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Fear of the dark

November 6, 2012

British Summer Time is over and the sun now sets well before I leave the office. And despite a reputation for light pollution, it turns out parts of London just aren’t that light.
A couple of weeks ago, a day shrouded in a pea-souper mist that London-based tweeters became chronically obsessed, I went for a 9-mile run having miscalculated the time the sun would set. I belted around Hackney Marshes in the closing dusk and trotted down the canal towpath back home in the half-light, wary that there was no lighting. I returned home slightly exhilarated by the run’s added dimension of urgency.
Last week, fancying a bit of a long run, I set off on a Sunday jaunt to reach the M25 and then return. The previous few days had been wet and there were large puddles along the towpath. I jumped or dodged the puddles and ran comfortably for 9 miles, reached the motorway bridge and turned round. I’d only gone a few metres before I misplaced my footing and took a spectacular tumble, rolling and coming to rest staring up at the sky.
No one was around. I wasn’t hurt. I quickly got up and nonchalantly whistled as I ran away from the scene, checking that I’d remembered to pick up the fragments of my shattered pride. Then, a couple of miles later, it happened again.
Lying on my back, my shoulder caked in mud, I reflected on the fact that the towpath was probably a little less safe than I had previously imagined.
So, to help me survive the long winter nights without relying too heavily on the congested London streets, I bought this bad boy:

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A fashion-forward head torch. Not a great look, but the neither is pitching myself into the canal in the dark.
After the usual run from Liverpool Street to Stratford for Home Run, I decided to try out my new headgear on the darkest route I could think of. Once past the Olympic Park, I turned on to the path through Hackney Marshes.
If you don’t live in London, Hackney Marshes is a scrappy Weekend football pitch with a thin lining of trees and a potholed pedestrianised road round the perimeter until it meets the canal. However, if you live in London, sure, it’s just like a piece of the countryside. Yep, totally forgot i was in the city.
Guided by a halo of light, falling leaves and the odd flash of fox eyes illuminated by my beam, I was reminded of the running scenes from The Blair Witch Project. Still, despite being a bit spooky, it was nice to be off the roads and to have the path to myself. Then, after about a mile, I saw another runner amble towards me out of the dark with no lights of his own.
Assuming he’d been caught out, I hit the canal and headed north. On my way home I crossed paths with a couple of other light-less runners who seemed to be fairly casual about the looming dark waters.
So who are these nocturnal runners? And why don’t they think they need any lights? Does anyone fall into the canals? I can’t help but feel there’s any number of accidents just waiting to happen…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2012 12:00 pm

    Head torch is such a vital bit of kit for winter running! I live in London too and even areas that you THINK would be well-lit for night runs (like the Inner Circle at Regents Park) are dark and treacherous – especially with all the fallen leaves hiding uneven paving slabs and holes in the road.

    • November 6, 2012 12:32 pm

      You’re right – I was running around Regent’s Park yesterday and there are long sections of path that are pitch black. The running track was open (if entirely obscured by the darkness) and there were two other runners using it. They were completely unlit, so although safe from traffic they must have been at risk of falling over or running into each other!

      • November 6, 2012 12:53 pm

        I was really surprised that it is so poorly lit around there – on track collisions are something I’ll have to keep in mind if I decide to do my speedwork there!

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