by Justin Stoeckel in Training Tips, image by Jeremy Brooks

Nobody Puts Running in the Corner

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Running does not always fit into a perfect schedule. We can’t always wake up at 5:30 am, spring out of bed and bitch slap eight miles. Nor do we always have time right after work or on weekends. And sometimes, hell, we just don’t feel like it. Our bodies are tired, our colon is a mess, there are Cheez-Its in the cupboard, and a Patrick Swayze marathon on TNT. We’ve all been there. Running does require commitment. But fluctuating a schedule does not spell doom for a running routine.

We need to stop being so rigid with our running routines

It sucks the fun out of running. We can’t always fit running into the daylight hours. We can’t always lay around moping because we don’t have time to run. Sometimes we need to stop watching Patrick Swayze and be Patrick Swayze. We need to be badass. We need to be flexible. We need to take a night run, damn it. Because nobody puts running in the corner. Nobody.

I am lucky enough to live in a town where I can leave my front door, pick any direction and set out through a zigzag of placid streets. This means that no matter what time it is, I am able to run. Not being braggadocios here. I haven’t always had this luxury. I lived in the backwoods of Southern Delaware for several years. I lived in metropolises (or is it metropoli?). I’ve lived in places where I think it was legal for cars to drive on the sidewalks. I’ve night-run all these environments. I find it revitalizing and calming. It breaks up Niles Crane-like training routines.

There are some rules for running at night

And I had to find out the hard way. Do not dress like a ninja. You want people to see you. Today’s running clothes and shoes are standardized with reflective trim. Wear brighter colors that are louder than you would normally wear in the day. Bust out that day-glo Pearl Jam concert tee and wear it if you need to. Run routes layered with streetlamps and sidewalks as much as you can and rock that day-glo like it’s 1996 .

It’s better to be seen looking silly than be dead looking mysterious.

For the country folk, the reflective garb is a must to help be seen, but we also need to see too. Enter the headlamp. Not talking about a heavy spelunker’s helmet. We are runners, not cavers. All we need is a lightweight, headband-style lamp with a 3 LED light. Don’t worry, you will look like a tool. Ordinary people do not wear headlamps on the daily. Then again, we are runners. We are not very ordinary.

Headlamps are easy to find at any major department store or outdoors mecca. They run about $10. Probably the cheapest running gear you’ll ever buy. The LED light spreads about six feet out and 3 feet wide. It’s plenty of light to light a path and keep you from stumbling. It’s also plenty of light to be seen from a distance. A bobbing, glowing white light on a pitch black road draws attention. Once I got used to looking like a tool, I started wearing my headlamp on town runs too. Safety is no accident. Remember, we are being Swayze. We want to be in the bright lights.

Country roads are my favorite to night-run. However, they come with the obvious dangers: rabid nocturnal fuzzy things, getting lost, 80mph Trans-Ams, falling into injury, Sasquatch babies…the list goes on. The danger list for running in the day time is also pretty long: rabid diurnal fuzzy things, 80mph Trans-Ams…it’s much the same, only the sun is up instead of the moon.

You should always know your route before you head out on a night-run. Drive it out. Run it three or four times in daylight first. Stick to a route you’ve done a hundred times and could do in your sleep. Trust me, it will be much more exciting at night. Don’t be dumb and try to be Bear Grylles. Even Bear pre-plans his adventures. Save hardy tempo, fartleks and PR runs for the daytime. Night-runs are perfect for easy, reflective sojourns. Leave the iPod at home. Reconnect with nature.

As in all runs, tell someone where you are going, how far, and when they should expect you back. Even it’s late, tell someone the day before, days before, leave that shit on Twitter of Facebook. Let your followers know you are planning a night-run and tell them the route. If you don’t tweet them the next day, they’ll at least know where to start their search. I always give about a 10 or 15 minute cushion on my return time to allow for ornery shoelaces or a poop in the woods.

The benefits of a night-run are monumental

Roads normally choked with pissed off drivers are now peacefully asleep. You’ll be surprised at how slowed down everything is, like the batteries of time have run low. Take this opportunity to sink into nature. We don’t get many chances to do this anymore. Concentrate on the symphony of a city asleep. Focus on the timber of your stride. It never fails to awe. I can feel a Zen-calm on these pillowy nights. It lingers well after the run. My mind skims along it all the next day. I’m airy and loose and Bill Burroughs lost on a runner’s nod.

If you haven’t done a night-run, plan to do it. Try 1 mile or 2 first. Try 5 minutes or 10. Add more miles and minutes as you grow more comfortable. The serenity that envelopes you recharges the batteries our days zap from us. It’s like Patrick Swayze said, “It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you.”

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