Chasing Sunsets: Ending the Day on a Runner’s High

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By Stuart
Goulden

Avid runner. 10x marathons. Daily 10kms. Award-winning journalist when not moving (about me)

A confession: nothing helps me to unwind more than chasing sunsets on a run.

Therapeutic fuel for the soul, there’s something magical about working out to a serene backdrop of nature’s choosing.

We’ve all been stopped in our tracks and succumbed to watching a deliciously spellbinding sunset. Watching the sun slowly slip behind the horizon while running works wonders if you’re trying to slow down, relax, and bask in the beauty of nature.

The lure of the sun setting is the perfect transition from a busy work day into my happy place too. The inspiring palette. The comforting glow. The alone time. The freedom to think. There’s something deeply calming about sunrises and sunsets.

In this article I share why I like to chase sunsets and end the day on the famous runner’s high.

Related running: Why Running Makes You Happy

10 Benefits of Running at Sunset – In My Opinion

#1: The Ultimate Unwinding Experience

York racecourse parkrun route at sunset

Sunsets are an instant mood booster. Fleeting moments providing prized solace.

Research shows watching the sun cross the horizon stimulates the pineal gland as the direct sunlight hits the eye, moves through retinal-hypothalamic tract and hits the brain. This boosts the secretion of melatonin and serotonin, our “feel-good” hormones.

Sunset runs are a small but significant act of self-care.

With modern life so hectic and often overwhelming, sunsets provide the ideal conditions for relaxation, reflection and letting go.

I find running in the evenings a good incentive to close the laptop at 5pm and totally switch off from work stuff or to process bigger problems.

Sunset running also gives us hope. No matter how challenging our day, we can still end on a high note with the optimism and beauty provided by the sun’s restorative rays. There’s little doubt in my mind that running is therapeutic.

#2: A Valuable Form of Moving Meditation

We spend 90% of our time indoors. That’s insane.

Every run in the great outdoors is full of life-affirming sights and emotions. Stopping us in our tracks to offer a glimpse of a meaning greater than ourselves.

It’s entirely possible to meditate when running and bring more active energy to your meditation practice.

Great things happen when we intentionally shift our attention outward instead of inward.

Sunsets provide an opportunity to foster a deeper connection with our surroundings and understand our role as a participant in a larger story. Sunsets are immersive dramas in time that open up a portal to another dimension in our minds shielded from the chaos of everyday life.

#3: Sunset Running Is Great for Creative Problem Solving

Couples of the docks at sunset near the Lisbon marathon route
Couples on the docks when sunset running along the Lisbon marathon route

Another benefit of running in search of sunsets is they can unlock blue-sky thinking.

There’s no better way to move beyond writer’s block or work through a new challenge than running into a beautiful sunset.

It’s only when we relieve ourselves from high-pressure situations and allow our minds to wander can we do our best thinking. You’re blessed with countless visual stimulation on an evening run.

We’ve all had that epiphany when on a run or in the shower. Our subconscious mind has been searching for that killer idea or solution all along, but it’s only able to enter your conscious mind when there’s sufficient room. By parking a work-related problem at source, you’re far more likely to find a creative solution on the road.

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#4: Sunset Runs Can Aid Artistic Flow

“When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands.” – Gandhi

The dreamlike qualities of a good sunset have long provided inspiration to poets, romantics and artists. As I run coastal routes or my favorite urban vantage points, I can relate.

Research confirms that sunsets are the most beautiful fleeting weather phenomenon we are likely to find in any day. People prefer them to storms, rainbows after running in the rain, clear blue skies or nightfall. Plus, they care to put a monetary value on the good sunset, as participants claimed to be willing to pay up to £100 to see inspiring natural landscapes at dawn or dusk.

The vibrant color palette of sunset aesthetics are clearly transferable to artistic output. Inspiring and dramatic blends of bold reds, oranges and yellows against soft pastel hues of pink and purple illuminate the sky and leave a lasting image to draw down on.

The ephemeral nature of sunsets means that they delight as an artist’s work does during creation. The landscape demanding gulp or weep as it reveals its masterpiece.

It’s little wonder research claims a 60% boost to creative output when you lose yourself on a run. It confirms that everything is illuminated when you run with your eyes open.

#5: More Attainable Than Morning Runs

The sun piercing through trees in a park at sunset

I’m the first to harp on about the benefits of running in the morning, however it’s not always realistic for many people.

Life has a habit of getting in the way of exercise.

Work. Kids. Hobbies. Chores. I get it.

For many people it’s easier to fit an evening or lunchtime run into a busy schedule, than attempt to knock out a 10km pre-work.

