It’s dark o’clock, which means it’s time for a run most of the year… that could mean in the morning or running at night. It’s not ideal to always head out in the dark, but getting a run in whenever you can is ideal.
So let’s just deal with one of the most common misconceptions…
Is Running at Night Bad?
The biggest issue with nighttime runs for some people is that it could delay sleep. If you need to shower, refuel and it makes you feel alert then suddenly you’ve pushed back bedtime and shortchanged your total sleep.
Overtime we know that sleeping less than 7-9 hours a night for runners is a leading cause of overtraining symptoms.
If you’ve tested it out and found this not to be an issue, then great news. There are some benefits to evening runs, most importantly simply getting it done!
Though you hear many of us talking how how we have transitioned to morning runs because that ensures we get it done… you don’t have to do that!
For years now, I’ve risen without an alarm clock, slipped on my running shoes and headed out to sweat.
But I have other friends who may not find time in their day until 7PM and if that’s the only time they have, then that’s what works!
What matters the most is CONSISTENCY.
Research back in the 1980s showed that training at a specific time of day preferentially improves your performance at that specific time of day.
- Pick a consistent time and your body will actually start to get ready for the run in advance
- Choose a time that you can do regularly, which helps it to become a habit
- Enjoy that evening group run without worries about bad sleep
So whatever time you’d like to run, just try to be consistent for your body and brain to both get on board!
Honestly, I have so much respect for night runners! I feel like it takes extra motivation to get going after my brain has been tossed about all day long.
5 Benefits of Running At Night
My natural night-owls are going to love this section because it gives you some firepower to say to all the early birds…just let me do my thing, it works for me!
So yes, there are indeed some great reasons to run at night if that’s the time of day the feels best and simply works best for you because the rest of your day is booked.
1. Fewer Crowds
First thing in the morning and immediately after work there’s a massive influx of crowds at the gym.
So if you’re finally getting in that strength training or snagging a treadmill then avoiding daylight hours might give you some more flexibility and even the option to ignore the posted “30 minute cardio machine” limits.
Personally, I’m stoked when I have the gym to myself so you might enjoy that extra bit of quiet.
NOTE: Trails may or may not be open. Most around here note that they are closed at sunset, but obviously we all know plenty of ultra runners who practice running in the dark. So just check your area because I do know the rangers here will ticket you.
2. Improved Intensity
A number of studies have shown that our bodies are primed for a harder effort later in the day.
Take advantage of that to get in your speed workouts or attempt those plyometrics that just sound too horrendous when first rolling out of bed.
Especially for those of you who are night owls, it can be worse to try and force mornings to be your best workout. Neither your brain or body are onboard and that just means fighting an uphill battle.
3. Pound Out Frustrations
We know that running can be a great time to think and relieve stress…at the end of the work day it can also be a great time to let a little bit of those frustrations fuel you to push the pace or go a little further.
The bonus is not just a great workout, but getting those mood boosting endorphins flowing so that you can let it go for a better night of sleep.
While running does increase cortisol (our stress hormone) and we want cortisol to drop for sleep, the increase is temporary and if you go in to a smart cool down and recovery meal, then you might actually be more primed to sleep than from a morning run.
4. Group Runs
To the chagrin of many morning runners, most organized group runs are in the evenings! Or let’s be honest once November hits they feel like night running thanks to the dark.
So switching up your schedule gives you a chance to run with new people, enjoy this crazy run community and take advantage of their energy to push you just a bit harder some days.
5. More Awareness
Let’s be honest running in the dark often helps encourage us to turn off the music or podcast.
We’re paying more attention to our surroundings and using that headlamp to watch our footing.
All of that simply means we get a chance to tune in to our stride, our form and exactly how our body is feeling. This is a great opportunity to practice rate of perceived exertion running!
Is it Bad to Run Right Before Bed?
The duration and intensity of your run could change what you experience, which means it’s important to pay attention to how it all effects you.
One of the main drawbacks to night running is that for some people it interferes with sleep. And we know that sleep is the key to better performance, optimizing recovery, better moods, and even controlling that sweet tooth.
Not every runner experiences that.
Some people report better sleep because they were able to unwind!
- Give yourself at least 90 minutes from finishing the run to starting a bedtime routine, which helps you mentally wind down, your body temperature lower and your cortisol to drop back down.
- Test it out and keep a running log to see how your sleep changes the closer you run to bed.
- Shorten your run if going means you’ll be getting far less than 7 hours sleep. If you can’t recover then all the miles aren’t going to benefit you.
Night Running Tips For Fueling and Safety
If you’re a morning runner, there’s a routine that goes in to what you’ll be eating, when you’ll be stopping by the bathroom and just how much time to a lot for shower, dress, out the door.
Nighttime runs means you have a whole day of potentially uncontrollable moments to impact you.
So it’s still about having a plan for fuel, hydration, weather and just getting it done.
1. Time Your Nutrition
After a full day, you’ve probably eaten, but might be in that gray area of not having truly fueled since lunch and not wanting to scarf down dinner before hitting the road.
Time for my favorite meal: the pre-run snack.
