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So now we have moved beyond the hot humid weather it has become cooler and unfortunately with the cooler weather comes winter and…darker evenings. But don’t let that put you off your training. Sure it can be a bit strange at first, but the darker evenings or early mornings don’t have to limit your training over winter. In fact, there can be something quite special about a cool crisp sky and running with your dog.

But what if I don’t like the dark?

It’s totally fine to not feel comfortable in the dark, so if that is the case, then you can meet up with a friend to run together. By having a friend there, it can help with the silent moments and worry about being completely alone. Of course, some people can feel totally happy running alone in the dark, so if that’s you then the following are a few top tips to help make it enjoyable and safe.

Before you go.

Before you head off to run – select a trail and location that you are totally familiar with. The dark is not a time to go exploring off-piste. Decide a time and day to go and agree with your friend where and when you will meet. If you are planning to go alone, then let someone know where you are going, for how long and when you will be heading back. A good rule of thumb is to consider how long it takes to get there, how long you intend to run for and then how long you need before you are in a mobile friendly zone. So if your journey is normally 30 minutes, your run is around 40 minutes and you can text as soon as you are done, I personally would allow 1hr 45.. if my contact hasn’t heard from me by then, they are to phone me. Make sure you have enough fuel to get you there and back comfortably and have a spare coat / change of clothes in the car in case of break down in the dark.

Safety first!

It sounds very cliché, but think of everything that could go wrong and plan as much as you can. That means carrying or having items from the following kit list. It is great to have it all and not need it, but as a general rule of thumb, try to have at least the top 4 items for a night time run.

- Hi vis clothing or very bright clothing – remember that dark clothing isn’t as easy to see and a brighter colour in the dark is easier to spot, especially if you fall and need to be recovered.

- Headtorch with spare batteries if you have them.

- Mobile phone.

- Chest light / rear light.

- Canine light for harness – not a little tag that flashes, but a proper dog visibility light.

- Reflective spray for harnesses – you can buy similar for equine kit and could spray your harness with vis spray.

Choosing a trail.

Choosing a trail can be a bit daunting, but the reality is, for the night time and darker runs, you need to select a run on a trail that you know really well. At night, turns and trails can look very different to daytime and markers you would normally refer to look totally different under torch light. So initially stick to wide clear trails which you know very well. It might feel boring, but more importantly it’s safer.

TOP TIP: If you have a GPS tracker watch you can programme a route to follow on your watch to ensure you don’t go wrong. Or you can use the GPS feature on your phone to navigate if you become unsure.

What about the dog?

The dog may feel a variety of things on your night-time run…they will certainly pick up on your nervousness and reactions to other sounds in the forest, so if you are a bit unsure then definitely meet with a friend. Some dogs aren’t keen on the darkness, so having a simple easy to follow trail that they have run before can help.

Sounds in the forest travel really far at night because there is much less daytime ‘white noise’. While out in the forest you will encounter owls, foxes, deer and other ground dwelling wildlife. Nearly all of these will avoid you, but your dog may smell them or hear them off the trail. Don’t let it put you off, seeing an owl in full flight can be a beautiful thing!

In winter, the deer will have a rutting season. If you don’t know what this is, then basically all the young bucks put on their best parfum and hit the forest looking for ladies..think Love Island when it’s recoupling time! Male deer can be quite assertive, so as long as you stick to the main trails and fire road type terrain, you are less likely to bump into them.

Some dogs might get super excited on the run as the forest feels a bit more ‘alive’ than in the daytime, so be aware that your dog might be a bit giddy or hyped compared to normal.

What makes a good headtorch?

When you are buying a headtorch, have a look at the outdoor shops and mountain shops. You want to look at the ‘lumen’ count for your torch. The higher the lumen count, the brighter the light. But with the higher lumen, comes a lower battery life. So while it might be great to have a super bright torch, you may compromise battery life.

Rechargeable lights are great – as long as you recharge them…the only problem is that if it dies on the run, you are without a torch.

A headtorch needs to be comfortable on your head while running – too loose and it will drop up and down onto your face, but too tight and you’ll get a headache!

Some people prefer chest lights, which are great and can also mean that if you are with a friend, you wont blind them when talking to each other.

Trail etiquette

When running on the trial at night, it is best to either run buddy style (side by side or slightly staggered) or single file. Try to avoid passing and more technical stuff unless you are confident your dog is bomb proof. Bomb proof dogs are the perfect dog who is 100% reliable and readable every run. They don’t interact at all with other dogs, don’t react and don’t try to initiate play. If another dog jumps at them, they don’t react. The reason we suggest this is because of the heightened sensitivity that some dogs feel at night when running.

A good rule of thumb when running at night is to do ‘the boring runs’. These should be simple and uneventful runs on ‘boring’ trail. The more you do the ‘boring’ run, the more reliable your dog will become. Over time, you can start to add in some slightly more technical terrain as your confidence and that of your dog increases.

At night time – the ground can be harder and more slippery than in the daytime, especially as winter starts to kick in, so choose trails which are comfortable and easy to navigate. A little drizzle and overnight freeze can create sheet ice….not only can it be dangerous for you, but you could also injure your dog.

And finally

Don’t be frightened of the dark. Meet a friend and run together. Stop and enjoy the beautiful sky at night and remember – tell someone where you are going and for how long and then let them know when you are done.

Enjoy your run!

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