Tips for the Trail – Running in the Dark – Xterra – 2-18-2011

By Rachel Cieslewicz

published in Xterra 2/18/2011

Rachel CieslewiczWinter seasons can bring periods of time where many hours of the day are dark.  This can be an obstacle for many. But as with anything, it can be a fun and fulfilling adventure with the right attitude, perspective and proper preparation.

Dark adventures, at least in the beginning, are the most fun with a posse of friends.  This helps with motivation.  For me, sometimes the hardest part is just getting out the door when it is freezing cold and pitch-black out. Being in the dark with others is also typically safer. There are more eyes to notice obstacles and directions no matter where you go. And on a road, cars are more likely to see a group of runners in the dark.

There’s also the benefit of camaraderie. It is an amazing thing to be running in the dark and laughing hysterically at jokes and stories that any other time wouldn’t be remotely funny.  I don’t know if this is due to heightened senses or just happy people distracting themselves in typically less than ideal situations.

Special gear for the dark is always a good idea. If you are on a trail, even if you can navigate it with your eyes closed, it is a good idea to have someone with you. Things look different in the dark.  Wear reflective material. Dress in layers. If you are on the road or a short trail you know, perhaps you don’t need nutrition. But if you plan on your run lasting over an hour, or if you are even slightly unsure of where you are going, bring fuel just in case.

Things that go bump in the night are not good for running!  Bring a light. Luckily for us, these days there are options outside of Maglites.  There are many hands-free “running” lights on the market.  One of my favorites is a headlamp you can wear around the waist.  This way the light turns everywhere your body does. If the headlamp strap is too small, try retrofitting it to an old heart-rate monitor strap or race number belt. This will also benefit your friend(s), who won’t get blinded every time you look at them, as they would if you had it on your head.  It is a nice way to keep them coming back for the next night run!

Another good idea for night runs is to stay in areas with cell service. Carry a phone with you in a plastic Ziploc or other protective bag just in case you need a bail-out plan.

As with running in icy conditions, dark is a time when going as fast as you can isn’t necessarily the best idea. But it is still a fabulous opportunity to practice form. Quick light feet, staying over your center of mass, and having a focus of what is around you are all crucial for trail running. If you maintain form while running in the dark, the unseen potholes, surprise ice rinks or slush puddles become just another part of the fun. This is due to the fact that short, quick steps and core strength maintained by staying over your COM allow you to always be on your way to the other foot instead of hitting the ground as a longer, slower reacting gait would create.  This is going to be a great tool for summer races that begin in the dark as well. You will be the pro dark runner!

One more benefit to running in the dark? You get a little ego boost knowing you are out there having the best time ever, while developing strength of mind, body and spirit, instead of sitting home worrying about how you are going to fit your run in.

Rachel Cieslewicz is an elite runner and triathlete based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She placed fifth at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in December at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii. She is a talented sports massage therapist, Pilates and yoga instructor and is a certified running form coach. She can be reached at rcanyon1@gmail.com  or visit her website atwww.newageathlete.com or follow her on www.twitter.com/newageathlete