TRAIL RUNNING at night could help protect you from long term injuries… as long as you can get through the first few weeks unscathed.
That’s according to leading UK osteopath Stephen Makinde, who says that when your body has reduced sensory input, it forces a short and long term adaptive process to improve its perception.
And while pounding the trails in the nighttime is not without its pitfalls, often resulting in short-term niggles, running in the dark could actually be beneficial in the long-term as it may help stave off ankle ligament damage.
Makinde is clinical director of Perfect Balance Clinic, with bases in London and Hertfordshire, and who’s made a name for himself repairing athletes and stunt artists in the film industry.
He explains that when first training without light, runners need to be wary of slight changes in gait that might put you off your stride and lead to injury.
But Makinde says: “Running at night is clearly not without its difficulties. You’d expect people to be more prone to ankle injuries, where they step off kerbs or roll their ankles on uneven surfaces.
“Subtle changes to gait – where a runner subconsciously adjusts their stride as they deal with not being able to see what’s in front of them particularly well – might also lead to initial strains and tears.
“But that shouldn’t put you off – because there’s also a counter argument that says running in the dark could be very beneficial indeed.
“Provided you get through the initial period of darkness training unscathed, it could help to improve your strength and stability in the long run.”
It’s all down to something called ‘Proprioception’ – a sensory system in which the body is able to vary muscle contraction in response to what’s going on around it.
Makinde explains: “You have lots of different ways of getting sensory information into your body while you’re running, which is important for making decisions on muscular movements and co-ordination.
“One of those ways is through your eyes.
“When you’re running at nighttime and your vision is obscured partially, or it’s not at an optimal level, that’s going to limit the sensory information you receive and your other senses have to work harder to compensate. This results in a heightening of some of these senses to allow you to stay alert.
“And forcing your ‘proprioception’ to work harder can make you stronger neurally and more alert to respond to different forces on your body.
“In the clinic, we often get patients to take part in proprioception exercises where they’re blindfolded, or limit their ability to do tasks with their favoured choice of action, and then put them through their paces.
“It’s called ‘Constraint Induced Therapy’ and it creates neuroplastic changes within the brain as a stress response.
“There have been studies that have showed how this increased load on the proprioceptive system and the brain forces it to adapt and improve.
“So, in the long term, as long as you don’t get injuries initially when running in the dark, your brain will adapt to the lack of light and could potentially help you to run more efficiently overall.”
There are other potential health benefits when it comes to exercising at night.
A recent studies by Arizona State University sleep researcher Shawn Youngstedt found that running in the evening can help promote healthy sleep.
He said: ”High-level athletes, who may overtrain for a certain event, do have issues with sleep when traveling and under stress.
“But for the vast majority of us, that’s not a factor.
“One common myth is that exercise should be avoided at night.
“There are about 10% of us for whom exercise at night does disturb sleep, but I personally think that’s because they aren’t accustomed to it.
“For most of us, exercise at night, even if it ends just a couple of hours before bedtime, will help with sleep.”