Since the dawn of man, light has meant safety. Daylight was the time for hunting and gathering; sunset meant a return to the safety of the cave or village or sublet and the warmth and light of fire – that magical element which helped us greet friends and drive away predators.
Because much of our hunting and gathering today is relegated to offices, outdoor exercise is often scheduled during after-dark hours, especially as days grown shorter.
Still, light remains our best friend. As runners take to the streets, tracks and trails, experts say safety is a case of “seeing being seen.”
“Fall is the best time for running,” Fleet Feet Durham and Carrboro training coordinator Nora Ayers said. “But we lose daylight and we need to take more precautions, so this is also the time to think about visibility to cars, cyclists, other walkers and runners.”
The first step toward a safe run or outdoor workout is picking a route, which, given rush-hour traffic, can be a challenge in itself. In well-lit areas, there’s typically traffic; calmer, quieter areas are usually darker.
Runners in Bull City Running Company training programs often head for the American Tobacco Trail, said Bull City community outreach coordinator Ellen Moss.
“That trail’s not lit except for a section down near Southpoint Mall,” Moss said. “But in other areas there is no lighting at all ... and it can get really dark.”
“It might not be your favorite route to run; the most well-lit route is your safest choice, though,” Christine Luff wrote for Verywell.com.” “The most well-lit route is your safest choice, though. Oncoming cars see you better, and you’ll always be able to see the road and avoid potential hazards.”
“Rather than plot out a 10-mile run,” said Patrick McCrann, Marathon Nation columnist for Active.com, “consider finding a 5-mile course that you can double up on – or, better yet, a two-mile loop that you can do as many times as necessary, close to home.”
Seeing is Believing
On roads or trails, headlamps are probably the most popular accessory. The choices are numerous and particularly personal to each individual runner. Ask 10 runners for advice, and you’ll get 30 opinions.
“We have the Nathan headlamps, which adjust up and down,” Fleet Feet’s Hanna Shaw said. “Another has three different color options. Our most popular one is really convenient because you can just hold in your hand. There’s even one that has no batteries; it’s powered by motion.”
Moss said Bull City was also stocked with lights, and noted that models by Petzyl and Nathan are among the go-to brands.
Cause a Seen
Another factor in safety is visibility – standing out in the darkness.
“Wear white, yellow or orange clothes, and make sure you have reflective gear on, ” Luff said. “Even though most running shoes, jackets already have reflective pieces on them, it doesn’t hurt to add more.”
While most area running stores already sell running wear with reflective elements, more highly reflective fashions will be arriving throughout the next month.
“Especially now with the days getting shorter,” Bull City’s Moss said, “we’ve got many options to choose from.”
Fleet Feet’s Ayers tells runners to channel their inner Christmas tree.
“Reflective strips and spots on your clothes to highlight your core with a reflective vest, wearing reflective ankle and wrist straps and blink-y lights should be worn to highlight your body,” she said. “A driver at night is going to be able to distinguish that you are a human much quicker if you’ve outlined your human form.”
“Remember to keep the red flashing lights on your back and the white or clear ones on the front of your body,” McCrann suggested. “This will help drivers and fellow pedestrians know which way you are headed long before they can actually see you.”
Shaw said sometimes the simplest reflective gear is the best.
“A plain green vest is the great because it’s easy to put on, and it fits with everything.”
The Company You Keep
“It’s always safer to run with a partner,” Ayers said. “They are around to help if anything happens.”
“There’s strength and safety in numbers,” Luff echoed. “Look for running groups that run at night, but if you’re running alone, let someone know the route and about how long you will be out ... and carry a cell phone so that you can contact police immediately if something happens to you or you notice anything out of the ordinary.”
Though cell phones are now a viable option for portable music, runners should save the tunes for daytime running or the commute.
Cutting off your sense of hearing means you can’t hear oncoming cars, cyclists approaching from the rear, yelling for you to move, or dogs, Luff noted.
“If you absolutely have to run with music or some other distraction, keep the volume very low, or run with one earbud out,” she added.
Back to the Cave
Lastly, since running in the early evenings typically means putting off dinner, make a point to enjoy an afternoon snack to keep fuel levels up, and don’t forget to hydrate, even in cooler weather.
So snack sensibly, save the mastodon meat for later, and arrive back at the cave, safe and sound.