The onset of winter presents two challenges to runners: Running in the cold and running in the dark. I’d planned on addressing the cold first, but then the cold snap that hit New England departed with little fanfare, and I thought it might be odd to write about cold weather running when I’m hitting the road while wearing shorts. So darkness it is.
As I’ve noted before, I’m not a morning runner, so my “darkness running” occurs in the evening. That said, these tips apply to morning or evening runs, both of which are likely going to be in the dark until March. (Running at night is significantly easier than gardening at night, that's for sure.)
Be bright. Wear a headlamp and a vest. Little blinking lights are optional. (Where I live, there are enough streetlights that it's not pitch black, so I don't need them.) The more ridiculous you look, the better. That way, drivers can actually see you.
Stick to a well-known route. The routes I run in the dark are routes I've done dozens of times -- so much so that I know where to find the cracks in the sidewalk. This serves a dual purpose: You're not gonna get lost in the dark, and you're not gonna get hurt. (The headlamp shouldn't necessarily light your way -- it's more for oncoming traffic.)
Be safe. Run with a buddy. Avoid dodgy areas. Stick to well-lit roads. Cross the street when a) there are no cars coming and b) you are under a streetlight, in case a car manages to come out of nowhere.
Don't go crazy. Most of my nighttime runs aren't insane workouts. I save my long runs for daytime, for example, as well as my long tempo runs. But I'll do a short tempo run or fartlek workout in the dark, since there's much less chance of bonking.
Fuel appropriately. If you're running at a time when you usually eat dinner, you're obviously going to be hungry. Have a carb- and protein-rich snack an hour and a half or so before your run so you don't spend the duration of the workout listening to your stomach growl like an angry dog.
Tell folks where you're going. Let your spouse, roommates, parents or close friends know how long you're going to be gone and where, roughly, you plan to go. Granted, you should do this all the time, but your loved ones are going to worry about you more when you run in the dark, no matter how garishly bright your gear.
Running in the dark doesn't have to be difficult -- or, for that matter, different. A little bit of advanced preparation and scheduling will go a long ay.