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.

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.

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