Running in the Dark: 5 Safety Tips

Woman running and listening to music next to a roller door in an urban street

As the darkness closes in around us, we tend to wish we appreciated the long days of sunshine and light more. Looking back, summer seemed so easy.

So what if you had to get up a little early to make sure you could avoid the heat. At least you could see where you were going. Running in the dark can be dangerous and you have to be aware so you don’t roll your ankle in an unsuspecting pothole that you can’t see, or put your life on the line if someone comes after you.

Athlete tying shoelaces and preparing for exercising.

It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to go running in the winter, but the darkness adds a whole new complication that puts your safety at risk, in more ways than one.

How can we limit our risk of injury during those dark runs, especially as most of us do not have the luxury of running in the limited daylight hours? Additionally, how can we make sure we do not put our lives in danger when the light of day is unable to protect us?

Today I am going to share 5 safety tips for running in the dark.

1. Illuminate your way
There are few things worse than working hard for months on end, following your marathon training schedule perfectly, only to come falling down to the ground in pain because you couldn’t see.

If you know you are going to be running in the dark, one of the first things you need to be successful is to be able to see where you are going! The sunlight is not going to help you and the moon will only be effective a few times a month – you need to get yourself another light source.

Some running clothes come with mini torches. Yes, you could always run with any old torch in your hand, but this can be tiring and it can make you feel a little dizzy as the light bounces in and out of view in front of you.

Therefore, you are best off purchasing a headlamp.

You might think it looks a little bit funny, but it is dark after all and no one is going to see you. They are designed so well these days, that within a few minutes, you will forget you have it on. This way you can see curbs, potholes, and other dangers that could sabotage your training. You will also make yourself more visible to cars – just as important as you seeing your surroundings.

2. Take out the earbuds
We must keep safety in the front of our minds.

We love to listen to music, running podcasts, audiobooks, and other sources of motivation to keep us going, but listening to those in the dark can put your life in danger.

Not only does listening to music with earbuds mean that predators can more easily sneak up on you, but you’re removing yet another one of your senses that can help you during the darker times. Even with the headlamp, you do not have the same amount of vision as you would during the day. With this altered ability to see clearly, plus removing your sense of hearing, you are more likely to hit by a car reversing out of their driveway in a rush as they would not expect to see you (plus, you would not be able to hear or see them).

With your sight being hindered by the darkness, your ears become your first line of defense from danger, and you would not want to put your life on the line for the sake of a few moments of motivation.

If you are out there running in the dark, your motivation is already pretty high, or you would never have made it out the door! Give yourself some credit, you can make it through your run without the music.

Besides, when you can listen to music or podcasts when you run in the light, you will appreciate it so much more!

If you can find a friend to run with you in the mornings, not only will that make the time go by quicker for both of you, but it will keep you safe as you can be accountable for one another.

Woman running and listening to music next to a roller door in an urban street

3. Choose your route carefully
Running in the dark is exactly that: running in the dark. So how can you possibly make it light, other than illuminating your way as I mentioned above?

Running in well-lit places is the best way to stay safe while you get your training in.

Yes, your neighborhood loop might get boring after a while, but isn’t it better to be safe? Staying on a familiar route will ensure you’re running in a place where you know the curves, know where the bumps in the road are, and know just how far away you are from home at any given moment.

If you do decide to venture a little further away from home, make sure you are always within range of a house. That way if something does seem suspicious, you can run to that house. Even if you do not knock on the door, the attacker may think you are going home, in which case they will leave you alone.

4. Use safety tools
As sad as it is that this needs to be one of the suggestions, it is important to make sure you are ready and alert to protect yourself if your life is put in danger. Safety expert, and CEO of Run Safer, Todd Williams found that the biggest mistake runners make is to get complacent, and think something will never happen to them.

If you are alert, know how to use, and are ready to use a defense tool, it could scare away or stop an attacker.

If you are going to use pepper spray, you must make sure you know how to use it, and be able to use it correctly in a moment of panic. If you spray yourself on accident, you put yourself in an even more vulnerable position. If you have any doubt about this, consider one of the other options.

A personal alarm is likely to spook attackers from the noise. It will also alert others around you to come see what is happening. However, if the attacker is not scared off by the noise, and is able to get close to you, there is nothing to stop them.

So what is the best option for runner safety if someone does try to attack you?

Find a course or workshop you can attend in your local town which teaches you self defense and how to react smartly and swiftly in a moment of danger. In this podcast episode with Todd Williams, he gives advice on how to stay safe, and also what to do if you do find yourself in danger.

Young man running in cold and dark weather.

5. Your phone is your friend
Notice I did not mention this one above as a safety tool.

Your phone could be a safety tool in a moment of danger, but it is unlikely. Your attacker could have taken it out of your hands before you even get a chance to call anyone. SafeTrek is an app that can be downloaded, which allows you to contact emergency services by letting go of the button. These apps are highly effective, and could save your life.

Your phone can be used for safety outside by preventing attackers, and allowing your loved ones to track you if you venture off course. And if you get lost, the GPS maps will help you find your way home. Running in the dark can make even the most familiar routes seem different, and this will give you the peace of mind to focus on your run, rather than where you are going.

You should always let your loved ones know where you are going running, and when you will be home, so they can come looking for you if you are not back when you say you will be.

Yes, some of these methods may seem a little extreme, but they could save your life. Runner safety is no joke. And, as most of us will be running in the dark at some point this winter, it is important to keep these tips in mind to have your best run, and keep working towards those goals without danger.



Tina Muir As a former elite runner, Tina knows what athletes need to focus on in their training. "I'm an expert at improving your running." View all posts by Tina Muir »