How running in the dark improved my confidence

Running for beginners: “How running in the dark boosted my confidence”

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Women have never been more aware of their own safety, but should ‘staying safe’ force us to run only in daylight hours? Writer Ellie Wrecker argues in favour of nighttime running and standing up against fear.  

There’s a well-known saying about running: if you set off out the house and run, you’re a runner. No matter how fast or how slow, whether you’ve got Strava, Fitbit, a Garmin watch or just a bottle of water – if you’re doing it, you’re doing it.

But what that saying doesn’t account for is the fact that as a woman wanting to run, you’ve got to address several safety concerns. Are your shorts ‘too short’ or your top ‘too tight’? Are you going to be safe if you plug into your earphones? Is there a means of escape if you choose to run through that park or field, or is the pavement a safer bet? 

As a woman, it’s impossible to ignore the dangers we face on our streets. To avoid danger, we wear bright clothing, let friends know where we are, and run down busy streets.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve always loved running. That feeling of pushing myself a little bit harder, of building strength, stamina and speed is unbeatable. I’ve run around the tiny countryside village where I grew up; the London suburb I moved away to; the towns along the south east coast in which I spent my 20s.

One key factor that unites all of these runs, however, is the fact that they were always done during daylight. According to Runners World, 60% of women have been harassed exercising alone and 80% of women say safety fears influence where and when they run. It’s baffling that a woman exercising should be such a target but it only takes one comment to make someone feel less entitled to take up space on the road.

It’s for that reason too, that I never ran in the dark. If I couldn’t squeeze in a session before sundown, I’d head to the gym for a go on a treadmill – staring out of the window and desperately wanting to be outside rather than trapped indoors. This year, post-lockdown, I decided to make that happen.

Transitioning from daytime to night running

The pandemic heralded significant change in my life; I moved to Sheffield (known as the city of seven hills). After months of going from working from my sofa to the gym and back again, I felt sluggish and disconnected from real life. I wasn’t meeting anyone new. I wasn’t in an office and maybe never would be again. I wanted to be outside, exploring the vibrant place I called home.

In March, I picked a route that I knew was well-lit and populated through the city centre. For me, this was a big undertaking in itself – I’m not athletic-looking” person so I was worried about running past pubs, bars and shops in a pair of shorts and a vest. 

But it was a comfort that if I ever felt in danger, there were plenty of people around and I could find help. I also told my flat mates exactly where I was going, how long my route would take and when to expect me back. And I used a GPS tracking app with a planned in path too, so there was a record of exactly where I was. Once I got going, I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing.

Exploring the city after dark is freeing

Running through the summer was obviously easier, with longer days and more people around doing the same thing as I was, but as late August and September rolled around again, I knew that I wasn’t going to stop my evening jog. Despite the growing dusk, I carried on running.

Taking different routes through the city made me fall in love with it again. Sticking my earphones in after a long day at work and running right up to the highest point in the city where you can look over the valley… there really is no serotonin boost like it. I know the city better now than I ever have before, from the best lit routes to shops that are open late and from Nether Edge in the north part of Sheffield to Hillsborough right down in the south.

Improving self-confidence despite the challenges

To me, there’s something about the night air that feels like you’re moving faster: it’s crisper and I never felt as powerful as when I’ve got up to the 5k mark and can start walking back to my flat.

Running in the dark has done wonders for my self esteem. My body image doesn’t matter when I’m out there moving and improving. I feel more confident and at peace when I get home.

There’s no point in making out that running in the dark doesn’t have it’s very real problems. There has been the odd incident where I’ve felt intimidated: cars still beep and people shout things. On one run, someone threw a bottle of water over me from a car window and there’s no way that I’d ever run through the woods on my own which I love doing in the daytime. But each time I put my trainers on and start warming up again, I feel powerful because I’m getting out there and back at it.

Of course, I understand that this is a luxury and I still take all the precautions. My music is always turned low, I always let people know where I am and I always run well-known routes. I know that plenty of my friends can’t do the same because of where they live or their own situations, but for as long as it makes me feel powerful, calm and in control, I’m going to carry on jogging in the evenings, as everyone should feel entitled to do. 

How to run safe at night

Wear bright clothes: runners who wear all black are asking for traffic trouble. Wear your brightest outer layers and if you can, go for things that have reflective material. Proviz is the brand for 100% reflective running and cycling gear.

Tell people where you’re going: if you live with someone, let them know where you’re going and how long you intend to run for. If you live alone, is there a group chat you can use or a family member you can regularly check in with?

Stick to the streets: well-lit areas are better than dark for obvious reasons. If you don’t have to chomp across a dark common or patch of woodlands, don’t.

Think about joining a group: if you want to get into running at night but aren’t sure where to start, there are running groups all around the country who organise post-work outings. You’ll get to know your area better and meet people who share a common interest.

Keep music down: purely from a traffic perspective, not being able to hear noise around you isn’t a good idea, especially when visibility is low. Listen to podcasts and music by all means but sound cancelling headphones are best left at home.

Want to become a stronger runner? Join our four-week Strength Training for Runners programme today.

Images: Getty

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