The Ups and Downs of Night Running

I’m Stephanie Stevens; wife, mother, outdoor adventurer, ultrarunner, and as of August 2022… grad student. I’m working towards an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I aspire to accompany people on their self-healing journeys through nature, adventure and mindfulness. I am notably clumsy, easily lost, yet I press on. Because what I lack in natural athleticism and sense of direction, I more than make up with a plucky attitude and child-like enthusiasm!

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I am passionate about running relays. I love how it builds community and encourages (necessitates?) collaborative problem solving. Most relays aren’t inherently competitive and if you are looking to reignite your passion for running, I’ve seen relays be wildly effective. It’s the avenue of life where I’ve seen the most successful examples of “teamwork.” Part of being a successful team means each person finds a way to contribute. My contribution is, typically, recruitment.

Most trail relays involve team members rotating running for 24+ hours. So, the biggest obstacle I face in recruiting team members (especially women) is to overcome the objection to running at night.

Now, hear me out, I recognize that there are some inherent risks with night running. But there are inherent risks in daytime running, too. So today I’m here to talk about the proverbial “ups” and “downs” of night running.

First of all…the “downs” are mostly literal (as you coast down hills)! I say that because night running gives me a sense of power, focus and freedom that I deeply wish I could recreate during the day. Especially in summer, it provides sweet relief from the heat, and without all the distractions of daytime (light/sounds) I feel like my neurodivergent brain is finally at peace.

I love how the narrow span of my headlamp allows me to hyperfocus on exactly what’s in front of me. I choose a playlist that reminds me that I am brave, strong, and absolutely entitled to run where and when I want to. This past weekend I participated in the Ragnar Michigan Trail Race. I brought along with me a few women who had never run at night before and I’m so humbled they took a leap of faith alongside me.

Based on my experience and their feedback, here’s the “ups and downs” of night running:

  1. Keep your head DOWN. Now, this isn’t nearly as much of an issue on the road as it is on trail. Rocks and roots are present at night, too, and while you may be tempted to look around at your surroundings, it will often lead to tripping. My recommendation is to look about 4-6 feet in front of you. Looking too close doesn’t give your brain time to react. Looking too far tends to lead to a “gap” where your feet don’t register the upcoming obstacle any more.
  2. Pick your feet UP. It’s likely you’re going to be tired, and when you are tired, it saves energy to keep your feet close to the ground. You have to avoid that impulse and remember to pick your feet up to avoid rocks and roots. A long stride leaves you more vulnerable to falls, so use this time to practice increasing your cadence!
  3. Keep your music DOWN. One of the great joys of night running is it really facilitates losing yourself in your music. That said, being aware of your surroundings is important and your eyes aren’t going to be as effective in the dark as your ears. Nature provides its own soundtrack at night, so be sure to listen for the owls, frogs and crickets.
  4. Lumens UP. Lumens are a unit of measurement for light intensity. The higher the lumens, the brighter you will be. I personally like having a light on my chest in addition to a headlamp. A cool hack is that you can adjust the belt around a headlamp to make it a chest lamp! Some people also prefer handheld running lights. This is a personal decision and if you can borrow before you buy, you can feel confident in your purchase. I personally seek out products with at least 200 lumens and that are rechargeable rather than using disposable batteries.

Besides your music (if inclined) and your light, I’d also encourage you to bring 2 other items to keep you safe: pepper spray and company. It’s important to note that most animals are terrified of a night time human confrontation and so despite all my night running, it’s been pretty rare to see an animal. If I do, they have made a very hasty exit from the trail. Still, in the interest of your protection, pepper spray will ensure you can make the hasty exit yourself, if need be. 

And, company. Sadly, animals aren’t the only predators in the wild and running with someone drastically reduces the probability of assault. Many of us Trail Sisters have benefitted from being open and vulnerable with friends on the trail and I think night running enhances that. Night running with my Trail Sisters have deepened our bonds. We conquered our fears together and reclaimed the night. If you don’t have any women in mind already, look for groups who meet up regularly. In my hometown of Columbus, OH, both our local running stores and even some local breweries host evening runs.

So, if you’ve been looking to gain confidence in signing up for a trail relay, I hope you will find these tips helpful. Gather your friends, do some night time practice runs together, and reclaim the night!!

About the Author

I’m Stephanie Stevens; wife, mother, outdoor adventurer, ultrarunner, and as of August 2022… grad student. I’m working towards an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I aspire to accompany people on their self-healing journeys through nature, adventure and mindfulness. I am notably clumsy, easily lost, yet I press on. Because what I lack in natural athleticism and sense of direction, I more than make up with a plucky attitude and child-like enthusiasm!

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