Dark Nights, Running, Training & Safety

In conjunction with Keswick Mountain Festival we are giving sound advice for runners as the nights get even longer & the temperature starts to plummet. Photo Credits: Marmot Dark Mountains/Ian Corless, MountainRun & Barney Whiteside

in Trail Running / Fell Running / Mountain Marathons / Ultra Running / Winter / Navigation / Night Navigation / Safety on the Trails & Fells

The Psyche:

Getting out as the nights get longer can be really tough, often the hardest thing is just to step out of your door & get going, but once on the trail/road you start to settle & get into your rhythm. By the time you are half way round your training run you're not sure what the problem was. This is Autumn/Winter running. It might be raining, it might be blowing, it might be doing both. The wind can be really cold, hopefully it might be frozen. What ever the conditions are, this is your nemesis & you must face it, or risk losing that ample fitness you have built up over the last few months of summer racing.

Night running can be approached in a few different ways. You might find it wise to join a club, thereby always making sure you have running partners to head out with on a regular night. Motivation is the key word here & it helps if there is a structure to keep you getting out. If your like me, then your a loan runner, and it becomes even harder to keep the ever ebbing psyche from getting the better of you, so what else can you do? Team up with a regular running partner, so you have someone else to drag you out, someone not to let down. Maybe you have a dog & the desire to keep it fit & happy is enough, this certainly worked for me. Dogs make great running partners throughout the whole year, but through the darker months they are all the motivation you might need & their alway keen for a run, even if the conditions do make you want to stash in doors & blub like a little baby.

Scratching helping with winter motivation, although running on the edges of Helvellyn is a big plus in the first place! - Photo Credit: MountainRun

Scratching helping with winter motivation, although running on the edges of Helvellyn is a big plus in the first place! - Photo Credit: MountainRun


So you're out of the door, but where are you going?

Down to the local club/track to get some speed sessions in? This is a must for some folk to keep the psyche. Slapping the tarmac around town? Its a good way to keep the miles clicking away. I prefer the trails & fells, but isn't that for the crazy? Night running off road?

Not really folks, night running is a great way to improve many skills & keep your fitness going, or even upping the ante. There are a plethora of head torches out there to confuse & tempt you into parting with money, one of these units is essential for you to hit the trails still. I favour Suprabeam right now, they have a great little range, not too much to choose from, meaning less confusion & their top quality units. What ever head torch you choose, from the multitude of brands out there (Petzl, Hope, Silva, LED Lenser, Silverpoint etc), make sure you're packing around 350 lumens for good lighting, when you need it. There is no need to run with your head torch on full blast all of your run, but it will help to have the extra light level, once your descending.

Ok, you have the head torch, you've got your partner & your ready to hit the trails. Where do you go?

Choose a run you know well, that your comfortable with, that you train on all the time. This is your best start.

So what next? 

Runners on the Marmot Dark Mountains 2014 - Photo Credit: Ian Corless

Runner on the Marmot Dark Mountains 2014 - Photo Credit: Ian Corless


Winter Running Clothing & Equipment:

Its very important that you take the right kit so you're safe when your out there. How much do you need to take? Well this depends on where you're heading.

Here's some winter kit lists...

Down the park or around town?

  • Waterproof top & bottoms or wind shells, depending on conditions
  • Small running pack/Bumbag
  • Long Sleeve Base Layer (wearing)
  • Shorts or tights, your preference as we all run at different temps
  • Hat & gloves
  • Emergency blanket - Might be over the top, but it weighs nothing & it might save your life with a twisted ankle or worse
  • Hi Viz sash or vest
  • Head Torch - brightest you can afford.
  • Water if you feel you need it.

Heading out on the trails? Use the above & add this to it...

  • Change the emergency blanket for a survival bag
  • Add an extra warm top to your pack
  • Take some food with you, a couple of bars
  • Take some water with you.
  • Map & Compass or GPS, just in case (although you are on a regular run, so you shouldn't need this).
  • Mobile phone

Heading further afield? Out on the fells?

