My favourite park is off limits now that the clocks have changed. I set my music low as I jog through lit streets, keeping an extra bit of energy in the tank, just in case.
As a woman, running in the dark can feel both fantastically rebellious and extremely foolhardy, depending on my mood and who I encounter. And it’s something more women are contemplating doing, due to lockdown.
With gyms closed, exercising outdoors is the only option for those who need a break from their screens and can’t face another fitness date with Joe Wicks. But there are, undoubtedly, extra considerations when the sun sets.
Hannah Catrin, 25, who’s usually based in London but is spending lockdown in North Wales, says she sticks to well-lit, busier areas at night. She’s noticed her boyfriend – also a keen runner – doesn’t give a second thought to his route.
“I feel frustrated that men aren’t conditioned to feel the same concern or worry about exercising alone,” she says. “I wish that urban planning catered for both halves of the population, with better lighting and outdoor facilities.”
Concerns about running during winter evenings have caused some women to change their exercise routines altogether.
Sian Collins, 29, from Glasgow, says she’s reverted to weekend runs only since the clocks changed, because she doesn’t feel comfortable going in the dark and isn’t a morning person. It’ll mean she gets less exercise this winter, impacting her physical and mental health.
“I rely on physical activity to break up my week, refocus my energy on something other than work and relieve stress,” she says.
Meanwhile Amy Heather, 22, from Surrey, says she “definitely runs faster out of fear”. “If my sister can’t run with me there’s much less of a chance of me going, which is sad,” she adds.
Of course, we know street harassment isn’t limited to the evenings. Rini Jones, 26, based in London, says women of colour especially face disproportionate rates during the day time. “I often train in the early hours when men aren’t on the street so I can run in peace,” she says. “Running during the day is an absolute no for me.”
Other women got in touch to say that they do feel safe running – whatever time of day – but usually because they’ve adapted their behaviour.
The onus shouldn’t be on women to change the way we exercise to feel safe, but let’s get realistic: we might need to over the next few weeks. Wanting to give my own confidence a boost, I asked women on Twitter for some tips.
Know your surroundings
Traci Coulter, 48 and based in London, advised sticking to places you know well when running solo – now is not the time to explore.
“I always have a planned route with a familiar feel to it so, I know the way back quickly and confidently,” she said. “I run on roads, along the Thames and routes I know like the back of my hand. I feel safe and feel like the benefits of running outweigh any fears.”
Consider who you run with
Unlike the first lockdown, you’re now allowed to meet one person from another household, meaning you can exercise with a friend.
Kate Oliver, 28, based in London, has been on evening runs with her boyfriend, as well as her friends. It helped her pacing, but also enabled her to feel safe.
“We didn’t run together, instead we had checkpoints as they were slightly faster runners,” she said. “They would wait for me at one or two agreed locations during the run, therefore if I wasn’t there, they’d know there was a problem.”
Oliver avoids sharing details of her night runs on social media that might reveal her route, explaining: “You never ever know, and people can always see where you’re ending up.”
Turn your music down
Many women suggested turning music down, using one headphone or scrapping it altogether. Instead of seeing this as a loss, use it as an opportunity to be mindful and listen to the sounds of the night – something we so rarely do.
If you can’t rely on street lights to be on, bring your own source. A number of women said they run with a head torch during the winter.
Others recommended high-vis clothing, while I’ve added some flashing armbands to my running gear. Zero fashion credentials, but cars can definitely see me coming.
Think about the perks
Running at night can feel freeing and plenty of women said they enjoy it. Instead of focusing on the negatives, think of the benefits. Bryony, 39 from the West Midlands, who is deaf, says: “In some ways, the fact that it’s dark means I’m more aware of traffic due to their lights, so am a bit safer in that respect.”
Stephanie Boland, 30, from London said she gets fewer catcalls in the dark, saying: “Men find it harder to see me from a distance!”
With the general lockdown message to stay at home, Felicity Baillie, 32, from Cambridgeshire, added that she’s looking forward to some quieter runs: “I feel safer knowing pubs are shut and people should be indoors,” she said.
Consider changing your routine
Winter exercising was a challenge for women before lockdown – but the conditions of the pandemic have made it easier for some.
Katherine Howbrook, 39, from London used to buy a temporary gym membership during autumn and winter, but this year, working from home has opened up her options. “I can now run in the morning when it’s light and still be ready for work by 9am,” she explained.
Emma Bolton, 28, based in Swansea, is also starting work earlier so she can take a running break at 10am before showering and returning to her desk feeling energised. If evening running doesn’t feel like an option, consider talking to your boss about flexible hours or a longer lunch break.
Think about your impact on others
To make getting out and about at night nicer for everyone, regardless of gender, consider the fact you might also be intimidating to someone else who can’t see you in the dark.
“I always shout ‘only a runner’ when approaching any pedestrians from behind,” said Elizabeth Bandeen, 51, from Glasgow. “Regardless being male or female you can see someone’s pace quicken. It’s just manners.”