Can Running In The Dark Make You Faster?

Could running in the dark be the secret to hitting a faster pace?

Emily Abbate |

I was in the middle of 10 pitch-black kays at 2am, decked out in reflective gear and a safety vest for the second leg of my Ragnar Relay [320km relay over 2 days & a night – Ed].

Guided by a headlamp and with my breath providing a steady downbeat, I felt strong. While I was aware of the risks – inattentive drivers and unseen potholes – the dark enveloped me, pushed me to stay in the zone, and helped me cruise at a pace that made me feel like Superwoman.

So I had to wonder: was the dark actually making me faster?

Maybe, says Dr Angie Fifer, executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. “When you run at night, there’s nothing to do but pay attention to your surroundings,” she explains. “It can make us more aware and focused, which provides a freeing sensation that can help us to pick up the pace.”

Abandoned streets can also encourage you to unleash your inner speed. “No-one is looking and judging, so in your mind you think I can just go, without inhibitions,” says Fifer.

However, there’s no research that shows exercising in the dark actually makes you run faster, even if it feels that way. In one study, researchers examined cyclists through four 20km time trials, paying attention to how visual cues influenced how hard and fast they thought they were moving. The scientists realised that performing in a setting where you can only see things just before you approach them (like when it’s dark outside) yielded a greater sense of speed and effort. Despite the higher sensation of exertion, however, there was no difference in heart rate or cadence.

There are other worthwhile bene­fits to tackling dimly-lit kilometres rather than sun-soaked ones, though, says Danny Mackey, head coach for the Brooks Beasts Track Club. “Night runs can be advantageous on days you want to go slowly,” Mackey says. “Turn off the GPS and focus on making your run feel good, and you’ll be set up for the next pace-breaking workout.”

Use these simple strategies to log shadowed runs unscathed.

Get techy.

Leave the ’buds, but bring your phone: Having the bSafe app handy means a simple button push can alert friends of your location and that you’re in trouble if things go pear-shaped.

Stick to known trails.

The dangers of unexpected turns or a technical route outweigh the benefits of being one with nature. Save adventuring on new trails for well-lit weekend outings.

Light the night.

Now’s not the time for black zip-ups and matching tights. Layer on bright clothing items with reflective bits, or hi-viz wrist/ankle/waist straps.

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