As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, the opportunity to train in daylight is reduced. Training runs in the evening have to be done by street light, pounding out the miles on tarmac, meaning the trail is only ventured onto at the weekend. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. The trail can be accessed safely on dark winter evenings, particularly with recent developments and improvements in head torches.
Before you head out to illuminate the darkness there a few things to consider though, especially if it your first time venturing out onto the trail at night.
Here are some tips for trail running in the dark.
Headtorch – obviously this is the best sort of torch to run with, though some people do like to have a hand held torch to illuminate the ground ahead. The advantage of a headtorch is the trail or ground is illuminated wherever you look.
Don’t just go for the brightest luminant but look at how wide the beam is spread out in front of you. A super bright narrow beam may seem like a good idea to start off with but after about 30 minutes of running it can feel like you have a cone around your face, whereas a wide beam will illuminate more of the trail in front of you, making it easier to see the changes ahead of you. Make sure the angle of the light is adjustable so you can move the beam down when descending or move it up for when ascending.
The next choice is rechargeable battery pack or disposable batteries. I prefer a rechargeable battery, for several reasons. One reason is the impact on the environment and cost, as it saves having to buy packs of batteries (though you could use rechargeable batteries). Rechargeable head torches tend to not to completely cut out when running low, for example the new Petzl Nao 2 will still give 20 luminate of light for 1 hour before the battery completely discharges. Whilst 20 luminan doesn’t sound bright it is enough to get you off the trail, as I have experienced. The only disadvantage of a rechargeable battery is that you have to keep an eye on how much charge is left in the battery, so you don’t head out for a run with a low battery.
I have always preferred used Petzl head torches, buying my first Petzl Zoom back in 1989 when I was night orienteering, at the time it was THE best head torch, other than the flat battery, which could only be brought in outdoor shops or DIY stores. I currently use a Petzl Nao and Tikka RXP, I use the RXP on trail runs which start at dusk and I know the last few miles will be in darkness or when running before sunrise.
Know your route – one thing you will find when you run on the trail at night is that things look a bit different (obviously its dark!) but you might miss path junctions especially if you are running in a forest or on moorland or fells. Make sure you tell someone where you are going, just incase something happens to you or if the gruffalo gets you! Carry a map and mobile phone if you are heading to more remote trails.
Your pace – you will find that you feel that you are working harder than your normally experience this is due to the effects of fast optic flow, here’s a great article about it. So don’t expect to be running any PB’s.
Run with others – it can be quite daunting to be out on the trail on your own in the darknes, as your senses are increased you become sensitive to noises around you, as animals move near to you, or it can be spooky coming round a bend and seeing glowing eyes of sheep, deer or even rabbits staring at you. If you feel this could be true for you then pair up with your running friends, or make it part of your running clubs winter training schedule.
So what are you waiting for, don’t use the dark winter nights as an excuse not to hit the trail. Get a good head torch, wear the right clothing to keep you warm, but also make sure drivers will see you if you have to cross roads or run along country lanes to get to the trail. Wear trail shoes to cope with the mud and demands of the trail. Ultimately enjoy the experience of running the trail in a way you may have never seen it before.
Chasing the dream
Night running photos courtesy of James Kirby