Defensive Running

Today I joined people from all over the world in going out for a run in dedication to Meg Menzies, the woman in Hanover County, VA who was tradgically struck and killed by a drunk driver on Monday while out for a morning run with her husband. My heartfelt symphathies to her husband, three children, her family, and all her friends.

As I went out on my run, I started thinking about some of the ways runners can try be more defensive in avoiding traffic incidents. Sometimes, caution is just not enough. By all accounts, Menzies was an experienced runner and doing everything ‘right’ in order to try to minimize her chances of being in an accident. Certainly, encouranging everyone to have the decency to not drive while intoxicated and to not text while driving helps us all. But there are some defensive steps runners can take to be safer. Most of these are pretty obvious, but if you’re new to running or have just always done your own thing (as I did for years), then maybe you might get something out of these.

  • When possible, keep to the sidewalks. I know a lot of runners who complain that concrete gives them worse pain (often shin splints) than running on more flexible asphalt. However, I strongly believe that discomfort from running on concrete can be largely offset by properly fit shoes and adopting good form running techniques.

    If you must run on the road, be sure to keep aware of the traffic. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get lost in a song or a conversation and not hear a car until it’s too late.

    Incidentally, during my run earlier today, I had to go off the sidewalk an onto the road (in the direction of traffic, even) as there was a small flock of turkey vultures devouring a opossum in my way and I deemed it best to not try to hurdle them. However, after about 50 yards and as I heard a car approaching from behind, I jumped back in the grass.

  • I’ve been part of running clubs in the past, but the large majority of my runs are alone. However, running in groups has its own kind of safety. The more ears and eyes, the more likely to notice a car.

    Just try to avoid running down a road two- or three- (or, in the case of Grove Avenue in Richmond, VA, up to four-) abreast. Leaving a runner out in the middle of a lane leaves them —as well as a vehicle— no where to go.

  • As I run by myself a lot and as I’ve started running with a smartphone, I tend to listen to music or audiobooks while on a run. However, it’s important to not listen to music too loudly or use headphones that restrict your ability to hear your environment. Consider listening to audiobooks or podcasts instead of loud music, as these tend to present less of a wall of sound and you can often make out sounds around you much easier.

  • Consider getting a RoadID or at least keeping your driver’s license with you while you run. In the event of an accident, you want people to know who you are and who to contact someone on your behalf if necessary.

    I mentioned running with my smartphone, on which I use a GPS app to track my runs. However, that GPS can also be used to help locate me and make sure I’m safe. My wife can user our shared iTunes account and a Find My iPhone app to make sure I’m still up & moving at any time. In other words, it’s like I’m LoJacked on my runs (and that’s a good thing).

  • Be aware of your own self, as well. As you run, you get tired and/or get into the zone. Both can tend to put blinders on you, restricting your awareness to the path immediately ahead of you. This is also where having others can be of help, but it’s still important to acknowledge that just because you’re deep into the zen of your run, the world around you hasn’t really stopped.

  • Lastly, but sure most importantly, please obey all laws and regulations regarding traffic and pedestrians. As frustrating as waiting on a light to change can be, traffic laws are there to keep you safe. Let’s face it, running out in a urban area isn’t the best place to set a PR. Save that for a race, where the course is closed to traffic and you can really focus on your run and only your run.

    If it helps you, a lot of current running apps have an auto pause feature which pauses recording if you stand (relatively) still for more than 30 seconds or so. I use this feature on the Nike Plus app on my iPhone and it alleviates that sense of urgency I might otherwise feel to dash out in between cars at a red light.

If you want to read even more about staying safe while running, Runner’s World has a great long-form article titled Collision Course.

And, please, whether your out for a run, on your bike, or behind the wheel, please be safe and aware.