Remember those gloriously long days of summer? When daylight was in abundance and you could grab some outdoor exercise morning, noon or night? Well those days are long gone, replaced by the ridiculously short days of winter when the only time you can catch some daylight for an outdoor workout is when you sneak in a walk at lunch.
So does the lack of daylight mean you should skip the sweat session and park it on the sofa? Not at all. You can still get a workout, even if it's dark outside; you just need to take a few extra precautions. I recently asked some Facebook runner and triathlete friends what they do to stay safe. Here are their best tips:
Choose your routes carefully. Want to check out a new running route or bike path? Save your exploring for the carefree days of summer. When it's dark outside, stick to familiar, well-lit routes. It will keep you safe from big dangers such as unsavory characters and smaller ones like potholes or speed bumps. Walker Andrew Clarke sticks to the outdoor parking lot at his local mall for evening workouts — it's lit and plowed well and makes a safe area for exercising.
Light up. If you've got the cash, invest in workout gear that's reflective or lights up. These days, you can find everything from winter beanies to running shoes that blink, flash or glow in the dark. If new gear isn't in your budget, carry a $2 flashlight, use the light from your smartphone, or stick some reflective tape on your shirt. If you plan to cycle in the dark, make sure you have a white light attached to the front of your bike and a red light (preferably blinking) shining behind you.
Stay tuned. "Be a swivel head," says runner Deni Squared. Keep your eyes open and alert to look for things that can trip you up. Stay aware of your surroundings so you don't inadvertently find yourself in a dangerous situation. And leave the headphones at home. You may like to zone out to your favorite podcast when you work out during the day, but when it's dark outside, you need to compensate for the lack of visual information by making sure you can hear dangers that you might not be able to see.
A dedicated bike or running path is your safest route for exercising at night. (Photo: Andrew Errington/Getty Images)
Go with the flow. If you're cycling at night or anytime it's dark, you need to ride in the same direction as traffic. But runners and walkers move in the opposite direction — facing traffic — so they can see and react quickly to cars headed their way.
Stay in touch. In an ideal world you would work out with a buddy, but schedules and exercise goals don't always match up. Runner Nancy Devries-Mcken recommends making sure that someone knows your route and when you plan to return home. That someone could be your spouse, your roommate or even a friend in another town. Just send a text when you leave and another when you get back, and bring your phone along in case you run into trouble.
Get spicy. It's not necessary, but it doesn't hurt to throw some pepper spray into your pocket or bike pouch. It could get you out of a bind with all kinds of dangers you might come across such as a runaway dog — or worse.