Woman running, jogging at sunset, sunrise, night, evening, fitness, exercise.

Fading light ... stay safe when running at night. Photo: Angela Milne

This Thursday about 3000 women will be off and running in Sydney's Centennial Park in an all-female night run organised by Nike. But while the 13-kilometre She Runs the Night is a special event, for some women there's nothing new about tying on running shoes after dark. It's what they do each week, often in groups but sometimes by themselves.

For safety reasons, 27-year-old Melissa Cocks' solo night runs around Crows Nest and North Sydney are in well-lit streets where there are people around – and she always lets someone know where she's going.

"Being prepared to run or walk in darkness gives you more wiggle room to get in some exercise." 

"I wouldn't run through a park," says Cocks, a project manager. "And I always leave a note for my partner to let him know my route and what time I'll be back. I'm also very conscious that I need to be visible – I avoid dark clothes and wear lighter, brighter colours and a jacket with reflective stripes."

Why run or jog at night at all when you can cosy up inside? Because it can make it easier to stay fit. In the cooler months when daylight disappears early, being prepared to run or walk in darkness gives you more wiggle room to get in some exercise, while in summer the after-dark drop in temperature can make a jog or a run so much easier.

"It can be harder to motivate yourself to get out and run in winter in the dark," admits Cocks who's in training for the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. "But once you get going it's rewarding, and after you've done it, it feels like more of an achievement."

There are no statistics on how many people go running after dark, but there's a sense that their numbers are swelling.

"I think more people are running at night because more people are taking up running generally - it's a convenient and cheap way to get fit," says Cocks's partner Luke Nuttall from the Northside Running Group, a running club based on Sydney's lower North Shore. The club which includes novices who've never run before, as well as seasoned runners – one as old as 80 – has four night runs during the week.

It's a similar story in Melbourne, according to Rupert van Dongen, the running coach for Casey Cardinia Athletics, another club that welcomes beginners.

"There's been an increase in people taking part in running events and over the last five years or so more running clubs have started up - so now that daylight saving is finished there's a lot of people running at night."  he says.

If you want to give night running a go how can you make it as safe as possible?

Running in a group or with a friend is one way - as is following Melissa Cocks's advice to make yourself visible in the dark and to stick with well-lit streets where there are still people around. But in some suburbs – mine included – the streets are so dimly lit it's hard to see where you're going. Besides slowing you down, this makes it difficult to avoid trip hazards like uneven paving and tree roots, or branches and twigs that can swipe you in the face or eyes.  The best solution here is to run with a head torch, says Luke Nuttall – these are available on headbands, or as clip-on torches you can attach to a hat.

Other things to remember? Take a mobile phone, but leave your iPod at home – listening to music on the run makes you less aware of unseen traffic or other potential risks.  And don't leave your run too late – exercise might have a reputation for helping you sleep, but it's also an energiser and when it's too close to bedtime it can keep you wide awake.

Do you like running or walking at night?