Friday, July 02, 2010

Defensive Running

A couple days ago, a young mother in our area was pushing her 1-year-old and 2-year-old babies in a double jogging stroller, and was hit by a car and killed. Witnesses say she saved her babies' lives by quickly shoving the stroller out of harm's way just before being struck. She had been training for a half-marathon. The idiot who killed her was driving under the influence - and had run a stop sign. I can't imagine these precious little babies who will now have to grow up without a mama. It just breaks my heart.

This is not the first time I have read about a runner being seriously injured or killed while out doing one of the things s/he loves the most. I realize that some of these accidents were completely unavoidable on the part of the runner. However, it has made me extremely cautious when I am on the road, and I have learned just a few things that hopefully, will increase my safety.

For one thing, I refuse to run on a busy road that does not have a good shoulder. Some roads in my neighborhood have no shoulder at all, but the traffic is sparse, so I do run on these roads with great precaution. I have to assume that every driver coming my way does not see me. When out running, you really have to "run defensively" - I have taken a defensive driving course and was taught that you basically expect every other driver on the road to do the wrong thing. Well, when you're running, it's best to do the same thing. Never assume the driver will see you, or that he will politely give you room, or will stop at the stop sign as you cross the intersection. He may be fiddling with his cell phone, or changing the radio station  at that very moment. It may be that he is not tuned into pedestrians, but is focused on looking for other vehicles. One time my husband and I were running together, and my husband was ahead of me. I saw a car approaching the road we were on to the left, and it had a stop sign. The car stopped and needed to turn right (toward us). I called for my husband to stop, that the driver was not going to notice him. It was true - since the driver was turning right, all she did was look to her left for cars. It never occurred to her to look right. My husband was surprised - he said, "I can't believe she didn't see me! You were right!" If he hadn't stopped, she would have hit him.

Another thing I won't do is run on a windy road. Our neighborhood is full of them. I admit, there is one road that forks off from my home street that has a blind curve, and I run it periodically. I just know I have to be extremely careful if I decide to take it. This means, for that particular curve I have to run on the wrong side of the road for a few feet. I always run against traffic. However, in this situation, there is no way a car would see me coming around the bend if I were running on the left side - and there is nowhere for me to go since there is no shoulder, and clusters of tall trees immediately off the road.

There is a very busy road close to our house that I love to run. However, it has a nice shoulder and I only run an area of this road that is straight. As I already said, I always run against traffic, and I keep as far left as I possibly can. I watch each and every car that approaches. I never wear an iPod because I don't want anything distracting me. I have also learned to make eye contact with the driver as each car approaches.  It's amazing how much this helps. If a driver doesn't make eye contact with me, then I know he doesn't see me and may be distracted. I get way over when that happens - even if I have to run in the dirt or grass.

Another thing I do is slow down and look at every cross street before I pass. If a car is approaching closely, I will stop and wait, and again - make eye contact. Most of the time, the driver will see me and motion for me to go on. But I'm not taking a chance, assuming the driver sees me! I try to be courteous and give a wave to every driver who is friendly to me on the road - whether they are moving a bit over to give me more space as they pass, or motioning for me to cross in front of them. I am hoping this will encourage them to be kind and courteous to other runners they encounter on the road.

Of course, it's probably obvious, but if you're going to be out at dawn or dusk, it is crucial to wear bright, reflective clothing or gear. I have never run when it's pitch black except when I was at my Dad's house, and there were sidewalks available - plus hardly any traffic. I know some runners use head lamps as well as blinking lights on their shoes to run at night - which is definitely a good idea. I, however, am too chicken to chance it.

From the other point of view, since becoming a runner, I have become much more aware of fellows runners on the road while driving. I can't believe how many times I have seen a runner on the wrong side of the road, or running on a narrow, winding road unnoticed until the last minute. Some runners assume I see them crossing in front of me at an intersection or stop sign. I always think, "You're just lucky I noticed you!" Fellow runners, we must be very careful on the road and always "run defensively"! Your life is worth it!