10 Tips for Night Races and Walking Events

What You Need After Dark

How should you change your gear and tactics when you are entered in a night event? I've walked the Portland to Coast Relay Walk 15 times, where the night walking takes place in the absolute dark of the Coast Range. I've also walked the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll "Strip at Night" Half Marathon under bright neon lights. When you want to perform well in a race at night, consider these tactics.

Headlamps for Very Dark Races

Runner with Headlamp
Cavan Images/Stone/Getty

If your race will be on unlighted roads or trails, you will need a bright light in order to see the path ahead. If you decide on a headlamp, be sure that it has an adjustable angle so you are able to train it just where you need on the ground. Also, practice with it for the amount of time you will spend in the race to be sure the straps are comfortable and keep the lamp where you want it on your head.

  • A headlamp that has two straps (one around your head, one across the top) is more likely to stay securely on your head and in the position you want during your race.
  • LED headlamps are usually lighter in weight as they require smaller batteries.
  • LED headlamps drain their batteries slower, so you are less likely to have to change batteries on longer races such as a half marathon or marathon.
  • Choose the brightest headlamp that is comfortable, especially on dark courses where it will be your only light to see by.
  • Carry replacement batteries with you, Murphy likes to ensure that even the fresh ones in your headlamp wimp out.
More: Lights for Night Walking


Knuckle Lights
Knuckle Lights. Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

Carry a small flashlight on any night race. Even on brightly lit routes, you may find a dark corner where it comes in handy. But the place you are guaranteed to need it is in the portable toilets -- they don't come equipped with lights! If you are wearing a headlamp, it is still wise to have a spare flashlight to use if it malfunctions.

If you don't want to wear a headlamp, choose a flashlight that is comfortable to carry for the full time you will be on the race course. Practice with it. You will find that your arm swing can result in intermittent lighting for your path. The easiest cure (other than a headlamp) is to carry a flashlight in each hand, or to wear a chest or waistbelt spotlight such as the LightWalker light belt.

I love the Nathan Zephyr Fire Runner's Flashlight, which has an elastic t-strap to keep it in your hand and directed at the right angle. It also has a flashing red light in back for safety.

A fun innovation are Knuckle Lights, worn on your hands. These solve another problem with carrying flashlights - having to grip them securely. Tight fists can raise your blood pressure, and get tiring on longer races.

Reflective Gear

Wendy Bumgardner ©

If your event is on the open road or sidewalk at night, you need to wear reflective gear for safety. If you are on a course that is completely closed to traffic, this is not as necessary but is still wise. The easiest solution is to wear a reflective safety vest. Some of them have fun additions such as LED lights and flashers. If you don't want to wear a vest, ensure that your race clothing has reflective elements. You can buy a roll of reflective tape or stick-on dots at a running store and add it to your shoes, hat and clothing for the event.
More: Top Picks for Night Safety Items

Fueling for a Night Race

Clif Kit's Organic Fruit and Nut Bars
Clif Kit's Organic Fruit and Nut Bars. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You may have no problem eating lightly for a morning race, but what about one that takes place late in the day? The key can be to eat enough, but not so much that it provokes the need for porta-john stops during the race. Nothing new on race day -- stick with light meals at your regular meal times and have a snack two hours before race time. Carry along energy snacks as needed. You may finish pretty hungry if the race was during your usually evening meal time, so you may want to stash extra snacks in your gear drop bag for after the finish.

Watch Your Path!

Night Walking Legs
Night Walking Legs. Wendy Bumgardner ©
Expect that you will have to be very vigilant in looking for potholes, ridges in the road, and debris on a night walk. At large night races, you can expect that the other racers have dropped water bottles and energy gel packs that are tripping hazards, especially near the start and at water stops. You may have to slow down and watch your path much more than you would on a day race. This is why it is critical to have a headlamp with an adjustable angle, or flashlights, so you can get the beam of light exactly where you need it for your pace.

Blinded By the Light

Dog-E-Glow Leash and Collar at Night
Dog-E-Glow Leash and Collar at Night. Photo Provided by Dog-E-Glow
You will find that the biggest annoyances on a night race is being blinded by car headlights and other spotlights. You may be able to see your path very will with your headlamp or flashlight, only to endure night blindness again after a passing car makes your pupils contract. You may have to slow down and take it cautiously for several seconds after being faced with a blinding light. You may also find that your own headlamp blinds you if it is spotlighting fog or mist.

Where Am I?

Street Corner at Night
Street Corner at Night. Wendy Bumgardner ©
It is very easy to miss course markings on a night race, especially if you get separated from the pack. Slower runners and walkers may find themselves all alone in the night and unable to rely on other people knowing where they are going. Always carry a map of the race route and the surrounding area. Smartphones come in handy, especially if the race provides an app that includes the course map or a link to an online map of the course. Make sure your phone has a full charge before you head out into the dark. If you need reading glasses to read the map or your phone, bring those along also!

You're Getting Colder

Glo-Glov. Wendy Bumgardner ©

It is a given that it gets colder after dark. It's wise to start any race or walk feeling cool and comfortable, as you will warm up quite a bit once you start. But if your night event is long enough that the temperature drops substantially, you may end up too cold before the end. think of dressing in layers to take off and put on as needed to stay comfortable. For winter night races, always carry a pair of gloves and a hat. They will protect your extremities. As a walker, I always carry a windbreaker jacket that packs up to the size of an energy bar, the Patagonia Houdini jacket.

You can expect that you will need quick access to something warm or insulating at the finish, as your body can swiftly chill at night when you've been racing and sweating. If your race has a gear drop, check a bag that includes a warm jacket and other cover-ups. For large races, they will hand you a mylar heat sheet at the end to wrap around you and keep in some warmth. Take it and use it. Save it to have handy for races that don't offer them, or to keep in your car for emergencies.

Jerks are Jerkier at Night

At morning races and walks, you are less likely to encounter drunks and jerks than on night races. They seem to come out a night to heckle, throw trash, make obscene comments, or even try to run you off the road. Carry a whistle or safety alarm or walk with a friend for extra safety, especially if you are slower and likely to be separated from the pack.
More: Stranger Danger Safety Tips

Find Your Way Home

Dude, where's your car? Are the buses still running this late? Everything changes after dark, especially when you are tired. Be sure to note exactly where you need to go after the finish. Take a photo with your cell phone camera of where you left you car. Have notes on where you can pick up race shuttles or public transportation. Check the schedules beforehand to make sure they are running. If you are a walker or slower racer, check to see what the cutoff is to catch a ride.