It can be challenging to stick to your workout routine during the winter months, especially if you love to run or ride a bike outdoors. When the temperatures drop, it takes extra motivation to get outdoors and face the chilly winds. Plus, there are fewer hours of daylight, so there’s a good chance you’ll still be on the road or the trail after the sun goes down.
But, you don’t have to let the winter season freeze your efforts to run or cycle. When it turns dark, you can still enjoy an invigorating ride or run if you take a few safety precautions. To help you stay active after dark, we’ve put together seven helpful tips.
1. Seek Familiar Ground
While sticking to the same route over and over can get monotonous, it’s a good idea to run or bike a familiar path at night. This will give you one less thing to worry about since you will have a general idea of the terrain and the hazards involved before you start. Nighttime is not the time to take off on that new trail you’ve been waiting to try. When you have a general idea of the obstacles you’ll encounter, you have more confidence, and you can maintain your focus more efficiently, which makes you safer.
Also, it’s also a good idea to avoid areas you know are potential problems for speeding, drunk driving, and theft.
2. Choose a Well-lit, Lightly Traveled Route
When running or biking at night, safety is paramount. One of the simplest ways to keep yourself safe is to use a path or street with ample lighting. It will help you see what’s going on around you and enable others to see you. Even a few street lights will make a significant difference in visibility. However, it’s never safe to assume that drivers can see you, even on a well-lit road, and you should always be very cautious.
While it’s important to think about vehicle traffic, you should also consider the fact that some animals hunt for food at night, and you could run into a critter digging in the trash or crossing a road. A startled raccoon or possum may pose an unexpected obstacle to an otherwise uneventful ride or run, so stay alert.
3. Wear Bright Clothing
Don’t shy away from wearing that neon-green shirt you got from the ‘80s-themed 5k last summer. A nighttime excursion is a perfect time to wear it. When you’re out at night, you should make yourself as visible as possible.
Make sure you’re wearing clothing and accessories with materials that will reflect car headlights. You’ll find numerous types of reflective tape and clothing on the market. It’s also a good idea to wear a flashing light or two because you cannot be too visible. And remember to use a red light for your back and white light for your front to let others know if you’re coming or going.
4. Leave the Earbuds at Home
Even if you loathe the idea of running or riding without the playlist you spent hours compiling, it’s best to keep your ears unplugged at night. In the dark you’re already dealing with diminished sight, so you’re putting yourself at higher risk by hindering one of your other senses.
Instead, focus on your breathing pattern and find what’s comfortable. The music you listen to will influence your pace, and you may find it easier to keep a steady flow without it.
5. Give Your Eyes Time to Adjust
It takes your eyes about 30 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness. While you don’t need to stand outside in the dark for half an hour, it would be wise to give your eyes time to adapt. Don’t go from a brightly-lit home into a poorly-lit street. A quick 10-minute warm-up outside will work. Before you run or ride, turn on your headlamp, strobes, or other lights so your eyes will adjust to those as well.
6. Outfit Your Bike with Two Lights
Instead of placing just one headlight or taillight on your bike, go ahead and double up. That way, if one goes out, you’re still safely lit. Also, make sure the lights are bright. Alabama law at a minimum requires people who ride at night to have a white-light headlight with a range of 500 feet and a red reflector that can be seen from 600 feet away. Another sometimes overlooked safety feature for a night ride is a mirror. It will not only add an extra reflective element, but it will also allow you to see cars approaching quickly from behind, so you’ll have time to get off the road.
For your run, wear a flashing head or chest light. While it’s illegal for cyclists to use the sidewalk, people running at night would be wise to take advantage of a path that allows you to avoid vehicle traffic.
7. Be Weather Aware
At night it’s even more important to be aware of potential weather hazards. Have a plan if any precipitation starts to fall, especially if you’re on the road late enough where stores are closed, and there are fewer opportunities to take shelter.
Written by Hap Pruitt for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.