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Night Time is the Right Time (To Trail Run)

by Mike Meehan

During the winter months, many runners are forced to do part of their training in the dark. The daylight hours are shorter and the nights are longer. Many run at night out of necessity—not by choice. But for some runners, nighttime is the right time for trail running.

Night trail running is a very different experience than day trail running or running at night on pavement. At night, you don’t see shadows, which makes terrain look two-dimensional and flat. This makes it harder to judge distances and limits depth perception.

Although it may take some time getting used to night trail running, after getting acclimated, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Here are a few tips to help you have a fun, safe experience.

Choose the Right Light

Picking the right light will make running at night safer and more enjoyable. There are different types of lights that can be used that have varying brightness levels.

  • Light Types
    Dark to Dawn Trail Run

    The start of the 2016 Dark to Dawn Trail Run. Photo credit: Rick Mayo / Mile 90 Photography

    There are a few different light options to choose from including headlamps, body lamps and hand-held flashlights.

    • Headlamps
      Many runners prefer using headlamps because they are lightweight and allow you to keep your hands free and focus on your running form. One downside to headlamps though is that they may not allow you to focus the light where you need it.
    • Flash Lights
      Carrying a flash light gives you more ability to focus light where you want it than with a headlamp. But hand-held lights tie up one of your hands and may affect your running form.
    • Body Lamps
      Other lighting options are body lamps that strap to your chest and there are also versions of headlamps that have long enough bands that can wrap around your waist. These lamps can help focus light more on the trail in front of you.
  • Brightness
    The brightness of a light is measured in lumens. Some experienced runners recommend using lights that put out at least 100-120 lumens, while REI recommends using a light that emits at least 200 lumens. Consider using a lamp that allows you to adjust brightness levels. This will allow you to conserve battery life by choosing lower brightness settings when there is more natural light available.

Some runners use more than one light to maximize visibility, so choose the method(s) that work best for you. More information about different light types is available at the Alpine Shop and REI.

Be Safe Out There

“Always have a back up plan,” —we’ve all heard that advice before and it’s especially true for night trail running. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:

  • Familiarize yourself with the trail before you run it at night.
  • Run with another person or group.
  • Let someone know where you’re going.
  • Carry a mobile phone in case you need to call for help.
  • Carry extra batteries, headlamp or backup light source.

Now that you know the basics, get out there and experience it for yourself. Terrain Runners organizes night social runs and a night trail race in the St. Louis area during the summer. The Dark to Dawn Trail Run, includes a 10K and 6-hour options and is held at Indian Camp Creek Park, just 40 minutes from St. Louis, near Foristell, Mo. This year’s race is scheduled for June 11, 2017.

All photos courtesy of Rick Mayo / Mile 90 Photography <>

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