Running in the Dark: Watch Out For the Mean Lady Who May Not be Watching Out for You
I live in Northeast Ohio, which is not the most runner-friendly region during the winter. When I have had to account for my work and commuting schedules, coupled with the dreaded clock “fallback” that we incur every autumn, the vast majority of my winter training miles are logged in the dark. Admittedly, I do enjoy this when I get to see houses decorated and all aglow for Christmas, but that still leaves me with several long, dark months of winter training.
I do not have access to a lighted running trail, so I am left to run on the roads, many of which are not as well-lit as they could – or should – be. As a result, I have grown particularly aware of the need to make myself visible to motorists. OK, I am actually super paranoid and proactive about not getting hit by a car while running in the dark, I have this crazy assumption that it would ruin my day.
Already this winter I have encountered several ninja dog walkers while running and driving in my town (if you do not know what I am talking about, check out our CR’isms page). I cannot understand why people would go out at night dressed in a manner that puts them at risk of not being seen by drivers.
A few winters ago, my stepfather was pulling into my driveway one evening just as I was coming down the sidewalk, finishing up my run. He told me that he did not see me at all, and this was despite the fact that I was wearing a neon-yellow hoodie. This forced me to re-think my running wardrobe in order to make myself even more noticeable. Over the last 3 years I have played around with different combinations of options to increase my visibility to others while running in the dark and to adapt to varying winter weather conditions – cold, snow, more cold, rain, sleet, even more cold, ice, and polar vortex cold. Given how much we Casual Runners emphasize safety, this winter the CR Team will be exploring options for increasing runner safety and discussing what we have found to work well, and what did not work quite so well. I even included some flashy light things in my Casual Runner Christmas List this year. But I did want to share one quick story with you, one that reminds us that we always have to be on the lookout for drivers when we are out running, especially at night.
One evening I was out on one of my training runs on a residential street in my town. This being an older neighborhood, it was not particularly well-lit, but it also has very little vehicular traffic. I was running against traffic (as I always do), and a large SUV slowed down and started pacing me on the far side of the street. I turned and removed my ear buds, assuming the driver was going to ask for directions as has happened many times during my runs. Instead, I was greeted with an inexplicable verbal assault.
The driver was a small woman who could barely see over the steering wheel of the massive SUV (seriously, no exaggeration). She yelled out her open window to me: “You really should make yourself more visible!” Assuming that she was joking and perhaps she mistook me for a friend of hers, I forced a confused laugh and said “Yup, I know, right?” To this she scolded me more severely: “You are running in the dark, I couldn’t see you. If you get hit by a car it is YOUR FAULT.”
I was stunned. She was serious? Really? Bear in mind, while it was dark at the time, I was wearing a red jacket with a contrasting purpose-built neon yellow running vest with reflective panels (I checked, this vest would qualify as acceptable under the standards set by the Ragnar Relays), reflective piping on my pants and running shoes, and, wait for it…not one, but two neon-blue flashing LED light strobes. Did I mention that I was running on the opposite side of the road as this woman, there were no other cars, and she had plenty of opportunity to see me as the speed limit was only 25 mph?
I truly can offer no explanation for this encounter or what the driver did or did not see as she strained to see over the steering wheel of the massive SUV. The takeaway, however, is simple: no matter how visible you think you are while running at night, you can never be too careful. So, consider your choice of running attire wisely. Make sure you have a combination of reflective panels and lights. Even, then, you may not be visible enough for everyone, so be safe out there.
The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. Have you had any strange encounters while running in the dark? Do you have any tips or gear recommendations that you want to share with your fellow Casual Runners? Please leave a comment or email us using the links below. To ensure that you do not miss this and other great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. See you out on the running trails!