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Important Safety Tips for Outdoor Runners and Walkers

Put Your Safety First with These 6 Strategies
  -- By Nancy Howard, Certified Running Coach
Two weeks ago while I was out for a five-mile run on a busy street in my neighborhood, I saw another runner coming at me. While I was running facing the oncoming traffic, she was running with the flow of traffic. I always run against the flow of traffic because I want to see the driver just in case he or she does not see me; at least this gives me the opportunity to jump out of the way.

As fate would have it, a car coming (at a fairly high speed for a residential street), was making a beeline right for the other runner. I started screaming at her to jump the curb. Thankfully, she did and avoided getting hit. The driver had no clue what could have happened—she was too busy on her cell phone to notice. Let me tell you, these two runners were quite shaken up. She picked herself up, and I picked up my heart and continued on my way.

While I spent the better part of the next three miles thinking about the accident she was able to avoid, I realized that I, too, have made many mistakes while running on the road. Here are few tips to make all runners and walkers a little safer when we hit the open road.

Map Your Route in Advance
While I use a portable GPS device to track my runs, it dawned on me that while I know where I am headed, my husband would have no clue. If something happened to me, he would have no idea where to even begin looking for me. Therefore, from now on I am going to be using the SparkPeople’s Fitness Maps, to map out my intended route and leave a copy with him just in case. Even if you don't take the time to map your route in advance, share the details with a friend, significant other or loved one. Tell someone where you're headed and when you plan to return. If no one's around, leave a voice mail, send an email or write it down where someone can find it in case you are gone longer than expected. Better safe than sorry.

Bring a Cell Phone
Thankfully, I have never had to use my cell phone on a run, but you never know. In an age where pay phones are rare and businesses are reluctant to let you use their phones, it is always a good idea to carry one with you in case of trouble. This is especially true if you run in a rural setting. Make sure you have an ICE (In Case of Emergency) entry in your cell phone book. EMS and other emergency personnel are trained to look for that listing in cell phones so they know whom to contact on your behalf.

Carry Identification
Whether you carry your driver’s license in your pocket or wear a Road ID bracelet, make sure you carry some form of ID just in case you are injured or rendered unconscious. Your identification should include your name, emergency contacts, and other essential information, such as drug allergies or pre-existing medical conditions. You can also simply write your emergency contact information on a piece of paper in your pocket.

Run Against the Flow of Traffic
As I mentioned earlier, facing traffic helps you see when cars are coming. I would much rather see a car than risk an inattentive driver not seeing me. In an age where people do everything in their car except drive sometimes, you must be on the defensive if you are running or walking in the street. (On a related note, biking is a different story. Always go with the flow of traffic when cycling.)

Beware of Dogs
While I have yet to encounter any vicious dogs on my runs, the best thing to do if approached by one is to stop running or walking. A dog will be able to outrun a walker or runner any time, so it is best to slowly back up away from the dog. Try to put something between you and the dog. If you have access to a stick or rock, that may be a deterrent. (Throw the object away from you—not at the dog—so he or she will chase it instead of you.) And as a last resort, drop to the ground and curl up in a ball, making sure you cover your face and head.

Wear Reflective Gear
Wearing some form of reflective gear, whether a hat, jacket, shirt, or button, especially at night, dusk or dawn, allows others to see you more easily. Anytime you can become more visible allows for better safety. At the very least, avoid wearing dark colors like black, blue or brown during these dimly lit times. The brighter you are, the better off you'll be.

Remember, always put your safety first. This will allow you to continue running for a long time to come.