m worrying my cousin Sam and my mom with my tales of tripping.