Staying Safe

Safety on the roads is one thing both runners and bicyclists have to keep as a top priority.  Hazards come in all forms.  It can be somebody attacking us on a lonely stretch of a trail or a menacing dog with a taste for athletes.  I know someone who was attacked by a raccoon during a run on a February morning.  She ended up being treated for rabies.  There is one hazard that scares me the most – a motor vehicle.  In a battle between a runner or bicyclist and a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle will always win.

At the end of March I was shocked and sadden to learn Mike Hall, a 35-year-old ultra cyclist from the UK, was killed while riding in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia.  I became familiar with Mike from the documentary “Inspired to Ride” about the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, an unsupported race across the US that Mike won.  (I wrote about the documentary in my post “Looking for Inspiration“.)  I started following Mike’s races after watching the film.  I admired him because he wasn’t afraid of a challenge.  He loved adventure too.  More importantly, Mike was a good guy.  He was always willing to help other bicyclists.  It wasn’t all about him.  Although I don’t cycle, his death was difficult to believe.   Gone too young in a tragic way – hit from behind by a car in the early morning.

In June Tim Lalla, a 24-year-old from Chicago, was participating in the Biking for Baseball program to raise money for the B4B Little Scholarship Fund.  Tim was cycling to all 30 Major League ballparks as part of his fundraising – watching games and meeting people.  He had seen games in 10 different ballparks and was heading from Houston to Atlanta when he was struck by a Ford F-150 in Alabama.  The pictures of Tim and his bike after the accident are horrific.  Just a few days after hearing about Tim’s accident, I learned of another ultra cyclist, Eric Fishbein, who was killed while riding in the Trans Am Bike Race.  Like Mike, Eric was hit from behind by a car on a road in Kansas.

Motor vehicles are a danger to runners as well.  In January 2014 Meg Menzies was struck and killed by a drunk driver while running with her husband.  Meg who was training for the Boston Marathon was running on the shoulder of the road when she was hit.  Two months later, Jaime Rowley, a single parent, was fatally hit by a car during her morning run.  One of my favorite local races benefits a foundation established in Jaime’s memory.  Every time I run that race I stop by the foundation’s tent and make a donation.  Jaime could be me.

I remember running one Sunday with Leanne, my running coach at the time.  As we approached an intersection on the trail, she made me stop to look both ways before we continued running.  She told me to never assume that a motorist would stop for me at a crossing.  In retrospect, Leanne was teaching me a very important lesson.  A motorist may be distracted by something in the car or blinded by glare.  If they didn’t see me, I could be hit.  I always stop at intersections now and look before I go.

While there are no statistics about runners killed in collisions with motor vehicles (runners get lumped into statistics with pedestrians), there are statistics on bicyclists deaths.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2015.  That means 818 families have one less person around the table at holiday get-togethers.  Pretty sobering.

I take several safety precautions to improve my odds when running on the trails and the roads.  First, I never wear headphones when I run.  Sound provides very important information about what is around me.  Second, I wear bright clothing when I run – think neon green like construction workers.  Might not be very stylish but I am more concerned with my safety.  Third, when I do run on roads, I run facing traffic and get well off the road when a car approaches.  I never assume that someone will give me a wide berth.  In the past I would run outside at night but I don’t anymore.  I discovered no matter what reflective gear I wore, it seemed as if the cars headed for me.  When the sun goes down, I head for the dreaded treadmill. I continue to follow Leanne’s rule of stopping and looking both ways at an intersection before I cross a road.  And finally, I always wear my Road ID because if something happens to me, I want my family to be notified as quickly as possible.

I think my list of precautions is appropriate for bicyclists too (except they have to bike with the flow of traffic and not against it).  Visibility is important for them too.  Like runners, bicyclists should never assume a car is looking out for you.  With an increased interest in bicycling, safely sharing the road with 4,000+ pound car is a matter of life or death.

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