Running Without The Sun – Motivation and Safety tips to Run in the Dark and Cold
Finding motivation to run in the dark, cold and wet months can be downright impossible. Rarely is it fun. You can buy all sorts of expensive gear, but running in these conditions poses two significant problems.
For starters, the sun impacts our motivation. It influences our circadian rhythms, which is tied to energy levels, as the sun is an overall mood booster. It makes us happy! Seasonal affective disorder is tied to a reduction in sunlight. Even if you’re not overly impacted by this, without available sunlight to light our path, you may not feel safe enough to run your best.
That’s hard when it lasts for months on end.
I have always preferred to run first thing in the morning. Starting the day with a good workout helps me feel more productive, and motivated to tackle whatever is next. Running with little to no sunlight has become part of my routine.
You could simply run in the middle of the day during these cold dark months. The sun is out and the air is as warm as it’s likely to be. Studies have shown activity in the middle of the day boosts productivity. Unfortunately, for most of us this isn’t an option. That mid-day shower poses a logistical nightmare.
So, that leaves you to run in the dark morning, or equally dark evening (there’s always the treadmill too). I’ve fought this battle for years, and while it’s never easy, I have found the following few things to be extremely helpful when it comes to staying motivated and safe when running without the sun. Some of this is repetitive, but this time of year, it’s a helpful reminder.
Make a Plan the Night Before
When my alarm goes off at 5:00 am, my brain isn’t able to make good decisions. The more decisions I make the night before, the fewer excuses I have for not running. The same goes for an evening run. If you come home from work with a plan for your run, you will be more likely to complete it.
This includes laying out exactly what I am going to need on the run (clothes, shoes, watch, gu, hats, etc) planning the route, charging GPS, etc. It is so simple, but it would seem that if I leave even one of these steps out, my lizard brain takes over and I find an excuse to cut the run short, or delay it to the evening. Nines times out of 10, I abandon it all together.
I can’t tell you how powerful these small acts are for getting our the door in the morning. It may seem overly simplistic, but it works!
Find an ‘Accountability’ Partner to ‘Run’ With
This can provide motivation year round, but if you plan to run in the dark with a friend or group, you’re more likely to show up. An extrinsic motivation like this can help us follow through because we don’t want to be a disappointment to others.
If you don’t live close enough to anyone to make this an easy option, create another form of accountability. When my cousin was getting into running, I had her text me every morning before and after her run. There was something about that small action that pushed her out the door. It was easier, and less disappointing to simply go for the run than to tell me she failed.
Nobody wants to start the day as a failure. Find friends on Strava, or another social sharing site and stay active when it’s dark and cold.
Feel Safe, Run Faster… Probably
I’ve heard many people cite not feeling safe as a reason not to run in the dark. Be that from cars or creepers in the bushes. Whatever the reason, you NEED to feel safe when you are running. This is where the buddy system comes in handy, and also make sure somebody knows the route you’re planning to run. Try a Live Tracking feature that Garmin has with some of their Edge and Forerunner products.
Here are a few specific things that will help you feel safe (or at least safer) when you need to run without the sun. As a male, I do not think I will ever be able to fully understand this safety thing. The Right Fits has a few more options: pepper spray and a whistle may also help.
Head Lamp – When I run in the dark, I often wear the same headlamp I use for backpacking (and getting Christmas decorations out of the attic). This model from Black Diamond is super light weight, crazy bright and doesn’t move around at all on my head. I wear it with a headband since hats aren’t compatible. This is easier to me than holding something in my hands.
Vests – When I wear this vest from Tuvizo, I feel more confidence to run in the dark. It won’t win any fashion awards, but is it highly adjustable and highly reflective. For $15, you can’t make an argument for NOT wearing one. Add these $7 blinky red lights for even more alertness. If you have an extra $500 you don’t know what to do with, the Nike Flash jacket is crazy reflective. After your run, head to MSP to help land airplanes with it.
Be Alert – No matter how in the wrong a motorist or cyclist is, it is your responsibility to stay alert and watch for all manner of traffic coming your way. More often than not, I simply run on side streets, or in areas with little to no traffic. When you read about runners getting hit by cars, it should remind us to stay hyper aware of our surroundings.
How Do You Run Without The Sun?
Running without the Sun, is no easy feat. What tricks have you found to stay motivated and safe to run in the dark when it is wet and cold?