Running in the 'Meda: Exercising in the dark

Running in the 'Meda: Exercising in the dark

Marty Beene

With the onset of fall, days are getting noticeably shorter. Whenever we get to this point in the year, I start thinking about the likelihood that I will have to exercise when it is dark outside, and that reminds me to think about safety.

The visibility issue associated with darkness issue is generally easy to address. This is mostly avoiding getting hit by a car when you're out walking, running, or cycling. In my experience, if you are clearly visible to drivers, they will almost never hit you. Therefore, one approach to take is to make yourself very, very visible using reflectors, lights, etc., that are available through any exercise retailer, such as RoadRunner Sports.

Even with those additions to your gear, it's important to assume drivers cannot see you, so you should take extra caution when crossing a street, even where there is a stop sign or traffic signal. Always make eye contact with the driver. Cyclists are able to add any number of extremely bright flashing lights to their bikes these days (Alameda Bicycle on Park Street has a good selection), although the lack of competence of some drivers may still create danger for the cyclist.

Another option (for walkers and runners) is to not worry about your visibility, but simply avoid any conflict. That is, just don't cross a street unless there are no cars coming. None. This technique can be tricky because it does require both patience and very careful attention - you can't be lost in your own world listening to music, solving world problems in your head, etc.

A second darkness-related issue is that you simply can't see as well as you can when it's light out. This makes it easier to trip over something or ride your bike into a hole you didn't see. It's possible to buy very bright headlights for bikes these days, although I'm not sure they are truly bright enough to be able to see everything you might run over. One option for pedestrians is to carry a flashlight or wear a headlamp. This can be helpful, but I've found that it's hard to consistently point the beam of light exactly where you want it. Whether you use a light or not, it's a given that you should slow down.

Personal safety is one of the most important issues related to exercising in the dark. Sure, we think we are immune to this kind of danger in The 'Meda, but it's probably not wise to be too complacent. If you're going to exercise outdoors after dark, there are some standard practices you should follow:

  • Don't go alone. Criminals will typically pick on the easiest targets. If you're with one or more other people, that probably moves you up a few notches on the mugging difficulty scale.
  • Don't listen to music. It's important to be aware of your surroundings, and being able to hear what's going on around you is a significant part of that.
  • Know your route and follow it earnestly. If you look lost or confused, that makes you look like an easier target for a robber.
  • Carry identification with you. Whether you are incapacitated by a mugger or a medical emergency, it's very important that first responders can determine who you are. One option for ID is wearing a customizable wristband or tag like a RoadID - mine has contact info and states that I have "no known allergies," but some people will indicate that they wear contact lenses, include their blood type, etc.
  • Some of the issues related to exercising when it's dark outside make it sound scary. It can be, to some degree, but I also like it. I like being able to look at the stars and the moon, it's usually less busy and quieter when it's dark, and I feel like my senses are heightened somewhat. That can make the exercise more enjoyable instead of less so.

    Do you have any tips for exercising in the dark?

    Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at