It’s dark, cold and most likely raining or snowing. You walk in the front door of your home after a tough day at work and immediately the mental battle commences. You need to run, you want to run, but can you find the inner strength to go face-to-face with the elements? Here are 10 tips that will get you out of the house and running in the dark this winter.
1. Turn off the central heating
The hardest part of night running, especially in winter, is actually getting changed into your kit and leaving the house. It’s easy to make excuses and give up before you’ve even started. I have to play some serious mind games with myself in order to get a session done. One of my tricks is to keep the front room of my home as cold and uninviting as possible. The central heating is almost always turned off. That way, when I get home from work I want to go back outside just to stay warm. Plus, I save money on the heating bill! A quick turnaround is also important. I allow myself 15 minutes, maximum. I have all my kit laid out in advance and I never allow myself to sit down.
– Ben Mounsey, Great Britain international mountain runner
More by Ben: The benefits of running hill reps
2. Think ‘these sessions are worth double’
Winter divides the good runners from the okay runners. When it’s dark and blowing a gale outside, it’s tempting to laze on the sofa in front of the television rather than do hill repeats. But it’s exactly these moments that decide what position you will finish in races once the season eventually starts. Everyone goes out running in good weather. Not everyone goes out running in foul weather. These sessions are worth double.
– Damian Hall, UK outdoor journalist turned elite ultra runner
More by Damian: Playing the UTMB long game
3. Leave speed work to the daytime
Unlit roads are not the place to be smashing out 10 x 400m reps at max VO2 effort. While a head torch may give you good visibility, it will never be as good as sunlight. Depth perception is particularly compromised, so what may look like a small pothole or puddle may result in an express ticket to the tarmac! Similarly on trails, shadows can magically make a small divot look like an open-cut mine. When running in the dark, stick to easy aerobic runs so you have more reaction time to avoid visual illusions.
– Brendan Davies, Australian international ultra runner and coach
More by Brendan: 10 things trail runners say, vs what they really mean
4. Know your local wildlife
While running in the dark you see amazing things under the light of your head torch. Wildlife comes down from the hills to share the valley trails with you. My advice? Make sure you know what you are looking at. I like to think of myself as a brave, intrepid nighttime runner. What I don’t tell people about is how scared I was when, for some unknown reason, I thought I was being watched from the trees by a pack of hyenas. It was, of course, a small herd of sheep. True story. Mind you, it’s not only at night when you need to know your local wildlife – check out the video below.
– Marco Consani, Scotland-based 24-hour running guru
More by Marco: The 10 commandments of ultra running
5. Win the mental games
Trail runs in the dark are pretty epic and can make you feel invincible. It’s just you, the moonlight and the twinkling stars. But sometimes it can be easy to let your imagination run wild. You think there’s someone chasing you, but in reality it’s just the sound of your own breath you can hear. That said, always be on high alert and aware of the environment around you. Just don’t let your mind play tricks on you!
– Heidi Davies, European mountain running bronze medallist
More by Heidi: The life of a teenage trail runner
6. Try running off-road
Running on the roads on dark winter nights can be dangerous. Why risk your life with the newfound popularity of texting and driving? Trails have wild animals, rocks, roots, snow and other treacherous items to contend with, but nothing a little pepper spray and some quality underfoot traction can’t solve. Snow-covered or icy trails will make you work harder, thus increasing your aerobic capacity, therefore making you a stronger, fitter runner!
– Peter Maksimow, US international trail runner
More by Peter: Running on America’s mountain
7. Beat the car lights
If you’re running down a country lane or a quiet back road where you’ve managed to get your eyes accustomed to the failing light or surrounding gloom, it’s a bummer when a car’s headlight blows your night vision. Not any more! Try closing one eye and keeping the other open. When you open the eye that was closed it should have retained its night vision and allow you to continue running without a complete loss of night vision.
– Ben Abdelnoor, UK fell and ultra runner
More by Ben: Think positive, run faster
8. Have fun – scare a friend
Running in the dark with friends is not only safer; it’s also a lot more fun. Take the opportunity to wind your mates up and, when running behind them, suddenly switch your head torch off and disappear into the close surroundings (behind a wall or a tree always works well). Trust me, panic will set in! Complete the fun by jumping out on them when they turn back to try and find you.
– Mary Wilkinson, winner of 10 Great Britain mountain running vests
More by Mary: Top tips for injured runners
9. Take a spare head torch
You can never completely trust your head torch to guide you home safely from the trails or mountains – even if you remembered to fully charge the batteries prior to use. I find that the weather – especially strong winds and plummeting temperatures – can make my head torches act funny. On (almost) all night runs I carry a spare with me. I made the mistake of not doing so at the recent Trail Running World Championships. My head torch gave up after 90 minutes (the battery life was supposed to be treble that). I was forced to do some of the race in the dark, relying only the light of competitors around me.
– Eirik Haugsnes, Skyrunning specialist based in Norway
More by Eirik: Top tips for faster uphill running
10. Loop the loop
Rather than head out on a large circular loop why not find a 2-3 mile trail loop that you can repeat laps on? This provides the opportunity for ‘escape routes’ should you develop an injury, or encounter any other problems. Mix things up by throwing in some uphill and downhill sprints, and also try repeating your loop clock-wise and anti-clockwise. It may sound tedious, but it’s remarkably effective and keeps you safe.
– Dave Archer, top marathon runner now obsessed with trails
More: Top tips for downhill running
Picking the right kit for running in the dark this winter
If you’re running off-road this winter then the trails will likely be soft and muddy. A running shoe with aggressive outsole studs, such as the Mudclaw 300 or X-Talon 212, will provide you with confidence-boosting grip on all gradients of slope – and keep you upright. If there’s ice or snow on the ground, then a spiked running shoe, such as the ArcticTalon 275, will prevent you from slipping on the white stuff. However, if the trails remain hard and free of mud/snow/ice then the TrailTalon 275 will be the perfect choice (see video below).
Keeping warm and remaining visible is crucial when running in the dark at winter. The AT/C Merino LS and AT/C Tight are absolute necessities and will quickly become your winter base layer regulars, while the AT/C Softshell Pro is the jacket you need for protection amid the coldest, windiest conditions. Reflective logos on all our outer-layered clothing help you to be seen when running at night. Similarly, our packs, hats and gloves all carry reflective logos for increased safety when running in the dark.