It doesn’t need to be large or super filling, just a little something to top off the tanks.
Otherwise you’ll end up like my husband, who finds himself slightly dizzy from hunger at mile two and cutting the entire run short because the intensity hits the point where you might get sick if you don’t eat!
- Grab a banana, a slick of bread with nut butter, a yogurt, a granola bar.
- Something light and yes generally a little higher in carbs.
- After your evening run, then it’s right on to that perfect post run meal to help improve recovery.
- Plan ahead for optimal food. You gotta feed your body well.
Is running after dinner good?
It can actually be a great way to put the fuel you ingested to good use, though there are others who recommend you wait 3-4 hours. In fact, this article on how long to wait after eating to exercise disproves that.
I’d never get a run in if I always had to wait 3-4 hours, but if you have stomach issues while running this is good advice.
- Some studies show that movement after a meal is a great way to help control blood sugar levels.
- Your body is busy digesting a big meal which meals when you start running it slows the digestion and can cause side stitches while running or stomach aches.
- Again, keep a log of what food causes issues and what doesn’t.
- One good option is to have a light dinner of soup and some chicken pre-run, then post run have something with more fat and fiber.
This often leads to a plethora of questions:
Can I run 30 minutes after eating? Yes, if it’s a small snack (up to 200-300 calories).
Should I run on an empty stomach? No. We’ve talked about fasted cardio and it’s not ideal for runners.
Can I run on a full stomach? Maybe. Every runner is different, but as noted it’s generally not recommended.
2. Don’t Neglect Electrolytes
Sipped all day long electrolytes for runners help to ensure you stay hydrated and keep your levels balanced.
Drinking tons of water flushes out the body, which is great until you start sweating and you have no electrolytes left to keep you from feeling lightheaded or cramping.
Consider carrying an electrolyte drink on your run or using something like Saltstick tablets to stay on top of it.
3. Prepare for Any Weather
Morning or night, you don’t have much control over the weather, but what often catches us by surprise in on night runs is how quickly the temperatures can drop or around here the wind seems to always pick up!
Don’t let yourself out of a wet run because you forget something to cover your phone or a hot run because you don’t have one of the thousands of mysteriously vanishing ponytail holders.
- Keep a gym bag with a running outfit, watch, head torch, reflective vest, protein bar in your car or at work.
- Have a good running jacket and you’ll be ready to tackle most weather.
- Layers, layers, layers – as the sun drops the temp will too in the winter. The right gear keeps us from making excuses and just makes it more enjoyable!
- Grab a hydration pack and you’ll be sure to have water and fuel if you go longer than planned (I also stuff my pepper spray gel in here and click my alarm to the pack, so they’re always available)
4. Never Skip the Warm Up
Though you’ve been moving about all day, the dynamic warm ups we do for AM runs are still required.
The body equally needs to be primed after work, especially if you’ve been sitting creating tight hips and maybe making you feel a little lethargic.
- During a workout, up to 80 percent of blood volume is shifted to the active muscles.
- Warming up for 12-15 minutes helps the body transition from rest to action without creating stress on the organs or brain.
- Do some glute activation movements, do some hip openers and dynamic stretches
You’re almost always guaranteed a better run and worst case it becomes your “I’ll just do 10 minutes, then I can quit.” Which we all know is never just 10 minutes.
5. Practice night running safety
The main thing that keeps me from heading out super late at night is that I love sleep, but safety is the next one to come to mind.
For some odd reason, I feel completely safe at 5AM, but less so at 9PM. Perception.
- Review my complete list of running safety tips.
- Invest in reflective running gear to make sure you’re visible (trust me those motorists aren’t looking for pedestrians).
- Find a good runner headlamp that fits comfortably (I like wearing mine on the bill of a hat).
- Reflective material can also include armbands, or blinky lights. Anything that will catch headlights attention.
- Run in areas you’re familiar with, it helps you avoid scary situations, but also potholes.
- Even better run with another night loving friend.
- Set up the emergency contact on your phone and on your Garmin.
- STOP POSTING YOUR RUNS ON STRAVA. I’m sorry folks, but this is so horribly unsafe on many levels. Posting your routes publicly and that you’re running solo, at night…well just think about it.
- Choose confidence: if this is your time to go, then go and enjoy it!
Finally I saw a question on a message board that I simply had to address:
Is it ok to run at 10PM?
I saw a response that said something inside like “no you should only jog between 5-7AM“.
This is bananas.
Yes. I have a friend who found that she did all of her best marathon training late at night when she finally had a moment to herself and because she is not a morning person.
- Find what works for you!
- Ethiopian runners do a few random middle of the night runs during training to force themselves out of their comfort zone and I LOVE this idea.
- Ultrarunners could be running all day and all night, so learning how you handle night running is hugely important
- Ragnar runners always find themselves with at least one overnight run and it’s usually my favorite part of the entire race.
All right there you have it, the short and sweet of how to prep mentally and physically to have a great run when it’s outside your normal routine!
How do you manage when you have to shuffle your normal runs?
Or do you run anytime of day?
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