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Runners, time to embrace the novelty of brighter evenings

Mary Jennings: While winter was the time to catch the sunrises, it is on these spring evenings that you will be taken by surprise by stunning sunsets as you tip around a lap of your local park or housing estate

Could it really still be bright at 7pm? It has been five months since we had daylight after dinner and I’m giddy with the arrival of bright evenings and the promise of warmer days on the way.

Soon, it will become normal to leave the hats and gloves at home and just wear one layer heading out the door. But before that happens, can I encourage you to really enjoy this added daylight treat and the pure novelty of having more paths, opportunities and time available to us before we draw in the curtains each night.

Rejig your schedule

Many of us have fallen into the winter routine of winding down our day as soon as the sun goes down. Dark evenings and winter temperatures have their challenges in terms of safety and visibility. Many runners (and walkers) have found it near impossible to keep an outdoors routine in the winter evenings despite best intentions. But now is the time to shake up your routine, replan your schedule and add life to your evenings rather than let them disappear indoors. Every evening for the next month we will get an extra two minutes of daylight. What will you do with it?

Rediscover old paths

Roads that were dark for many months and parks that we closed are now open and inviting us to move more. What local paths have been out of bounds for you since last year? You might now have access to a running track or traffic-free loop which will help you work on your speed, or a grass circuit in a park which takes you off the hard footpaths and lets you feel like a cross-country athlete. Opportunities abound and by committing to getting your evening routine established now you will find it much easier to keep on going when evening daylight stretches as far as bedtime and beyond. But let’s not look too far ahead.

What have you missed?

Start this week by running somewhere you have not been in ages. It doesn’t need to be far from home or indeed particularly scenic, but I bet there is a route that has not been very accessible in the dark. It could be a country lane, a city park or a beach trail. It might simply be a safe running loop around a field of football pitches you can tip around while kids are in training. Whether you are a dedicated runner or someone looking to make a running comeback, revisiting these familiar paths will transport you back to last spring and summer and it will inspire you to look forward to your running future.

Safety and Scenery

If you are not an evening runner you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. But as a coach, I notice that runners in the dark of winter often carry a lot more tension than those who run in daylight. When you can’t quite see the path ahead or have lights from traffic, uncertainty of slippy leaves, potential puddles and other people to navigate past, it is only natural you spend more time focusing on simply staying safe.

When you can’t relax on the surface underfoot you can end up spending the majority of your run looking at the ground which in turn will impact technique and breathing. There is a real freedom and relief in simply being able to see where you are going. Running in daylight allows us to relax our shoulders, spend less time looking for hazards and focus on our performance, be that speed, stamina or simply enjoying the scenery.

At the end of the day

When evening running is your only option you also have one bigger battle to fight than those who can get out earlier in the day. You have a whole day to talk yourself out of going and by the time evening arrives it is understandable to feel tired and be drawn to the couch. When that has been the habit all winter it can be hard one to break.

While our cosy environment at home tempts us to stay indoors, it is our environment and the people we choose to spent time with outside of our home that are key in making these new evening routines stick. This is the perfect time to get back to your running club or arrange to meet a running buddy if you do feel your end-of-day self-motivation or willpower might let you down.

Running into the sunset

While winter was the time to catch the sunrises (without having to get up too early), it is on these spring evenings that you will be taken by surprise by stunning sunsets as you tip around a lap of your local park or housing estate. It adds a spring to your step, whatever your running pace. Take advantage of these new bright evenings while they feel like a treat, an escape and an energising bonus to our day.

Make your local running routes more interesting, challenging and rewarding by simply taking a different path than you have for a while. By the end of the month those dark winter evenings will have become a distance memory and something we won’t see them again until October. We have made it through the winter.

Go outside tonight in your running shoes and celebrate.

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  • Mary Jennings is founder of ForgetTheGym and coaches runners of all levels to enjoy fresh air and running more. Her spring classes are now under way in Dublin and online.

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