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Runners Education: Rules of the Run (Safety Considerations)

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This is another installation in a series of runners education articles written by UW Health Sports Medicine staff.

 

Outdoor environments pose inherent dangers for runners. Motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians all present challenges to the runner that can be minimized with appropriate safety strategies. All of these strategies follow two basic rules:

  • Run defensively
  • Be aware of your surroundings

Motor Vehicles and Bicycles

  • Don't assume at any time they can see you: While many of the suggestions below help with those around you seeing you, never assume they can.
  • UW Health Sports Medicine Runners Education: Jogger crossing the streetDon't assume that the vehicle will stop because you have the right of way: Vehicles are bigger and moving faster than you are. If the vehicle does not yield, you will not win the collision. 
  • Make eye contact and an acknowledgement: If you and a vehicle (or even another runner) are crossing paths, be sure to make eye contact with the driver. Receive acknowledgement from the driver - usually a wave of the hand - that you may pass in front of the vehicle. If you do not make eye contact with the driver or you don't receive acknowledgement, do not proceed until the vehicle has passed.
  • Don't race the car, bike or train: If you and a vehicle are approaching a crossing point, allow the vehicle to pass unless the vehicle stops, makes eye contact with you, and waves you safely by. Waiting for 10 minutes for a train to pass or five seconds for a car to pass while you run in place is far better than a trip to the emergency room. If a train takes too long, run back along the route you came for a few minutes before returning to the crossing.

Running in the Road

  • Run against traffic: Using this method, you can see traffic coming and avoid it. If you run with traffic, you may never see vehicles that are approaching you.
  • If the road is a busy thoroughfare, avoid it: Watch for a break in traffic and run as far on the shoulder as possible. If traffic arrives before you can complete the busy section, step off of the road and away from traffic.

Your Running Routes

  • Have a plan: Make sure you inform someone of the route you are planning to run or leave a note along with your departure time. If something unfortunate should happen to you as you run, this will help others to find you.
  • Avoid deserted streets, overgrown areas and unpopulated regions: Running in populated areas provides a measure of safety. It is easy to seek help or a safe shelter should you feel unsafe, become ill, sustain an injury, or encounter dangerous weather conditions. 
  • Run multiple routes: Many runners have a favorite running route and time. Varying the route you run not only provides a variety of training environments for your body to have to conquer, potentially improving your training, but this unpredictability provides you a measure of protection from undesirable people as well.

Visibility

  • Running at night: While most running attire has reflective materials, the reflective material is often only along seams or covering small areas. Use wrist, ankle and head bands, headlamps and flashing lights to improve your visibility. Reflective tapes and reflective vests can be applied to clothing or worn to increase visibility.
  • Running in the rain:  Rain requires extra caution because a driver's view can be compromised. Further, if it is raining at night or if everything is wet from rainfall, the many lights from houses, buildings, street lamps, and other vehicles create reflections on the wet surfaces. Reflective materials on clothing or the small lights runners wear may be misconstrued as a reflection, making the runner invisible to a driver. Also, raingear is often sold in dark colors that do not stand out in rainy conditions. Look for bright colored rain gear or wear bright colors over your rain gear. Always be more careful during or after rainfalls, particularly if it is dark.
  • Avoid fog and whiteout conditions: Not only can drivers not see runners, but runners often cannot see vehicles. Stay on running paths and sidewalks during these conditions. If you have access to a treadmill or an indoor track, run inside.
  • Follow the rules of the bike paths: When running on a bike path or other area where a bike or another runner may come upon you from behind, look over your shoulder to make sure the path is clear before changing directions or crossing the path. Failure to do so is not only discourteous, but you could also end up with bike tire tracks running up your back from a collision.

Pedestrians and Runners

  • Run with a partner or group: Whenever possible, run with a partner. If you don't have one, look for a running groups to join. Most have no fees, allowing you to join several groups and have multiple options for both time of day and routes to run.
  • Follow your intuition: Always trust your intuition. If people are approaching and you feel unsafe and need to change directions or enter a secure location, do it.
  • Avoid the driver asking for directions: If a vehicle pulls along side you and asks for directions, do not approach the vehicle. This may seem unfriendly, but it is for your own safety. If necessary, change directions and seek out a safe shelter or other people.
  • Ignore the heckler: If you encounter someone who taunts you as you run by, do not  yell back, stare or gesture. Often these individuals are harmless but some of them are seeking out a reason to cause further trouble. There is simply no upside to responding to them.
  • For your safety: Have a whistle, cell phone or another means of defense such as pepper spray, as well as knowledge of open stores or other safe locations, particularly if you are running alone.
  • Don't run with earphones or buds: Listening to music while you run decreases awareness of your surroundings and increases the possibility of injury. If you are running on a treadmill, wearing earbuds or headphones is perfectly fine. Running outside with them on can be dangerous.

With minimal planning, forethought, and consideration, running can be an extremely safe and enjoyable activity.