Running in the Dark

First, a couple of links for the runner-geeks, then some rumination on night running.

A nice tribute to George Sheehan, the greatest runner/philosopher on the Writer's Almanac. (Nov. 5, 2013)

And, an interesting interview of Anthony Famiglietti (Fam) on Roads, Mills, Laps.

I hope you enjoy those.

The fall time change means one thing for me -- running in the dark. It feels somewhat shameful to admit it, but I am not a morning runner. This is strange because I am generally a morning person. I wake up in a good mood, get to work, do my things. My mind is ready to go, but my body is generally tight and achy. So, unless I am doubling (and it's been a while since then), I run in the evenings.

So, tonight I was out there running at my normal evening hour, and because of the time change, it was dark. For me, it's this way from November through February -- three months of running in the dark. I don't mind this.

When you are running, you become sort of invisible to most people. You are out there on the streets in the most public space, but in a way that makes you a part of the scenery, part of the architecture of the city. We are so familiar that we become somewhat hidden from view and interchangeable with anything else -- just part of someone's commute.

This feeling of invisibility is a part of all running, and night running amplifies it. I have never been one for reflectors or headlamps. I know the reasons for these -- they help the cars see us. But let me ask something: why do we have to be seen? I can't see the people in those cars; why do they need to see me? I would rather not be seen.

Further, there always seems to me to be something hostile about headlights. It's that they are so, well, outwards, so intent on illuminating everything that is outside of them. Riding in a car, we feel invulnerable, and through this invulnerability our senses are muted. Those headlights blind us when we are out on the road; as runners we realize their effect on experience is eliminatory as much as illuminating. In order to produce the effect of control, headlights have to blot out as much of the night as possible.

Running, in general, is a sport of exposure. In running we are exposed -- to weather, to our bodies, to pain, to effort, to our limits, to each other. And at night, we are exposed to the dark. This exposure and vulnerability is one of the most positive things about running. It's what gets our senses up and makes us watch and see and react. The night acts like a stimulant -- my eyes see everything that can be seen; my ears hear more, the footfalls and breathing rhythms come out of the background; I become myself, and I hear myself. I experience myself.

Running in the dark can remind us of all the different shades with which experience is colored. We say that we are "in the dark" because the dark envelopes us. We swim in it, we float through it. It is different than day and light -- quieter, closer, subtler. And, once enveloped, we become more sensitive, more inward, narrowed down to a thin and vulnerable core.

At night, in the dark, we see less, we feel more.


  1. Great links Jeff. Running in the dark does seem to connect me more to the surroundings but man o man I need a reflective vest for safety from the rednecks in pick-ups and texting teens. Too many ditch dives in my history to run without that little helper.

  2. Excellent description of lightless running! I realized last year that I could actually "see" more with my headlamp off. Sure, I continue to carry a light so that cars see me when it matters and do not run me over. But, I definitely enjoy blending in and exercising my senses more when the sun is no longer out. Thanks for this post!

  3. "why do we have to be seen? I can't see the people in those cars; why do they need to see me?"

    It's not that they need to see you (as in see your face) but just see that somebody is there. You can't see the people's faces in the cars, but you can see the car coming because they have headlights on. That is the same reason why a runner would wear a headlamp: so the cars can see that somebody is there, not see their facial features (which I imagine they wouldn't be able to see anyways).

    1. Yes, I know that's the case, and it's probably dangerous and somewhat immature to run without a light. But still.

  4. i run the streets in the early morning darkness with no headlamp. guilty as charged.

    it's exhilirating as hell. sometimes it feels like i am chasing prey or carrying a car stereo. i don't hunt or steal so this running without a headlamp is the closest i can get to the rush.

  5. I run in the dark at this time of year, too, but I do it on the other end, before the sun comes up. I have to be home by 6:30 a.m. to get the kids up for school, and my husband, a night person, runs in the evening--so pre-dawn darkness it is for me. I also don't wear a headlamp or any reflective gear (though some of my jackets and my shoes have reflective bits on them), and I don't like to be seen either. A lot of people think women runners should light ourselves up like Christmas trees, but I don't really know why--why would I want predators/bad guys to see me better? And I feel like (scary as it is) if there's a predator out there who's going to get me, I'm not going to dissuade him with a headlamp. As for cars needing to see me, at that hour I can hear or see any car approaching a long way away--I can avoid them--they don't need to see me.

    I love running in the dark. I like how at 5 a.m. the next season's constellations are already on display for me (right now it's Orion and Canis Major, the winter ones). I like how the golf course is mine if I want to run there. I like the way everything is magnified, and how in my imagination I can run so fast no one can see me. There's still something thrilling about being out in the dark, some feeling leftover from childhood. It's not always easy to get out of bed, but it's always worth it.

  6. I don't run in the dark often, but when I do, I really love it. I feel like Batman, flying stealthily through the night. Running by moonlight is the best.

  7. Running at night always makes me feel FASTER!

  8. Speaking of night runs - I tried this event this year - had a great blast!

  9. I agree with this so much! I can see the cars, and more often than not I'd just as soon they not be able to see me. I do use a headlamp when running at night on trails though. Last time I was out running trails after dark without one, I missed a trail junction and ended up running a few "bonus miles!"


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