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.

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