Coach Mike Mead

Running on the Dark Side - October 2003

You’ve probably noticed in the past few weeks that there is less and less daylight during the early mornings and evenings, particularly if you are out running at these times. As the days grow shorter, you need to take some precautions if you run in the dark or you could shorten your own life.

I’ve been battling my runners here at Clayton State over the last few years about running when it’s dark, whether it is in the early morning or late at night. A few years back I purchased about a half dozen reflective vests for my runners to wear when it’s dark, but most have been resistant. They appear to fear the “fashion police” over our campus police who have issued them warnings in the past. I recently bought a few safety lights that have been more acceptable, but I don’t think solves the problem.

The only advantage to night running is the somewhat cooler temperatures during the summer. As we approach fall and winter, daylight becomes a premium and it seems many of us end up running more and more on the dark side. Runners don’t realize how vulnerable they are running under the cover of darkness. The metro Atlanta area has not been a great place to be the last few years if you’re a pedestrian. We’ve seen the bad drivers out on the interstates and roadways. Why risk becoming a statistic?

I think back at the years when I use to run at 6:30 a.m. during the winter out in the country -- sometimes in knee-deep snow -- and think how stupid I was not wearing reflective material or some sort of light. I’ve known some runners who run in the dark dressed like Ninjas decked out in black. I think of some of the “near-misses” I have with autos over the years and most of those happened in daylight. A couple of weeks ago I was running with my Nike reflective vest and safety light in a quiet, residential neighborhood of Morrow, Ga. I approached a four-way stop under a well-lit streetlight and was nearly run over by a van!

I think a lot of runners tend to be introverted. They tend to be low-key and don’t want to stand out in a crowd. But if you’re running in the dark, runners need to tap into their extroverted state and standout or become road kill!

Light-colored clothes don’t cut it either. I’ve almost run over pedestrians myself who were able to see me, but I was unable to see them in their white T-shirt along a darkened street. A coaching colleague of mine had two of his runners hit by a car two years ago. Evidently the driver was distracted by the breakfast he was eating while driving. How does a runner know if the approaching car’s driver can see them or is even paying attention?

I’m a big believer in reflective vests after seeing first-hand how effective they are in making you visible in the dark. Three summers ago I ran in the Hood-to-Coast Relays. We were all required to wear reflective vests and carry lights when it was dark. My first leg was run at about 11 p.m. at night out in the middle of the western Oregon countryside. Warming up before my first leg, it was pitch black. It was so dark, I ran past two runners who I didn’t see, only heard them as they passed. During that leg, I was running down a long stretch of country road – I guess it was in the country since it was dark and I couldn’t see much! Occasionally a car would approach from behind and miraculously the runners in front of me were easily illuminated by their vests. This allowed me to throw in surges to catch many of the folks in front of me.

Reflective vests work! So do other types of clothing with reflective properties. If you do not own a vest or reflective wear, you need to add it to your wardrobe if you plan to run when it’s dark. You should also wear a safety light that blinks or flashes and carry a flashlight. Recently one morning I was out running. An approaching car made it difficult to see. Just before it passed me, I stumbled over a tree branch that laid unseen in the darkness along side the road. Had I carried my flashlight that morning and had it on I probably would have spotted the branch. Worse yet, had the branch been bigger, I possibly could have stumbled into the path of the auto and became its new hood ornament.

One accessory that should be avoided, whether day or night, is headsets. I’ve observed many folks running with these and they’re leaving themselves vulnerable. The only safe place to run with headsets is on a track. Otherwise, you’re putting yourself in harms way wearing these. Either you will not hear the car that might run you over, or the creep who is about to attack you!

So please be smart and be seen when you run in the dark by wearing reflective material. Otherwise, you might bring new meaning to the phrase, “when things go bump in the night.” Life’s too short to become a human speed bump!