Running at night is a great leveller. By day you may feel like you are sleep walking through familiar landscapes. Darkness however, will force the rush of blood to your senses. For runners the evening is time to wake up.
Reduced visibility brings an element of doubt, which works itself in to your psyches, like a primeval spanner. What ensues can deepen the experience, as our imaginations reach new heights, and we have to forge new associations. A bridge can become a refuge as well as a convenience, a reflection in a reservoir becomes a beacon.
Getting lost when venturing off the trails at night, is not quite as much fun as in the day. Last year I vividly remember bounding across a large Scottish estate somewhere close to midnight, without a head torch, relying on the moon to survive the moving clouds. High on adrenaline, I kept on running, with the attention of the estate’s deer trained on me. After an hour of traversing contours of squelchy peat, which had drained my strength, I turned around. But the moon had disappeared and I was forced to rely on the dip of the distant woods to be my guide.
In the end, forced to head to the only reliable waymark, a waterfall, which ran steeply down through a pine glade in to the reservoir below, I plummeted down on all fours. It was exhilarating and concerning at the same time but I was embarrassed to tell anyone about it afterwards. So unless you plan to learn the phases of the moon cycle (which is always useful), running at night needs a head torch, with extra batteries just in case. The Petzl Nao, whose USB battery is a sleek cylindrical shape, actually makes it feel like cheating, it’s so bright. Anything less than 100 lumens for a night time off road run, doesn’t hack it for me. But the most powerful setting, tends not to last for more than a few hours, before recharging is necessary. Even with powerful 360 lumen head torch, your style will change however, as you tilt your neck forwards to scan the ground five yards in front.
At night, your stride will be chopped and you’ll think you are running faster, as two dimensional objects hurl themselves at you, fooling your brain in to equating this with speed. Worth remembering if you’re doing speed work at night. The extra adrenaline that comes with night running, may make it hard to sleep for some people, as you’ve entered flight or fight mode. So you may want to slow down and take it all in.
The night’s sky can frame images in black and white, much more evocatively than the day. A pool of light at the entrance to a damp tunnel, the buzz of last orders from a nearby pub, the nocturnal buzz of a dockside, or the eerie feel of a seaside promenade, lit like faded glory. Nocturnal animals observe you with a casual menace, until you learn to identify them (cows appear to have green eyes while foxes appear orange).
Venturing out in to the night, is the epitome of defiance. Defiance of watching another box set, defiance of tucking in to something stodgy, defiance of meeting your mates in the pub again!
Off road there’s the added burden of cows. Two of our Thursday night group were penned in by a herd of frisky cows while running along a field boundary in slippery mud, trapping them against the 12 foot high hedge. The cows were blinded by our head torches and couldn’t work out what we were, so panicked. So you may need to have a healthy appreciation of worst case scenarios at night.
It’s always better for keeping your mojo tuned, to find a group for long winter night runs. If you are worried about getting detached from the group and it’s a night time trail run, there are ways of dealing with this. You can plan a figure of eight route and the slower runners can drop off on the smaller loop. Route narratives can be carried with you, which will also force you to pay attention. Failing this, just like hashers use flour, luminous biodegradable spray chalk can be used by the front runners, to mark the way. US military laser pens are another tool for getting lost, if you shine them at the sky, you can in theory track the lost runners.
Like all good surfers, perennial runners don’t care about the change in seasons. Or at least they won’t let a bit of low level light and temperature gradient, deter them. If you are forced to battle with the British winter though, your motivation is bound to need an external source of inspiration.
So my final piece of advice: Enrol on a night run. They are great. The Night Stalker in Peebles is a popular 10km off road night run through mud. We based our Wild Night Run Series on the fantastic Sainte Lyon night run from St Etienne to Lyon in France. Although its thousands of entrants and 72km distance may not seem like much of a comparison to a ten mile fell run in January on Dartmoor, the communal spirit is exactly the same. People are more likely to run in groups and to help each other out. See http://www.wildnightrun.co.uk/
Check underfoot conditions before leaving the house.
Bring spare batteries for your head torch. (Make sure it is fully charged if using a USB head torch).
Buddy up on at least some of your night runs for motivation. If not Try to tell someone where you are going if you are alone, or at least leave a map lying around with your route on it!
Start your runs close to a good pub! A pint next to an inglenook fire place was first conceived of with night running in mind!
What to wear: If you’re really too much of a fashion victim to wear high viz clothing, have you tried LED wrist bands? If not you can stoop to a high viz hat at least. It’s not just for you, it’s for others to see you.