Running in the dark


It’s dark, and in the north-west a low moon is almost covered by the red shadow of the earth; a total lunar eclipse. It is the winter solstice of 2010, deep snow all around, I’m running an icy track plunging steeply towards the river. My torch is switched off and eyes quite tuned to the darkness, I can’t quite see where my feet will land, but they don’t let me down. Magic!

People who live at my latitude, and want to train through the winter, have to run at night. If we pound the pavement in the town, we have streetlights, but trail runners don’t need streetlights; we can run in the dark!

Here are my five top tips to keep you running after sunset.

First, do it! There is a temptation to wait for the lighter evenings and avoid that pitch black woodland you have to go through. But running in the dark is wonderfully atmospheric; familiar trails and views are transformed by the fact that you can’t see them! It’s great training too, if you can navigate in the dark it will be a piece of cake in the daylight. So build your confidence get out and run after sunset.

Second, get yourself a decent head-torch and use it as little as possible. Mine has a conventional bulb which will focus like a spotlight, and an LED setting which casts a pool of milky light over a wide area. The Spot is good for rough ground, when you really do need to see what your feet will encounter next;  alternatively, the LEDs use less juice so the battery lasts longer.

For all this, without a torch it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to get accustomed to the dark. Once this night vision is established it is amazing how much you can see. When you put your light on night vision is compromised for a while, so I find it best to use the head-torch for the really dark bits (for example, in woodland) or really rough sections. It’s a personal thing – others leave their lights on all the time – but I think that night vision is worth experiencing; it’s all our ancestors had.

Third, there is no-one behind you. Really, there is no-one behind you! Running in the dark can be spooky, especially if you are on your own. Jogging through a forest it is hard to resist the temptation to glance over your shoulder, so powerful is the sense that there is someone there. Don’t be silly, there is no-one there.

Unless, of course, there is someone, or something…

Fourth, trust your feet. If you stare at the ground all the time, you will whack your head on something or get lost. So use the light to scan ahead and trust that your feet will cope when they hit the ground. Relax, it is what they are designed for.

Finally, you get the red-eye effect when you shine your headlight directly into a friends eyes. The first time I saw this I nearly jumped out of my skin – I thought he had been taken over by a demon. Your full beam hurts their eyes, so when you are running with others dip your headlights!

I’ve also learned that not all red-eye is red; if it is yellow, they are sheep; if blue, you are looking at horses; cats are green.

A final warning; if you find yourself staring into eyes as hot as coals accompanied by a whiff of sulphur; that’s not normal, get outta there!

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