Written by Susan Colarco
My friend got hit by a car while out for a run a few months back. Apart from a few scrapes and bruises, he wasn’t hurt, so don’t worry about that. In fact, as we reflect on the accident (I was about 100 yards behind him and watched it happen) we kind of laugh a bit. His encounter with the soccer mom’s Subaru Outback was not the roll-over-the-hood-land-on-the-ground-with-four-limbs-pointing-four-different-directions choreographed gracefulness that we have come to expect from watching too many action movies. Instead, it was more like a baby’s awkward first sneeze – you know, the kid sneezes, has a look of horror on her face, contorts her body is a strange seizure-like fit, and then looks around as if to ask, “what the heck was that?!?” That was my friend’s run-in with the Subaru.
The sad part about my friend’s Subaru encounter is that it didn’t have to happen. He was crossing a street in a crosswalk with the walk signal when the woman pulled up. Wanting to make a right turn on red, she looked left, saw no cars coming, so proceeded to go through the light. The problem was….she never looked to her right – the direction from which my friend was running. The driver was ticketed and my friend was given a stern talking to from the police officer. Yep, that’s right, my friend was doing everything right but he still got a stern talking to. Why? Well, simply put, because as a runner one cannot rely on the belief that others will follow the rules. It’s sad, but the police officer was right.
Watching my friend’s slow motion crash was a reminder to me that no matter how much faith I have in my fellow pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, dog walkers, roller-bladers, etc., I still need to be on my toes (no pun intended) every time I go out for a run. Keeping that in mind, here are a few safety tips you should consider the next time you go out for a run:
*Don’t wear headphones: I know, I know, I’ve heard it all before… “I need music to keep my pace.” “I can’t stand hearing myself breathe.” “It makes the time go by.” To those excuses I say – I’m not convinced! The truth is, music often gives you a false sense of pace. Be honest, how many times have you gone for a run, started jamming out to a great tune, and then realized you can’t keep up with yourself? People who run to music naturally fall into running with the beat. The problems is, sometimes that beat is too fast for you and other times too slow. If you want to find your perfect pace, do it by listening to your body instead. Oh, and by the way, listening to yourself breathe is important! If you’re huffing and puffing and can’t hold a conversational pace, chances are you are overexerting yourself. Finally, the reason wearing headphones makes the time go by is because you stop paying attention to your surroundings. Think about it – is that really a good thing? When you stop paying attention to what is happening around you, you’re more likely to get hurt – you may not hear that cyclist approaching from the rear, or the car turning the corner, or worse yet, that man on the trail looking to take advantage of a single runner in a secluded area. Be smart, listen to your body and pay attention to your surroundings. You’ll find over time that traffic, cyclists, the trees, and the water create a tune that can’t be beat.
*Don’t trust people to follow the rules: Is this a bit cynical? Perhaps. But is it a good safety precaution to take? I think so. As my friend learned, you can’t rely on that person making a right turn on red to actually look to see if there are runners coming from the opposite direction. Cyclists on the local trails are instructed by signage to announce themselves when passing. The truth is many of them don’t. People are supposed to keep their dogs on leashes, stay to the right of the trails, and stop for runners in crosswalks. Oftentimes, that just doesn’t happen. Rather than getting into the cyclist versus runner debate or exactly what the crosswalk rules along the GW Parkway may be, I give a broader warning. Don’t trust that people will slow down, stop, look, or listen for you as you are out on your run. Approaching crossings and high traffic areas with this healthy dose of skepticism allows you to react to those individuals who choose to not follow the rules.
*Run against traffic: I’m a huge fan of trails and sidewalks. In the metro DC area in particular, you can get anywhere via the elaborate trail system we have. We’re spoiled, you know? I’m not sure if folks realize just how lucky we are to have the robust trail system that we have here, but we are truly spoiled. That said, if you find yourself in the position of having to run on the streets rather than the trails or the sidewalks, be sure to run against traffic. Unlike cyclists (who are – despite what many may think – obligated to follow the traffic rules), runners are not charged with running with traffic. By running against traffic, you are able to see oncoming traffic and, if necessary, react quickly. If you run with traffic, you may never see that car coming up behind you.
*Know your trail etiquette: As I said, we are lucky in this area to have a robust trail system. That said, the trails are only as enjoyable as the people using them make them. Therefore, do your part…
o Stay right while running.
o Never run more than two abreast.
o When a cyclist announces himself as passing on your left, move to the right and acknowledge the cyclist’s warning.
o Announce yourself when passing. You may not be running at the fastest pace, but you still may overtake another runner or walker. A simple “hello” or “good morning” when you’re 10-15 yards back can work wonders. The walker/runner in front of you won’t be startled and, better yet, if they are with a dog, the dog won’t be startled.
o Before passing or turning, look behind you. Again, don’t just assume that cyclist behind you will announce himself. Therefore, before making a left turn or U-turn in particular, make sure you’re not going to step right out in front of someone bearing down on you.
o Don’t. Just. Stop. I can’t stress this enough. If you need to stop, pull off to the grass on the side of the trail. If you come to an abrupt stop, chances are the person behind you is going to smack right into you.
Want to learn more about how to make your run safe and enjoyable?
Come on in for a consult and let’s talk! I’m happy to help you learn the proper running techniques and safety precautions so you too can avoid an encounter with a Subaru!
Susan Colarco is a Certified Running Coach at Health and Wholeness – a multifaceted fitness and wellness business in Arlington, Virginia featuring: Private and Semi-Private Personal Training as well as Group Runs and Individual Run Coaching, Pilates, Muscle Activation Techniques, Fitness Boot Camps, Nutrition Consultations, Acupuncture, Massage, Wellness Coaching, Infrared Sauna, Ionic Foot Soaks and more.