Whilst a good sunset is never guaranteed, their timing is easy to predict. By adapting your day and running preparations (e.g. a good meal, a free schedule) to the reliability of the sun’s orbit, you can increase the odds of runner’s high against a breathtaking backdrop.

You never know, you might also be amongst the 25% of people who are even genetically predisposed to evening exercise. You see, all of us experience the day in three stages a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us experience it in that order. But about one in four people, those whose genes or age make them night owls, experience the day in something closer to the reverse order-recovery, trough, peak. Get to know your rhythm and lean into sunset runs if that’s you.

#6: Better Photo Opportunities – No Filter Needed

Running on the beach at sunset near the Flamborough Head coastal walking route
Running on the beach at sunset near the Flamborough Head coastal walking route

Professional photographers cherish the liminal ‘golden hours’ of sunrise and sunset.

Also a magical hour for runners, this extraordinary natural phenomena occurs because the sun’s light is diffused as it has further to travel, creating a soft glow with a warm hue. Perfect for otherworldly snaps.

The ‘favorites’ photo album on my phone is a busy collection of intense sunsets and sunrises.

Snapping away while I run also sharpens my capacity for awe and my desire to go further. Moments of awe multiply and pierce through otherwise routine runs, making it a really easy decision to get out every day and hit runner’s high.

I also find running at sunset to be character building. The optimist in you heads in hope more than expectation. You might always catch a glorious sunset, but when you do it makes it all that sweeter. It’s no exaggeration to say that sometimes I can’t help but gawp in awe and disbelief at what I’m seeing.

#7: Chasing Sunsets Mixes up Your Training

Incorporating a variety of different workouts into your running routine can help you improve your endurance, speed, and overall fitness level. But beyond the science, it also helps you to stay disciplined when motivation levels drop.

In this order, my typical running schedule consists of:

  • Easy Runs: Decent distance covered at a comfortable slow jogging pace to build endurance and focus on proper running mechanics
  • Challenge Runs: Just for the love of running, usually to the shops, see friends or to rediscover my running mojo
  • Tempo Runs: A moderate-to-hard intensity for up to 10km to be able to run faster for a more sustained period of time
  • Interval Training: Alternating between high-intensity (work interval) and low-intensity (recovery interval) bursts to improve top speed and cardiovascular fitness

Treat running as an adventure and nature as your playground and I guarantee you’ll never struggle to head out the door again.

#8: A Run at Sunset Can Help You Sleep Better

Trail running winter as the sun sets across a flooded field
Trail running in winter as the sun sets across a flooded field

People often worry that exercising late at night will keep them wired, but studies show the opposite is actually true. A study from the University of South Carolina found 97% of people who exercised at a high intensity at night discovered their quality of sleep was equal to or better than when they exercised during the day. You also fall asleep faster.

Deep sleep brings its own benefits:

  • Better moods
  • More productive
  • More present
  • More engaged
  • Improved stamina
  • Facilitates weight loss
  • Better overall health

By incorporating more runs at night and getting more natural light away from a computer screen you’re also helping to regulate melatonin production, the hormone responsible for a normal circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock in our brain that regulates cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light changes in our environment. The result is a healthier sleep-wake cycle, whereby you drift off easier and wake up rejuvenated.

#9: Share a Sunset with a Running Group

Running at night is also more social – FACT!

Sharing a sunset as part of a running community is a special experience that photos alone can’t capture.

Running clubs or meetup events make it easy to meet like-minded souls who share a passion for running. Participating in group runs not only helps me remain accountable, but also pushes me beyond my comfort zone. By setting and achieving goals together, there’s a sense of camaraderie and accountability that makes getting out in the bad weather days so much easier. It’s no surprise that attendance always peaks when there’s the promise of a stunning sunset that week.

I definitely prefer more leisurely run groups in the evening, whereas my morning runs tend to be a solo endeavor to set my day up for success.

Related reading: Keep Fit & Do Good With These Running Charities

#10: No Two Sunsets Are the Same

Existing only briefly, the joy of catching one is almost childlike.

Their unpredictable, ephemeral nature can turn otherwise routine runs into treasure hunts.

The unique visual palette of every sunset not only represents a physical change but also provides mental stimulation and one-off moments of awe.

In Summary – The Unbridled Joy of Jogging at Sunset

A beautiful sunset is a freeing, cathartic experience.

Whatever the day has thrown at you, it offers a winning combination of physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

You come home relaxed, rejuvenated and with a ready for whatever challenge or opportunity lies ahead. You can’t help but appreciate life more and turn troubles into possibilities.

As the philosopher Bernard Williams said: “It is almost impossible to watch a sunset and not dream.”

What is it you love about running at golden hour? Let me know in the comments below…

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