Nothing quite beats running under a full moon, watching the stars appearing and hearing the night time animals awaken. However, night time running requires a whole new skill set!
Over at Surrey Canicross we put together a couple tips for you to think over before hitting the trails with your canine companion.
Running at night
Running in the dark or in low light conditions is something you might not be used to doing but it is most definitely worth giving a go as few things involving running are as thrilling as sharing the trail with the stars, moon and nocturnal wildlife. That being said you do need to take precautions, ensure you have the correct gear and that both you and your dog are ready to hit the trails for your night time adventures.
Word of warning: Dogs have a special kind of magic at night, their eyesight, sense of smell, hearing are much keener than ours, especially so at night it can take a while for them to adjust. Take things slowly, give others much more space than normal, and watch their body language closely. Newer canicrossers need to make sure they have solid directional cues, good line discipline and a reasonable level of confidence in order to run in groups in the dark. Having a reasonable level of competence allows you to run without posing a risk to others or as to a risk to yourself.
There are benefits to running at night, or very very early in the morning when it is dark. On a route you know, that is fairly flat, easy to run, and has a good surface (ie not technical with steep/tricky terrain to navigate) you can really build up some speed and normally have minimal to no human/horse-rider/bike distribution to slow you down.
Generally speaking if I am looking to do ‘Race Pace’ type speeds this is when I do it, so I am not disrupting others using the trails and can take corners tightly (the dogs path) and at speed without having to worry about yielding the trail.
For very sensible reasons, it is not always advisable to go running alone in the dark, be this very early mornings and later on in the evening. If something happens to your dog, having extra hands can mean you get the situation dealt with faster, someone can call ahead for help, be able to administer first aid, or help keep you calm if you are having a panic. Running with a partner, also means you have an extra set of eyes and ears on the trail which means you are more likely to spot hazards, and see wildlife early enough to make sure you and your dog stay safely focused.
Make sure you run with people you trust and can rely on, this means you have other people to rely on so in theory no one should get lost in the woods! Also if you are nervous friendly faces always help make you feel more relaxed. Make sure you set a head and a tail runner, and know how many people are in your group. Get familiar with who is in front and behind you, check in with them when turning corners and every now and then. It helps to keep the group together and make everyone feel safe.
Be sure of your route, night time running is NOT the time to go and find new route, try out new paths you have never explore or stray off of clearly defined trails. Even those of us who are incredibly confident in the woods can struggle with night time navigation, and can quickly get turned around and lost. Even in the most commons there are large areas where phone signal is weak, navigating in the dark, with no GPS down a deer path isn’t fun.
Be sensible whilst you build up experience, running at night is a skill that takes some time to master. Once you are confident then you can work in some speed, but until then get some slow mileage under your belt.
Visibility for Humans
Be safe...be seen!
Just as it sounds, the more visible you are the better. Running in the dark, in dark clothing and minimal lights just isn’t sensible. Although you aren’t likely to meet a lot of other trail users in the dark, them being able to see you at a distance allows dogs to be recalled, longlines retracted (dogs who have social issues often get walked late at night!).
Being visible isn’t going to solve all issues but it does help hugely. It helps to keep a group together, makes you visible in case you fall off the trail (doesn’t happen often, but it is the reason I wear bright leggings when night running I would like my butt to be visible even if the rest of me is stuck in a bush.)
Head torches are great for lighting up your trail and ensuring you can see your path, roots, puddles and other obstacles you need to navigate Make sure your batteries are freshly charged and if possible, carry a spare or spare batteries. Knowing the life span of your light and plan your run lengths accordingly. Ideally you want a healthy budget for a head torch, generally the more money you spend the better quality the torch is, and higher the lumens and the longer the life span. That being said, I have run many many runs at night using a £18 head torch from Ebay, and it has been more that sufficient. You are looking ideally for one with an adjustable strap that goes over the top of your head as well as around it, with as many lumens as possible.
***Be careful not to point the light in peoples faces, easily done when chatting this includes moving the beam of light along the ground needlessly in front of the dogs when standing around.
Other Torches Chest torches, can be great to run with in addition to head torches, but unless they are very expensive models they often don’t provide enough light or its not projected in the right area to run safely in. Also some runners find the motion of the light makes them feel ill when running. They are great to wear as most of the time as they have a bright red light on the back so runners behind can see you more clearly. Not all head torches have a rear light, and it is very useful for the runner behind you!
Reflective Wear Always a welcome extra, bands on arms or ankles, leggings with reflective sections, shirts or jackets with reflective piping or panels will always make you more visible. If you don’t fancy reflective piping, sashes or bands, then really brightly coloured leggings will still make a difference.
Visibility for your canines
Don’t forget to make your dog visible, it is amazing how many dogs just disappear into the darkness due to their coat colours! Reflective gear, small lights, or even light up collars can make a huge difference in making your dog visible.
Some dogs have very bright coats, and are highly visible even on the darkest nights. However it does help to find some minimally intrusive, light weight gear to help make your dog extra visible on the trails.
You can use anything and everything from rechargeable light up collars, reflective collars, reflective sashes attached to harnesses or even mini torches.
Be aware some dogs are very light sensitive, and it can very easily over excite or over stimulate some dogs! Over stimulated/overwhelmed dogs are more likely to react poorly as it is harder for them to make a calm decision and they aren’t calm!
