When considering tips for trail running at night, it’s important to get the priorities right. Trail running, in general, requires a good sense of balance and the ability to quickly recover if that balance is “challenged”. Things that could challenge your balance include rocks, branches, tree roots, even nocturnal turtles! Don’t laugh. One of my friends broke his leg and ended up in traction for a month when he stepped on a turtle while trail running at night. That’s why it’s important to watch your step and why that phrase is included in my main title.
If you decide to try trail running at night, you might want to keep that tip and the other tips covered here in your thought processes.
Why Trail Running at Night is Popular
Trail running has been a staple of the running community for years. Some think It’s the only “pure” form of running left. Trail runners chastise their track and treadmill running brethren as having lost the true spirit that comes from running. On the local high school track or on a treadmill, runners don’t experience the same challenges nor the changing scenery as those running a trail.
Lately, a new trend is emerging. People have hectic schedules and their days are full of other commitments that make finding time for a run difficult. Trail running at night initially gained steam with two-parent families where one or both parents were running enthusiasts. Work would take up much of their day and early evenings were dedicated to feeding, bathing, and putting to bed the children. That left the night as their only opportunity to run. Naturally, parents would alternate nightly trail runs with one parent staying home to make sure the kids didn’t wake up alone and the other enjoying the night air out on the trail.
But, why trail running? Runners often find a certain, emotional high while running. It’s something that monotonous tones on a treadmill or the recurring scenery around a running track bring down immensely. Trail running at night provided the opportunity and the “zen” quality that many runners craved. Plus, what used to be a parent-driven phenomenon is quickly being adopted by millennial’s and even teenagers (with their parent’s permission, of course).
Trail running at night can present some unique challenges for the clothing you wear often depending where you live, the time of year, and the types of trails you will be running. You need to consider your comfort level, your protection requirements, and your skill set. My recommendations for the best gear for running at night considers, in general, those parameters:
- Warm Climates or Times of the Year – Extremely warm weather is often a challenge to any outdoor exercise program. Trail running at night is no different. Even though the heat of the day is dissipating, it will still be present and a hazard to your body. Light weight, moisture wicking clothing for all is a must. Running shorts and an appropriate top are popular choices. But, many trails wind through the woods with the potential to expose the skin to many nasty bugs. Even though the heat may tempt you to go minimalist with your shorts, socks, and shirt, consider longer garments to protect your skin from the insects. Getting bit during your run by insects or discovering some ticks trying to burrow their way under your skin after your run are far worse than a little extra heat. These recommendations apply regardless of skill level.
- Moderate Climates or Times of the Year – Moderate climates are much enjoyed by runners of all ages and skill levels. The atmosphere is very accommodating for running at any time of day; but, especially at night. With just one or two layers of clothing, runners are able to stay warm while not overheating or freezing to death. Running shorts and a moisture-wicking shirt with an optional top-layer are popular with a lot of folks. One of the tips for trail running at night I always give is to invest in some pants blousers like those worn by the military. Free-wheeling pants legs tend to get knocked around by loose foliage (if you’re night trail is through the woods). This may cause the ends to fray. The military blousers will keep your pants legs tight to your body preventing that annoyance (and saving you the cost of buying new pants).
- Colder Climates or Times of the Year – The best gear for running at night, whether that be over flat ground or on the trail, is gear that you can layer. Each successive layer should provide more protection from the cold. At the same time, you do not want those layers preventing the flow of moisture away from your body. While running you are going to perspire a lot. Perspiration combined with cold is a potential energy sapper. Instead of helping the body to cool, perspiration and cold can freeze rather quickly if the temperatures are right. That freezing can have a debilitating effect on the body. If you get too cold too fast it can be extremely hazardous. It’s also important to wear long socks and some sort of head covering. My friend prefers the gloves that can convert into mittens. That way, if he needs the dexterity of his fingers to say, tie his shoes, he simply pulls down the mitten part to expose his gloved fingers. He can then restore the mitten to provide his hands maximum warmth. Hopefully, it goes without saying that one of your most important garments pieces when trail running at night is a warm hat. When outside, the greatest vector for loss of heat is an uncovered head. Put on a hat. Your body will appreciate it.
See also: https://fitnessandhealthadvice.com/health-benefits-running-daily/
Shoes Make a Difference
Trail running in general can be hard on the ankles. Your ankles must constantly adjust to the terrain upon which you are running. There can be every manner of obstacle on the trail that can be stepped on creating the potential for a sprained ankle. It’s impossible to constantly keep your head down to avoid all those obstacles. When trail running, you must not only “see” obstacle to avoid them, you must “feel” your way through them, absorbing impacts and avoiding the serious angles that can lead to injury.
Trail running at night takes these issues up to about an “11”. With the ability to see obstacles diminished, it is important that your ability to feel obstacles is enhanced. This is where your shoes come in and their importance cannot be ignored. Typical running shoes have pretty good ankle and side panel support. Your task is to find a pair where ankle and side panel support are maximized. This may entail trying on many different pairs of running shoes before you find your sweet spot. Also, don’t skimp out on price. The best shoes may be more expensive. Make the investment. Skip this advice at your own risk. Just make sure to have a pair of crutches “on retainer” for when you are nursing your sprained/broken ankle.
Illumination is a Must
This is probably obvious, but you’re going to need a light. While some trails made for running at night are fully illuminated, most are not. Trail running at night can be hard enough. Unless you’re Spiderman with a spider sense or you possess some excess military night-vision goggles, you’re going to need SOMETHING to light the way.
I remember my first night trail run. It was a while ago. Let’s just say that Bob Barker was alive, his hair was brown, and Tom Selleck was driving Robin Masters’ Ferrari to broadcast TV fame. A couple of my friends had suggested running a familiar trail at night. I thought they were nuts. But, I agreed to go anyway. Even though we knew the trail well, I wasn’t planning to run without SOME kind of light. I ended up running with one of those cheap, plastic, handheld flashlights everyone’s father had around the house in case the power went out. My friend, Ron, opted for his spider sense. Let’s just say that Ron regretted that decision. He had a permanent reminder in the form of 5-stitches in his forearm. He made it all the way to within sight of our apartment building when he got tripped up and slid across a bunch of broken glass. Don’t be like Ron.
Today, you can get lights in many forms. You can still run trails using one of those cheap, plastic, handheld flashlights. I don’t recommend it; but, you could do it. There are many models of lights you can wear on your head. Those are my favorites and provide the illumination that you need. I would recommend the kind that have straps that cross your head for stability and ease of wear.
Final Tips for Trail Running at Night
I think trail running at night is going to continue to gain in popularity. Between the constraints of time and family as well as some reluctance to work out in close proximity to others, trail running at night provides an opportunity to address those issues. But, it’s not without its hazards. You need to dress appropriately dependent on your particular climate and the time of year. You need to wear shoes with good ankle support and you need to find some way to illuminate your path to avoid injury (and turtles).
If you follow these tips for trail running at night you will be able to participate safely and be able to fully enjoy this unique workout trend.