  • The above & possibly more, like the list below.
  • Consider taking a light sleeping bag (fine of you run MM events, but its a massive expense otherwise)
  • Spare hat & gloves
  • Primaloft or similar insulated jacket
  • Definitely take a map/compass or GPS
  • Tell a friend where you are heading to, make sure someone knows your route.
  • Give a time scale of how long it should take you, along with the route, and have a call out time, if you're not back when expected. Make sure the call out time allows for errors & fitness, you don't want the MRT's to be called out if you're just a little slow!!

Safety is a key factor when heading out at night, margins for error's are slimmer, the air is colder, its harder to find your way if you're off track, even with a super powered head torch. Take all this into account. Start small, let your routes grow as your confidence & skills do. Consider going on a course for night running/navigation or heading out with a group to grow your skills etc.

Learn the signs of hypothermia & recognise when your partner is flagging and getting cold. Look after each other, regularly check they are warm & comfortable, if the answer is NO, stop & address the situation. Have safety cut off during your run & try to incorporate escape routes on longer night runs.

The key phrase here is "Better to be safe then Sorry"!

Navigating at night with UltraMadness on some pre-Spine Challenger training - Photo Credit: MountainRun

Navigating at night with UltraMadness on some pre-Spine Challenger training - Photo Credit: MountainRun


As the nights grow longer:

We're in the full flow of Autumn/Winter nights now, so its generally dark when you head out, unless its the weekend of you finish work early. What if your heading out mid afternoon for a blast on the trails & fells. Take into account all of the above & remember dusk is the most testing time of all. If your out on the fells, make sure you really know what you are doing. Dusk is the one time when most mistakes are made, its what i like to call the witching hour. Your senses are adapting to less light, feel & touch become heightened, your eyes stop seeing in colour & you switch to black/white vision. Foot placements are more suspect & your whole surroundings start to change.

Take your time, run at a slower pace. Let yourself adjust & stay vigilant. Remember that mistakes at night are harder to correct, the air is generally colder, and you will feel very different from the day. Fear might creep in, your mind can play tricks. Once fear is in there, adrenaline levels rise & confusion might ensue, but if you've taken the time to get comfortable in the dusk/dark, on regular runs, either down the park, on your local roads or trails, or even on the fells then the more you do it, the better you will feel & soon you'll be a regular night runner, realising there is really nothing to fear, once you have developed the necessary skills. 

Runners through the night on the Montane 100 at the Buttemere/MountainRun Checkpoint - Photo Credit: Barney Whiteside

Runners through the night on the Montane 100 at the Buttemere/MountainRun Checkpoint - Photo Credit: Barney Whiteside

Kit Recommendations:

MountainRun is sponsored by Montane, so we favour Montane kit, but there are lots of brands out there producing excellent kit for winter/night running.

Here are some essentials you will need to keep you safe when the dark night prevail.

  • Base Layers, essential for all running, but especially at night & winter. Check out these new British designed and made base layers from True Mountain
  • Primaloft Clothing, perfect for in your pack, when the conditions might deteriorate on your run. Montane make some of the lightest in the market place - Montane Primaloft
  • Waterproofs - Essential for all nighttime winter running - Montane Waterproofs
  • Windproofs - Perfect for cold, clear & windy nights around the town & on your local trails - True Mountain Wind Shells
  • Packs & Bumbags - Montane produce a great range of small or large running packs - Montane Packs & Bumbags
  • Hats & Gloves, essential for starting or during your run, never leave home without these - Montane Accessories
  • Hi-Vis sashes are necessary for road & towns, better to be seen than knocked over! - MoreMile Safety Gear
  • A head Torch is essential for nighttime running, make sure you have a high powered version, helps to see the ground well to stay safe - SupraBeam Head Torches
  • Foil blankets & survival bags - Adventure Medical Kits
  • Footwear - Make sure you get the best foot placement possible, we advise Inov8 - Inov8 Off Road Running Shoes
  • Book on a course - Better to get the skills from the experts before you head out into the fells if your really not sure of what you are doing. - MountainRun Winter MM Skills Day

Mountain Marathon Kit, post race - Photo Credit: MountainRun

Mountain Marathon kit, post race - Photo Credit: MountainRun

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