Hi all,  I’m Stephanie and I’m new to The Run Commuter community, but I’m already hooked! I wanted to share my thoughts about night safety, since nothing has been blogged on the topic yet.

The shorter daylight hours of the winter months forces many runners onto the streets, sidewalks, and maybe even a bit of trails during non-daylight hours. This adds extra elements to runner safety. Vehicles have a harder time seeing you and the runner may have a harder time seeing potential dangers. This blog post is to give everyone a few ideas as to how to mentally and physically gear-up for these extra concerns. My expertise is admittedly limited. I am a scientist by profession, a running hobbyist, and luckily have no real-life experience with “unknown dangers.” However, I am my father’s daughter, so I’m a worry-wart who is constantly thinking of my safety. My love of running outdoors, loathing of treadmills, boredom of lunchtime runs, and horror at losing my running skills over the winter makes me conquer my fears and run in the dark. Sometimes I run both to and from work in the dark or dusk-ish light depending on celestial positioning and my work schedule. Below I describe the gear I carry and the things I do to stay safe out there. This is not meant to be a product placement blog, but more of a, “Here’s what I bought that seems to work. Anyone know anything better?” So comment, correct, or suggest your experiences too.

Lights. For cars, trucks, and buses to see you, you must be visible. Lights on your person and backpack are critical for pedestrian safety. You won’t look cool, or get a date wearing blinking lights and a headlamp, but the alternative is less fun. In these winter months, I wear a headlamp when it’s getting dark or already is, and three blinky lights turned on at all times. One blue light blinks at my front and two red on the back of my pack. The red lights are Road ID Fireflys and the blue light is a cheap free light that my boyfriend gave me. I think it was swag from a bike event, he’s a cyclist/bike commuter. The headlamp I wear is an LED Black Diamond Gizmo, which I picked up from the REI clearance bin. It’s lightweight, casts a great swath of light in front and has a blinking setting. I use the blinking setting when there’s enough light in an area for me to see where my feet are landing, but I still am unsure if vehicles see me.

note the two red lights, center and bottom.

note the blue light.  we were lucky the camera caught the blink!

Reflective gear, it never needs batteries. Another way to stay visible at night is by using reflective anything and everything. Backpacks sometimes have reflective trim (see this TRC post) and lots of running clothes do, too. I currently seek out clothing that has reflective accents. One of my favorite running pants is the Nike Element Shield Running Tights. They are black (slimming!), but they have reflective swooshes and back ankle zippers. One of my favorite jackets is also reflective and bright colored; it’s the oiselle Burke Jacket. This jacket is comfortable and easily seen, but the reflective material on the zipper is rubbing off, so I would probably not purchase it again. Additionally, I’ve added old reflective ankle straps that I had lying around to my backpack. Better on the pack than in my drawer at home. Road ID also sells reflective strips. I haven’t tried them, but I think they could transition any clothing into reflective. I have also seen people running in yellow reflective vests. They are available from almost any sporting goods store, can be pretty inexpensive, and fit over any outfit. Now, if you have endless amounts of cash, my dream gear is the Nike Vapor FLASH! I’ve seen this jacket at a running shop and tried it on. It costs $350, so it is out of my price range. It didn’t feel that comfortably breathable, so I shouldn’t want it. But check out the reflect-ability, the whole jacket glows! My runner’s heart goes pitter-patter for that jacket.

note the orange and white reflective straps on the upper-

sides of the pack and again the red light on the back.

Stop at every intersection. Boring and tedious, yes. Properly cautious, probably. I stop at every intersection even if I have the walking light is shining my way. While running, I’m neither graceful nor coordinated enough to know what is behind me or at my sides at all times, and we’ve all see those cars driving with their headlights off. I look back and to the sides, but sometimes I just don’t see what’s there. Maybe I’ve zoned out, turned my head too quickly, or the bouncing of running skews my vision. No matter the reason, I now stop at every intersection to see if a car is coming. Today I stopped at a seemingly clear intersection only to find a car hidden behind shrubs whizzing around the corner. Thankfully, I was safe on the sidewalk and did not have to jump out of the way.

Use crosswalks. Crosswalks are usually accompanied by big white stripes on the road, reflective signs, and, if you’re lucky, lights! Use these extra accessories to your advantage and let them help drivers see you.

I wear a whistle. Yes, a headlamp and a whistle. The whistle is useful for a few things, scaring off wildlife and calling for help if you find yourself breathless and in need of a loud, attention-grabbing noise. Wake up the neighbors! Whether it’s a loose dog, deer in the pathway, or another need for assistance, a whistle can help. Many backpacks have whistles in the chest strap clip, which is useful and inconspicuous. Alternatively, wildlife whistles are available at outdoor stores and classic gym-class whistles can be found at any sports store.

Route choice is important. Find commuting routes that are well-lit and well-traveled. I see blinky bike commuters on my routes every day, so I know I’m not the only person traveling each morning. Just yesterday I discovered an alternate road that allows me to go around a stretch of unlit paved walkway. Additionally, I routinely keep an eye on area crime maps. If a rash of crime is ongoing in an area, avoid it. Due to a flexible work schedule, I can change up my running time and route. Sometimes I take the short route, others the long route. Times vary between 5:30 – 7 am, and a similar flexibility occurs in the evening. I think doing this can help a runner stay off of a lazy perp’s radar. If a people don’t know when, or if, you’ll come by, they may be less likely to wait for you and your blinky lights and backpack. In addition, varying routes keeps running interesting!

Lastly, night safety is not only a human concern, readers. My boyfriend and I have outfitted our dog with lights and night safety gear, too. He’s black and also a runner. Pluto is my favorite running partner, but if he gets off-leash at night, his simple mind and fast legs could take him straight to the road, so we gear him up! If my legs have anything left after commuting home, Pluto and I go out for a few miles. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean he can let go of his running skills. To complete the safe family theme, my cat has a reflective collar, too. Meeoww.

Pluto and I all geared up in our reflective gear.

(he looks so serious in this photo)

Well, those are my safety musings. As my father always says, “Stephanie, your safety is your responsibility.” Have fun and run safe out there commuters!