A picture-perfect sunrise, a full moon reflecting off the lake, a light breeze sending leaves rustling around your feet while the fresh air fills your lungs-just a few of the reasons runners lace up their shoes and hit the pavement and trails all year-round. As enticing as the call of nature is, running outdoors is not without risk but that’s no reason to stay indoors. By following a few basic safety guidelines, runners can take steps to mitigate some of the risks associated with running outdoors. There are three basic guidelines at the heart of runner safety:
• Be Seen: With shorter days in the fall and winter, runners find themselves spending a good amount of time training in the dark. A safe runner is a visible runner. Not only do runners need to consider comfort when dressing for outdoor running, runners must also dress to be seen by those drivers and cyclists that they share the roads and path with. While head to toe black attire may make runners look svelte, runners will also look like ninjas and blend into the darkness. Instead, runners should channel their inner 80’s fashionista and look for clothing in colors like hot pink, bright orange and neon yellow. More importantly, clothing featuring high- visibility and reflective technology, such as the Sugoi Zap Run Jacket and Vest, make it easier for others to see them when the material is struck by artificial light, such as car headlights. Drivers can recognize a person wearing reflective gear at a distance up to six times greater than a person wearing white. In addition to wearing brightly colored and reflective materials, “blinky” lights, such as the Nathan StrobeLight, add an additional level of visibility. Just as flashing lights are more eye-catching than solid lights, accentuating the moving parts-feet, ankles and wrists-with bright colors and reflective materials will also more readily capture the attention of drivers and cyclists. Check out some visibility accessories here.
• Be Prepared: When possible, particularly at night or in the pre-dawn hours, run with a partner or group. There is safety, (and more fun), in numbers! Alternatively, runners should make sure someone-a friend or family member, perhaps a doorman-knows their route, when they left and when they expect to return. Technology can also help friends or family keep track of runners while on the run. Some GPS watches, like the Garmin 920XT, have this capability, as well as a variety of apps, such as “Find My Friends,” for cell phones can serve this purpose. Accidents happen and when they do it isn’t always possible for runners to communicate vital information to first responders. Road IDs are a great way to provide first responders with important information such as name, age, emergency contacts and known allergies or medications. Alternatively, carrying some form of identification and including an emergency contacts phone number under “I.C.E.” in a cellphone can also be of assistance to first responders. Sometimes runs are cut short for other reasons and runners just need to get home by a means other than their own two feet. Carrying a Ventra card, $20 bill or credit card can make the journey home much easier. Road IDs, $20 bills and credit cards are lightweight and very easy to carry-there’s no reason to leave home unprepared for the unexpected.
• Be Aware: The best defense is a good offense. Runners can’t control the extent to which others are looking out for them, but they can control the extent to which they are aware of their surroundings. Runners should be on the look out for obstacles in their path-uneven pavement, holes, puddles, ice, etc. Generally the city streets and Chicago lakefront path are fairly well lit allowing runners to see most obstacles, even in the dark. However, when running less familiar routes or in poorly lit areas, a flashlight designed for runners, like the Nathan Zephyr Fire Hand Torch, will allow runners to confidently avoid obstacles that may trip them up on the run. If running with music, runners should only put one earbud in and keep the volume low so traffic-car, bicycle and foot-around them can be heard. Runners should look both ways before entering or exiting a path or intersection. Runners should not expect that drivers or cyclists see them and will stop when they are attempting to cross the street or path. Instead, runners should attempt to make eye contact with drivers and cyclists before proceeding through intersections. Runners should exercise extra caution around alleys, side streets and driveways.
The bottom line is: Runners should control what is within their power to control and take steps to limit the risks associated with factors outside of their control.
There are miles and miles of exciting roads and trails waiting to be explored. Keep these guidelines in mind-BE SEEN, BE PREPARED, BE AWARE-, lace up your shoes and hit the ground running!
Coach Kristan Huenink is a USAT-certified coach with Grit Endurance, Live Grit’s athlete- inspired training community.