One cold December morning at an ungodly hour in 2014 I found myself flung across the flora and fauna of the Dublin mountains unsure of the source of the pain I was experiencing and asking myself: “What the hell are you doing?” Trying to squeeze running into my schedule while working full time, studying for my MSc Sports Physiotherapy and trying to spend as much time at home with our new baby meant running at ‘stupid o’clock’. This could be ‘stupid o’clock’ am or pm, either way it was generally in darkness. On this particular morning I was training for the Art O’Neill Challenge, a 55km (65km if you get lost like I did) race leaving Dublin Castle at midnight, navigating your way across the Dublin Mountains and finishing in Glenmalure.
I used Friday mornings as an opportunity to beat the traffic on the way to UCD as well as get in some invaluable hill work. There was also something rejuvenating about overlooking the capital city as it awoke. Occasionally I would disturb deer grazing. As they bounded away, startled by this intruder their silhouettes against the backdrop of the city down below was worth getting up for alone. It was wet and despite wearing trail runners and head torch the overnight flow of water across the rocky surfaces had left it treacherous on the descent. Before I realised it I was in complete darkness. My head torch had smashed with the impact. I was sore in so many places. And I was in shock. Without much option I gathered myself and checked my watch. 10km to get back to the car. I had no phone – “You Idiot!” Not only that but nobody knew I was up here. That thought scared me. I’d snuck out that morning without making any noise leaving my wife and newborn rest. I had no basic first aid kit with me, something mandatory for all adventure races but not something I would routinely take while training. I felt what I knew could only be blood trickle down my head to momentarily blur the vision in my left eye as it rolled down my face. It was still only 6:30am. It could be hours before anyone might think about coming up this way for a walk. With little choice I began walking again very tentatively. Within 30 seconds of breaking into a jog I fell again. My legs were like jelly. This was to be the longest and slowest 10km of my life.
Running in the mountains and trail running is exciting, so enjoyable and actually less associated with typical running related injuries due to enforced changes in stride pattern in accordance with the terrain. Yes it is continuous placement of one foot in front of the other as with road running but stride length, rate and angles are constantly varying. Running in the dark can actually be quite enjoyable too (even if mainly enforced). It’s generally more peaceful but comes with more risks. People with busy lifestyles trying to make room in their schedule for exercise can be confined to these hours. Just join a gym I hear you say. Yes I suppose I could but I spent most of my late teens and twenties in gyms. It was only when I began to take running more seriously I questioned how I ever functioned without it. If you are to become an early bird or night owl when it comes to running in the dark here are a few simple tips from a practical, safety and ultimately injury prevention point of view.
- Be seen and be able to see. High viz vests are one thing that will enable traffic to see you. Traffic can also provide some much welcomed light for you at times but on country back roads (welcome to my world) once they pass and you reach the end of the line of lamp posts you’re on your own. A head torch will light up the road in front of you more than a hand held torch will, not to mention how cumbersome constantly shining a torch ahead of you will become when trying to swing your arms. Invest in a decent head torch sufficient enough to detect and little bump in the road you might otherwise be likely to stub your toe on. And have a back up, even a spare battery in your jacket pocket. Saying that for off road trail running such as the run I’ve mentioned above, hand held torches can shine ahead for upcoming bends you may not otherwise anticipate.
- Tell someone your planned route. Whether it’s up mountains or around the local football pitch let someone know where you’re running and approximately how long you plan on being out for. In the event something does happen like going over on your ankle or falling you’ll be easily tracked down.
- Ditch the headphones. With one of your five senses somewhat compromised in the dark, i.e. your eye sight, maximize the use of the others especially hearing. As the night or early morning time will be quieter you will hear cars on roads coming long before they will see you, not if you’re catching up on the latest podcast or music of choice.
- Use the silence to your advantage. This can be a great time of solitude to listen to feedback from your body. What I mean by this is how you sound when you are striking the ground. Evidence suggests decreasing stride length and increasing cadence can reduce symptoms of patello femoral pain syndrome (PFPS) (Lenhart et al 2013). Try to ensure it sounds as though your spending equal time on both feet and that the time spent on each foot contact is brief.
- Bring a phone and basic med kit. Since that fall in 2014 if I’m mountain running I will always have a charged phone with me, a sterile wipe and a couple of plasters..just incase
It was when I got back to the car and daylight was starting to make its presence felt I took note of the cuts and grazes sustained: I had lost the majority of the skin on the palm of my hand; my running leggings were torn from hip to knee exposing a nice long graze on the skin to match; and I had a tiny cut on my head which didn’t match the blood along the side of my face. I went straight from Three Rock that Friday morning to the reception desk at the gym in UCD in search of a medical kit. “How big a bandage do you need?”, asked the girl behind reception only aware of the cut on my head. She almost feinted when I reached for the band aid she was offering and caught a glimpse of my hand. Ironically enough that Friday mornings practical session was strapping and taping.
For more information on any of the issues addressed throughout this article please contact Rob via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mccabephysio, Facebook at McCabe Physiotherapy or visit http://www.mccabephysiotherapy.com
Rob McCabe MISCP
MSc (pre reg) Physiotherapy, BSc Sport Science and Health, MSc Sports Physiotherapy, PG Dip Orthopaedic Medicine
Orchard House, Moorefield Rd, Newbridge, Co. Kildare