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 the house as cold and uninviting as possible. The central heating is almost always turned off. That way, I want to go back outside just to stay warm! A quick turnaround after work 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, mountain running international.
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, 5th place at 2018 UTMB & winner of 2018 Ice Ultra.
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.
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 – Marco Consani, 24-hour running guru.
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 medallist.
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.
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.
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 and now a top road cyclist.
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 2016 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, Skyrunner based in Norway.
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, former marathon runner.
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 275 or X-TALON 230 (both of which feature STICKYGRIP rubber), 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 OROC 280 V2 will prevent you from slipping on the white stuff. However, if the trails remain hard but there is the potential of muddy sections, then an all-rounder like the ROCLITE 315 is the perfect choice.
Keeping warm and remaining visible is crucial when running in the dark at winter. The MERINO LONG-SLEEVE and FULL-LENGTH TIGHT are absolute necessities and will quickly become your winter layer regulars. The SOFTSHELL PRO is the jacket you need for protection amid the coldest, windiest conditions, or if it rains, you’ll want the waterproof STORMSHELL.