By Austin Bonds
The Big Peach Running Company Suwanee location recently hosted a packet pick up for a local 5K race. Unlike most road races, however, this one is unique in that it takes place in the midst of thousands (if not millions) of twinkling lights to kick off the Christmas drive tour that follows in late November through the resort. Though the race starts at 5:45 p.m., well at dusk, runners are likely to find that headlamps, flashlights, and strobes are not needed as illuminated displays and lots of bulbs reveal the path to follow for those 3.1 magical miles.
When the race ends, however, these runners, along with the rest of us, will confront the reality of shorter daylight – for a handful of months anyway. With this quicker onset of darkness, preparation becomes paramount for the sake of reducing the risk of injury due to an awkward step on loose gravel or other debris along the road. Gaping holes can be overlooked too. Safety is also paramount so a collision with a car can be avoided. I know that this point of note seems trite even making, but I notice people walking and running and cycling all the time who are not visible enough to be seen by automobiles. This is both frightening and arresting.
Needless to say that visibility starts with clothing, so I’ll start there. Darker colors during the day are less of an issue as the sun provides glorious illumination, but the night is another matter. Neon colors, including yellow, orange, pink, and green, may not always match the rest of your gear well, but they are bright and bold to people everywhere.
If you are averse to wearing said neon colors, at least look to apparel that incorporates reflective strips across the front, back, and sides of the garment. Speaking of reflective strips, many running shoes now include this option to enhance visibility on the roads. These reflective shoe strips are further augmented by bright, striking colors. Reflective shoe laces are icing on the cake.
Apparel and footwear fall under what I call passive visibility. In other words, these items reflect the presence of light (think car headlights). Passive visibility is a solid foundation to start with, but it can be further built upon through active visibility. Active visibility occurs through the creation of light, and there are numerous products that fall under this heading. This is where those headlamps, flashlights, and strobe lights I mentioned earlier come back into view.
Like running shoes, an obvious question quickly surfaces in the mind: What should I get? Up until a few weeks ago, I had never run with a headlamp, but I believe that having a good one now will prove to be a solid investment as it provides great clarity for the miles ahead. The absence of a headlamp was likely due to the fact that I ran the same routes in fall and winter and knew the area well in terms of potential hazards, but I’m ready to be more visible to traffic henceforth.
I also like to clip a strobe light on the neck collar of my shirt prior to sunrise and at dusk as it also draws attention to where I am on the sidewalk or the shoulder of a road. In short, I have found that the headlamp (a Halo Fire) and the strobe light clipped to the shirt, both by Nathan Sports, are a good pairing for me. What will yours look like?
There are numerous companies that provide a diverse selection of visibility products. Amphipod, like Nathan Sports, has visibility gear to outfit both your body and your shoes with light. As to headlamps, Nathan, Petzl, and Black Diamond offer a wide range of options.
Like running shoes, I believe that visibility products should be touched and felt and tried on so that a sense of comfort and functionality can be gauged. Product reviews on the web are immensely helpful, but I suggest going a step further and making the decision based on your assessment of a given product. In fact, many specialty running shops allow runners to “check out” (like a library book) hydration or visibility products for some of their upcoming runs to discover if it is an item they might like to purchase.
In closing, here’s a quick recap for fall and winter running safety as the daylight continues to get shorter. Wear bright clothing, and look for apparel that includes reflective strips; continue to wear loud colored shoes (though many are bright already); and find a product mix that incorporates a handful of light sources, be it a headlamp, a vest, a flashlight, or a strobe light that can attach to clothing or be affixed through shoelaces.
Runs in the dark, be it in the morning or the evening, are highly unique. You tend to feel invisible, shrouded in the darkness. You feel like a swift and quiet ninja moving down the roads. But the traffic is still present, as is the risk. Illuminate the path then – for their benefit and for yours. In short, light the night.
Check out some of the items from Under Armour reflective gear that the team at Believe in the run are using this winter for running safely.