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A run on the dark side

Date
Fading light ... stay safe when running at night.

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?

33 comments so far

  • Just did my first night run last night, actually! I'm new to night running, but I have put in far too much effort to increase and improve my running over summer to now let it go and undo all of my hard work!

    I think it's safer to run around peak hour (eg between 5-7pm) in well-lit streets where there are plenty of people about. Fortunately I live inner-city, so there are plenty of busy areas. Not as nice as running through the park, but much safer.

    Commenter
    ES
    Location
    Melbs
    Date and time
    May 02, 2012, 9:08AM
    • The biggest danger a runner faces today is not night jogging but jogging (day or night) wearing earphones.

      Commenter
      Gordie
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 02, 2012, 10:39AM
      • Good call Gordie,
        Also if your running at night stick to footpaths whenever possible as opposed to the road unless your lit up like a Christmas Tree because as much as the driver may be at fault if they hit you, you are significantly softer than a car, no point going out a martyr.

        Commenter
        Stryder
        Date and time
        May 02, 2012, 12:20PM
    • As a Male, I've been running in the dark for many years without fear so I wear something reflective or white to be seen. I have also run at night or early morning in overseas countries. I also ride a bike at crazy hours of the day (like 3AM). However, it amazes me how many people I see in the dark, either running or walking, with no reflective gear or even white clothing. Generally womon are the worst offenders as they tend to wear black everything (it's slimming i guess, but you're in the dark). Please, when you are out in the streets, even in well lit areas, wear something that will allow others to see you. I have even been riding in Centennial Park in the dark, when all of a sudden I had to swerve to miss two joggers on the bike path. Both totally oblivious to the fact they were virtually invisible (and I have really bright headlights on my bike). It's not whether you can see, it is the ability of others to see you and avoid having a collision. Good luck to those running on Thursday. Have fun.

      Commenter
      Night Owl
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 02, 2012, 10:39AM
      • Night running is awesome. I love to get a run in when I first get home from work - gives me the time to process the work day and get relaxed for the evening.

        Commenter
        Barina
        Location
        Brunswick
        Date and time
        May 02, 2012, 10:45AM
        • Totally agree! I run after dark most nights, its lovely with the stars and everything is so peaceful and quiet.

          I always take my dog with me as it makes me feel safer. She is hyper alert to sounds and always knows when other people are around. I also stick to residential areas and don't go anywhere too remote.

          Commenter
          Sally
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          May 03, 2012, 8:30AM
      • I often run home at night using bike paths - I have a small red flashing LED light on my back as I am more concerned with bike riders not seeing me and smacking into me from behind. I also have a small LED light on my cap and in deep winter a reflective belt. An absolute must is carrying ID - I used www.myroadid.com which is a clever tag that ties to your shoe/wrist; it has information on it as well as a voice activated and online access for emergency services. For a safe running group in Melbourne's Albert Park www.gunnrunners.com.au every Tuesday night at 6.15pm.

        Fitzy

        FC

        Commenter
        Fitzy
        Location
        Melburn
        Date and time
        May 02, 2012, 10:45AM
        • I've always run at night but now that I work later hours, I run in the mornings. It takes a bit more determination to get out of bed early to run, but there are quite a lot of other runners at 6am.

          Commenter
          LV
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          May 02, 2012, 10:58AM
          • As a rather solidly-built gentleman, I'm not so much worried about other people but I am aware of the other dangers. Last year I was "in the zone" (read: zoned out) and tripped over a tree root. A 5mm pebble left a nice 30mm gash in my knee.

            Commenter
            Spex
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            May 02, 2012, 11:00AM
            • I've been running in the dark for 33 years and have rarely had a problem. Despite wearing bright clothing, it helps to assume that nobody else can see you: give a wide berth to pedestrians and cyclists; run behind rather than in front of cars at an intersection; cross only on the green or at crosswalks, or when you're 100% sure there are no vehicles approaching. The occasional threat for me has been drugged-out crazies who confront runners but they can pop out during daylight too...you can usually outrun them.
              Northside Running Group in Crow's Nest is a fantastic club by the way.

              Commenter
              Randy
              Location
              St Leonards
              Date and time
              May 02, 2012, 11:16AM

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