Make yourself visible: a guide to running defensively

Credit: Jack Atley/Allsport
As you run along your favorite roadway, look at the dents in the guardrails, the tire tracks on the shoulders, and the long black skid marks on the road.

The roads can be dangerous, and those clues are often the visual histories of a driver losing control and leaving the travel portions of the road.

Often it is just the luck of the draw whether or not you happened to be there when a car veers off the roadway. According to the National Safety Council, 90,000 bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians have unlucky encounters with cars and 7,000 of them die as a result.

Luck on your side helps, of course, but running defensively is your best protection. In general, your job is to make yourself easy to see. Don't wear dark or muted colors. Use reflective vests and outerwear, flashing lights, and neon colors. Look for running attire with reflective fibers spun into the whole cloth. Make sure that drivers have no trouble seeing you, no matter what time of day you run.

After making yourself as visible as possible, then run as though you're invisible. By assuming you might be hard to see, you will make optimum use of your own defensive thinking.

Always run facing traffic. This may be a major concession for those who have trouble with repetitive-stress injuries that are due to the beveled road surface, but the risks of running with the traffic are too great. You may have to find an alternate course that doesn't cover canted roads.

Here are some safety tips to improve your odds of preventing an encounter with a vehicle that's too close for comfort.

  • Focus on approaching vehicles particularly the driver. Watch for cell phone users, animated talkers, and drivers cutting corners or otherwise driving aggressively. Notice whether the driver is looking at you. If not, you're effectively invisible.

  • Stay alert to the traffic dynamics. An approaching vehicle may not be able to give you additional room, or may be forced toward you by another vehicle, an obstruction, an animal or a myriad of other causes. Keep aware of your options to get out of the way.

  • Reinforce good driving behavior by acknowledging when a driver moves over to give you room, or is courteous to you as you run. Wave and smile to let him know you appreciate the thoughtfulness. (He's probably runner himself.)

  • Consider the conditions before you choose a route. Guardrails can be deadly. You should avoid roadways without shoulders or with obstructions like construction or snow banks.

  • Intersections are particularly dangerous (but better than jaywalking). Catch the eye of drivers. Drivers are looking for other vehicles, not runners. The more lanes in the intersection, the worse your odds. If you're crossing without the help of crosswalks, take your time to really assess the traffic. A quick glance is not adequate.

  • Avoid running on roads when the sun is low behind you. Early morning or later evening often the best running times can be deadly at certain times of the year. Drivers facing the sun probably won't be able to see you no matter what you do.

  • If the unthinkable happens and you can't get out of the way jump. If your feet are on the ground at the point of contact the consequences may be far worse than if you jump. With your feet in the air, you will likely go over the vehicle rather than under it, which is a real advantage under the circumstances.

    Road running is inherently dangerous. Vehicles approaching you at 60 mph, for example, are covering 88 feet per second. Since your reaction time is about three-quarters of a second, on average, once a swerving vehicle is within 66 feet of you, you won't be able to react defensively.

    Unfortunately, a good bit of your time on the road is spent within those little envelopes in which your fate depends largely on others and good fortune. Your best chance to avoid injury is to practice defensive running, anticipating the possibilities long before they are out of your control.

    John Kelling, Windsor, CT is a member of The American Running Association

    Vol. 19, No. 10, Running & FitNews
    Copyright, The American Running Association.

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