In my experience, night running seems to cause more anticipatory anxiety than actual problems in reality. Hence, I’d recommend trying it sooner rather than later to prevent any unnecessary worry.
Night running is perhaps a three fold concern:
1. The first is often the fear of running on dark trails (potentially alone) with a head torch. I know a lot of people who hate the dark (even tough looking ones), so you are not alone if you do.
2. The second is the worry of what it will feel like to run through the duration of the night and all the self doubt that the unknown can bring - mostly that question ‘can I do it’?!
3. And lastly is the question as to whether you should specifically practice night running for your 100 mile (or similar) and if so how to do so best.
Let’s start with the last point first, why not. Yes you should practice! The following should help as to how.
If you're going to run 100 miles you are going to have to run some of it in the dark. Face up to that fact right away, then work to get over any fear by doing it. Here are some tips to get you started.
Slow and Steady Wins The Race!
The race itself is always going to be a learning curve, you’re never fully ready for your first 100 mile as you’ve never done one! Trust if you can run for an hour with a head torch and don't have any issues then it’s highly likely you can continue for much longer.
Top Tip! If you feel nauseous using a headtorch, try a body light as it reduces sickness for some.
Fitness and your mindset are key areas to focus on in preparation. At night fuelling and hydration should be similar to the day time but will often slow, as you’ve slowed! Or it’s not as hot so less fluid is needed.
Get your fitness right and you should be able to cope with one night's sleep deprivation, it’s just like clubbing with your mates except more painful and less fun. Not many hallucinate on 100-milers despite all the hype. It’s on the second and third night you get them when you go for 200-300 milers!
Running through the entire night is a huge tax on the body (and mind) as of course not only did you not go to sleep, you ran! Because of this I would tend not to recommend it in training. A compromise would be to go once dark and run for a few hours or get out at 2am and run till dawn so you at least bag some sleep. If you do want to run all night, I’d suggest it was at least 6-8 weeks prior to the event. You tend to lose a few days training and feel terrible the next day, again just like a night on the town. Some things are better left until the event in ultras - that’s why they are such an adventure.
Finally, I would just add although many ultras allow pacers these will often be from a set mileage, not necessarily from darkness. You should get comfortable with the idea of being alone at night on the trail as a worse case scenario. Please be careful if you train alone at night, if your location is not safe don’t do it, just get used to the idea come the event. On the event itself you are rarely a few minutes from another runner/help. If you are genuinely fearful for your welfare on a race, speak to the race director beforehand as they will want you safe and may be able to make allowances within the rules.