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Tips for Safely Running in the Dark

by James Raia - for

Running before sunrise and after dusk is discouraged by national running advocacy organizations, but since daytime training isn't always an option as the shorter days of year approach, runners need to take extra precautions.

Running in the darkFred Kaiser and Pam Cantelmi, two veteran long-distance runners in Sacramento, Calif., know winter's running hazards all too well.

While training after work on a rainy December night several years ago, the duo was struck at a suburban intersection by a pick-up truck.

Details of the accident were bizarre, with the vehicle driver and the two runners unsure of exactly what happened.

Kaiser was only slightly injured, but Cantelmi suffered head and shoulder injuries and was hospitalized. Fortunately, both runners were able to resume their exercise routines.

The accident was particularly ironic since both runners were wearing reflective gear. Other runners -- some wearing reflective vests, some not -- have been less fortunate.

"I had on a reflective vest, I had a flashing light around my waist and I was carrying a flashlight," recalled Kaiser, a real estate attorney who has completed many marathons and ultramarathons since his accident.

"Sometimes, it just doesn't matter. Drivers aren't looking for runners and sometimes they're not going to see you, regardless of what you're wearing. You have to look for them. It can be pretty scary out there."

Although it's no guarantee of safety, wearing reflective gear is the top priority. Dozens of options -- vests, flashlights, blinking shoes, reflective strips, arm bands, etc. -- are available at most running apparel stories and through mail-order catalogs.

Wearing reflective gear on your arms and legs, rather than on your trunk, is also important since drivers are more likely to see the reflective or glowing light when it's in motion.

"We're out there with only the thickness of our T-shirts to protect us," said Kaiser. "There's no body armor involved in the sport of running. The car is going to win."

But night running not only presents potential vision problems for drivers, runners' vision is poorer at night, too. Potholes, branches, wire fences and slippery leaves are all difficult to see, particularly as dusk becomes nighttime.

"The two key things about running at night are to see and to be seen," said Susan Kalish, former executive director of the American Running Association (ARA) in Bethesda, Md. You need to know where you're going, what you'll find there, and whether drivers can see you coming."

Runners training at night should also adhere to other common sense guidelines. Consider:

  • Run against traffic. It's easier to avoid traffic if you can see it.

  • Don't wear dark colors at night. White running attire is the easiest to see at night, but orange and yellow are also appropriate. Black, brown, dark blue or green are not recommended.

  • Run behind vehicles at intersections. Even if a car or truck has stopped at a stop sign, there's no guarantee the driver has seen you.

  • Don't wear headphones. Wearing headphones diminishes a runner's ability to hear a car horn, a voice or a potential attacker.

  • Wear a billed cap and clear glasses. The bill of a cap will hit an unseen tree branch or another obstacle before the obstacle hits your head. Clear glasses will protect your eyes from bugs and other unseen obstacles.

  • Vary your routes. A potential attacker can watch for runners' patterns and loom in a particularly dark or isolated area.

  • Run with a partner. There's strength in numbers.

  • Try to make eye contact and acknowledge a driver. The interaction, however brief, could save your life.

  • Runners with inner-ear problems or other equilibrium conditions should avoid training at night when maintaining proper balance can be more difficult.

    And remember, as Douglas Lentz, an ARA editorial board member, advises, "When running at night, light yourself up like a Christmas tree."

    For more information on exercising safely, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the ARA, 4405, EastWest Highway, Suite #405, Bethesda, Md., 20814. (800) 776-2732.

    James Raia, a long-distance runner in Sacramento, Calif., is the publisher of two free electronic newsletters, "Endurance Sports News" and "Tour de France Times," both available for subscription on his Web site, He can be reached at

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