Running After Dark: Safe or Stupid?

Why the change of season sucks in the city

The change of season never used to affect my workouts. Whether it’s dark or light outside my window, I have been up and working out before work ever since I started to earn a paycheck.

And then, two things happened.

First, my car was stolen over the summer — yes, not fun. (For the heart-wrenching, harrowing side story of what it was like to find my beautiful, ’97 Acura gutted and left for dead in Camden, Facebook me.).

At the time it was stolen, I was living in South Philly. Though it was a big change after four years of living in idyllic Berywn, where I’d run without fear down my street in the early morning hours or roll out of bed, jump into my car—which was, of course, parked conveniently in a driveway mere feet from my house— and drive five miles to the gym without a flash of worry that someone might be lurking in the dark about to mug me, having a car in South Philly allowed me to do basically the same thing during the winter months. The car was parked farther away, of course, and I felt a little more tense in the moments when it was still dark and I wasn’t yet locked safely inside the four doors, barricaded against any possible evil, imaginary or otherwise. And it helped that my street and those surrounding it were filled with families and sweet, slightly nosey neighbors.  (I also stopped allowing myself to watch Law & Order: SVU on evenings before I’d knew I’d be up before sunup.)

When my car was stolen at the end of May, I wasn’t using it for much else than driving a mile or so past a few iffy blocks to Sweat’s South Philly location, so I decided to make do without one. Good for the environment. Good for my bank account. And besides, training for Broad Street in May had gotten me addicted to running outside and I was enjoying my early morning jaunts down 2nd Street for most of my workouts. A gym, a car? All I needed was my sneakers and a good playlist.

Then, a few weeks ago, I moved to Northern Liberties. [Full disclosure: This is probably a worse decision than you might think, considering I moved only a few blocks away from where said car was last seen totally intact. Like many areas of the city, it’s not far from “less-safe” sections of the city. But, I loved the street—there are trees! and dogs! and friendly neighbors! — and the space is great. It’s amazing how many truly awful places exist on Craigslist.]

But now, in the mornings, it’s dark. Very dark.  It’s also dark by the time I leave work.

Sans car and newly transplanted to Northern Liberties, I feel, well, vulnerable. And frustrated. I’m training for the half marathon on November 21st, so getting my runs in is more important than ever. I hate to say that I’m afraid to be outside by myself in Northern Liberties once the sun goes down—especially when it sinks by 5:30 p.m. and doesn’t rise until close to 7 a.m.!—but, honestly … I am. It doesn’t help to have my boyfriend, family and co-workers agreeing that sweating in the shadows solo or hoofing it to and from the El at early or late hours to get to and from the gym is putting myself at unnecessary risk. Nor does catching a bit of the 11 p.m. news about another rape or murder in the city before climbing into bed.

Yes, there is an obvious answer: Run at the gym, inside, where I wouldn’t have to worry about who’s lurking around the corner. But that requires getting to said gym.

Whether I go before work or go after, at some point, I will be walking to or from the L in the dark. I could change gyms, sure, try to find one a bit closer to my house, but, honestly, I so enjoy my runs outside that I haven’t put the effort into finding one closer. Besides, I’d still have to walk there in the dark. To get my morning runs in, I need to be on the street no later than 5:45 a.m. in order to finish, shower, and be at my desk by 9 a.m., and if I’m adding on time for getting to a gym, I need to allow myself more time.

Despite my uneasiness, I’ve been to a few early morning Pure Barre classes over the last few weeks and my walk to the L has felt, well, a little creepy, thanks to the few poorly lit, empty side streets I have to walk down. So has my walk home after hitting the gym after work. Running outside in the dark? Haven’t done it yet. Thanks to the recent time switch, I had enough light to feel safe enough to be on the street this week, but that will be gone again soon and I’ll be greeted with pitch black when my alarm nudges me from sleep at 5:45am.

So, my question to you, Be Wellers, is this: Am I the only one who’s frustrated with how the dark has been affecting when I can or cannot—or really should or should not— work out in the city? Or has it affected you, too? Do any runners have any advice on where a girl can run in the city during the dark morning or evening hours and be, for the most part, relatively safe? Or am I being paranoid and is Northern Liberties a lot safer than I think?