Switch torches off, direct the beam high up, and watch your dog closely. If your dog needs space, give it to them, if you notice someone elses dog looks stress then give that dog space. Let their runner know, sometimes you don’t always notice subtle changes in your dogs behaviour so if someone points it out take notice.
Shadow/light chasing. Watch for this in your canine running partner and learn the signs, you might need to help a fellow canicrosser out by running behind or in front of them to avoid causing inadvertent stress to their dog. Try and avoid lights that flash and only use light collars on your dog, if your dog is NOT sensitive to lights. If your dog becomes aware of the lights, they can chase, shadow seek, become stressed and highly anxious. Canicross must always be a positive place for your dog, and all other dogs running with you, upon seeing any signs of unusual behaviour you MUST remove the source immediately and calmly.
Changes in behaviour
As said further up, most dogs present as very excitable but soon settle in and run mostly the same as they do during the daylight, although being excited often means they run a little faster with more force than they normally might. Monitor for over exhaustion, dehydration, especially if it is a warmer more humid evening.
Dogs who struggle with social situations might be more easily overwhelmed, and this goes for any dog who struggles with anxiety, stresses, frustrations etc. Be aware of this and advocate for your dog, if you need to slow down, head back, change position (go up front of to the back to give your dog more space) then do so, let a leader know, let the group know etc you MUST advocateyou’re your dog. Also make a few notes of how your dog reacted, or didn’t react, where they stressed at home when they got back, in the morning? Work with your dog to make them more comfortable and know that sometimes night runs aren’t for all dogs, or not at that point.
If you know your dog doesn’t like another dog in the daylight, it most likely will NOT of changed at night. Keep your dogs apart, if you want to chat make sure both dogs are safely stored in their cars and are happily settled before chatting. The dogs and their mental and physical welfare are more important than your conversations.
Other Canicrossers Canine running partners. Although your dogs might be best buddies during daylight hours, its best to treat every dog with a good dose of social distancing! We normally recommend 2 meters between runners. At night we generally recommend 3.5-4 meters! Visibility is lower, so giving extra space gives you longer reaction time. No one wants a tangled line in the dark! Please check before passing ANYONE at night. Dogs react differently at night, so do humans. We generally recommend staying where you are in the group. We seldomly do night ‘races’ so you shouldn’t need to over take in a social group at night.
In order to be able to run safely in low or lower light levels you need to have reasonable control and run ability level in order to take part. Running in the dark can be a daunting experience so knowing you have good line tension, reasonable directional cues and that your dog is comfortable in harness in a group is going to allow you to focus on getting used to the night time environment and the difficulties of navigating the trails.
It is always advisable to check the run level of a proposed run event, to make sure you are happy with the speed, location and terrain. That goes double for night runs.
Awareness of others and in general
Night runs aren’t always the most social in the way of having a good natter when running. You need to be focused to avoid tripping or roots, tangling lines, avoid low hanging branches, and ensure you aren’t inadvertently causing issues to other runners in the group or other trail users.
In the dark you will be sharing the trail with a lot more than other canicrossers, there will be a lot more wildlife, rabbits, deer, hedgehogs, owls, foxes, badgers and more. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times and listen out for call backs down the chain of runners. Keep space from other runners so you have more reaction time should the lead suddenly stop to let a group of deer run past (it happens way more often than you would realise!!)
Things to be aware of
-Fire works, so don’t run around November 5th or New Years Eve, Eid or other religious celebrations which use fireworks unless you know your dog is completely and utterly unphased by the noises and lights.
-Gunshots, although not common some locations will have gunshot noises. Although you will be in no danger from being shot whilst out running, the noise carries quite far and this can spoke dogs. (Epsom has clay pigeon ranges as do many others places)
-Lights not all dogs cope well with artificial lights
-Wild Life they are more prevalent at night.
-Noise! Keep your nose levels down if you are passing residential properties that back onto commons/NT wood lands etc. This means both humans and dogs. If you are parked in a carpark that has houses near by keep your dogs calm and quiet as possible.
-Distance, distance, distance, keep away from other runners and their dogs. Allow all dogs time and space to adjust to their surroundings and learn that it is a fun and positive place to be.
-Call backs! Use them if you see a hazard CALL back to the person behind you, let them know there is a root/hole/tree branch/deer/emergency stop….it stops everyone piling into each other and could save someone from getting injured.
-Safety make sure someone knows where you are going, and when you are expected to be home. Having your ICE details easy to locate should there be an emergency.
-Arrive at the correct time for your runs so you are not in a carpark by yourself for any duration of time. This normally means 15 minutes before the start of the run, if you don’t feel safe leave the area and do not get out of your car. Do not dally around at the end of the run, make sure you aren’t the last one in the carpark!
-Some car parks are LOCKED at night, make sure you are on the right side of the barriers, know the times, and don’t get locked in.
-It is worth carrying a dog whistle with you. Should something happen and you are unable to shout (you might be out of breath) having a whistle is an easy way to attract attention.
-Head and Tail Runners, NEVER go in front of the head or behind the tail runner. They are there for a reason and that is to ensure no one gets lost on the route.
-Check in with the runner behind you when turning so they know when and where you are turning.
-If you need to carry medication around with you, please make sure you do this. It is much harder to send someone back in the dark to retrieve it.