Over the past 100 years, western North Carolinians have reported strange lights hovering above Brown Mountain near Linville. Seen around early November, these ghostly lights are the stuff of legend. Still, they have nothing on Chapel Hill.
Park near Carolina North Forest after dark, turn off your headlights, and you’ll see mysterious light darting and weaving through the woods. Before stories start circulating, however, keep in mind that our local exercise enthusiasts would never be daunted by something as trivial as darkness.
With the end of daylight saving time many might simply take their fitness routine indoors, but for many here in the warm South, the answer is not to go gentle into that good night, but “carpe noctem.” Seize the night.
Athletes who hit the roads for exercise — on foot or by bicycle — should take a lesson from Hollywood: see and be seen.
“This week is ‘visibility’ week in our store with the time change,” Fleet Feet Carrboro co-owner Brian White said, “and that’s actually sort of our tag line: ‘see and be seen.’ ”
“Right now we’re already selling a lot of reflective stuff and the headlamps,” said Jeff Patterson, Fleet Feet sales associate, ultramarathon runner, and member of the local off-road running group the Trailheads. “We’ve got No Boundaries and all of our training groups that run at night.”
Fleet Feet’s training program directors corroborate common sense tips for road running after dark, many related to traffic.
James Raia, of Active.com, recommended running against traffic, noting that it’s easier to avoid vehicles if you can see them.
“Don’t wear dark colors at night,” Raia added. “White running attire is the easiest to see at night, but orange and yellow are also appropriate.”
An easy way to be seen at night is to stick to well lit areas, Alison Johnson wrote for the Daily Press, a newspaper based in Newport News, Va.
“Avoid unlit areas,” she said. “Stick to familiar and well-lit routes…and steer clear of bushes and parked cars where people can easily hide especially after dark.”
Johnson suggested outlining a route adjacent to open stores.
“Make sure your route includes businesses that keep nighttime hours where you can go in an emergency,” she said. “If you’re nervous about a situation or person, follow your instincts and stop in a safe spot.”
Hearing also plays an important role in situational awareness.
“Don’t wear ear buds,” Johnson said. “You need to hear everything around you when you can’t see as well.”
While traffic may pose a physical threat, the threat to personal security also sadly exists. Raia said that runners should vary their routes, and always run in groups after dark.
“A potential attacker can watch for runners’ patterns and loom in a particularly dark or isolated area,” he said.
“Running with another person is best,” Johnson said, “although a dog can be a crime deterrent. If you go alone, tell someone when you’re leaving, when you expect to be back, and what route you’ll be taking.”
“Carry a cell phone,” Johnson added. “If you don’t bring an ID card, write your name, phone number, blood type and any important medical information on an inside sole of your shoes.”
Those who naturally take to trails — even after dark — are no less reticent to run or bike. Thanks to the advent of L.E.D. headlamps, runners and mountain bikers are taking back the night.
“You feel like the trail is just different,” Patterson explained. “I went out mountain biking on the trails at night, and I forgot where I was. I’ve run those same trails thousands of times. Also, with a headlamp, things become two-dimensional. It’s almost like you’re guessing a little with each step…but you’re also not thinking of how long you’ve been out.”
“It’s fun to ride at night, but a lot of us who love to ride want to ride no matter what,” said Jason Swann of the Bicycle Chain on Franklin Street. “If we just don’t get off work in time to ride (in daylight), then we just ride at night.”
While the choice of headlamps is the stuff of laughably long email threads among the Trailheads each autumn, in truth, the choice is as personal as pace.
“The Petzyl’s are really popular,” said Chapel Hill’s Outdoor Provision Company sales associate Jason Maurer, “and the Spot is popular from Black Diamond. L.E.D technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, so you get a lot for your money.”
“Most people mount them on their helmet, because mounting them on your handlebars makes the light shake,” Swann said, “and it doesn’t really give you an idea of what you need to see ahead of you.”
“People buy them from us throughout the year,” Outdoor Provisions’ Maurer said, “because they get them for camping and all kinds of things. They’re just nice to have for everyday use.”
Trailrunner Magazine’s Kevin Patrick said night running – even with a headlamp – remains an adventure due to hazards like rocks and roots; he noted many runners double-up on headlamps, strapping one to the head and carrying another by hand.
“I (use) a headlamp for directional light, and a diffused-beam headlamp mounted around my waist to shine at my feet,” Trailrunner Magazine’s Matt Hart said.
“Wear a billed cap,” Raia suggested. “The bill of a cap will hit an unseen tree branch or another obstacle before the obstacle hits your head.”
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