Safety Stuff

So, the incidence of runners being attacked or harassed or simply creeped-out is sort of frighteningly high. I don’t like being alarmist, but we have to be conscious that stuff happens out there, whether you’re running in upscale Tarrytown, in Clarksville at the tail end of a group workout, where a couple of men followed and harassed one of our runners last year, or across the street from Whole Foods with a bunch of bystanders.

There’s also the issue of running at night, which is probably not so much an issue now as it will be in October. At that point, we’ll move our workouts up to 5:45 or 6:00pm, to try to get us a little more daylight, what with the apparent shortening of the days by means of some black magic that liberals and conservatives can blame each other for, the falling-back clock action, and the gradual, evil lengthening of workouts.

So, let’s be smart about things, by means of my beloved bullet points:

    • Reflect vs Project – When it gets dark, there are two needs – to see, and to be seen. Being seen is most important, and there, you’re in luck – the things by which you don’t want to get hit already have big powerful lights. Good reflective materials will reflect more light than the rest of your surroundings, so you will stand out. Most running clothing and shoes these days have materials integrated into them that have an incredibly high albedo. You can also get armbands and other reflective stuff.

It’s also good to be able to see on dark streets. Running stores and REI have some lightweight, super-bright LED headlamps that clip onto the bill of your cap.

I often run with a little high-powered “tactical” flashlight that’s heavy duty, super-crazy bright, and made for law enforcement. They’re bright enough that you can actually use them to momentarily stun someone. Seriously. Ask Paul – I have demonstrated it on him. It’s easy to carry in your hand when running, have a button to momentarily activate them, or you can leave them on. REI, Whole Earth, and other places will have similar lights.

    • Black is the new way to get your butt run over – Yes, you look cool, and you get to play Ninja Runner Person. But you’ll never get to use your nunchuks, if you get smacked by the car that you were stealthily invisible to. Light colors won’t beat the reflective stuff, but dark colors are definitely dumb.
    • Be actively visible – Run on the left, unless circumstances make this clearly the worst option. When you have cars coming at you, make eye contact, even wave at them. Make sure they see you.
    • Take a buddy, or at least someone you can almost stand – Don’t run alone. Simple enough. You’re more visible, you have a spotter, you’re less likely to get messed with, and if you see the other person fall into a gaping hole, you can then avoid the hole and continue your run.
    • Step light – When you’re running through a dark patch, don’t assume that it’s not the only patch of sidewalk in five miles that isn’t clear. Confused by the double negative? Me, too. Point is, find the most lit path through the darkness, slow a little, pick up your feet, and step lightly, as if you’re running across a rocky stream. If there is something wonky underfoot, you’ll have a better chance of recovering from it.
    • Pick your route carefully – There are lots of considerations here. Stay out of deserted and/or dark areas, and clear of pothole infestations. Vehicle traffic can provide you a bit of light and security, but you need to steer clear of narrow roads, blind hills and corners, or high speed limits. Portions of the trail are OK, but it gets awfully dark. If you’re close to the trail, you might be better off running downtown, or on South Congress.
    • Run tough, act tough, be tough – One year, one of our runners was accosted by someone who thought she looked good in shorts, but then wanted to see if she, um, felt good, too. She tried to edge away and be polite. That’s understandable, but if it’s not going to work with a frat boy in a bar, why would it work with a possibly loony predator? If a comment gets made that’s over the line, ignore it. Don’t give them anything. If they persist or approach you, say, look them in the eye and say “Hey. Back off. I’m running.” Ignore him when he calls you whatever he calls you, as long as he walks off. Keep anything you say short, but be assertive and make the point that you’re not going to be messed with. In the situation our runner was in, she could cross the other street, approach some other people, or even go up to one of the cars in the intersection, and start communicating with them – make sure he sees that people see you and him, and he’ll probably move off. If you get in serious trouble, yell, and flag down a car.

Above all, use yer head. It’s your best weapon, your best shield. Be alert. I’d strongly consider ditching the iPod for night runs, but if you choose to run with tunes, day or night, you have to take extra steps to be alert, period.

But whatever, whenever, just be alert, be thinking, be aware of your surroundings. Think about strategery – what’s open? Where are there people? What house on this block has lights on that you could get to if you needed help? Being alert and aware are good skills to have anyway, and if that’s something you learn from running, then that alone is valuable.

OK. There you go. Please, take this stuff seriously. I’m the only person who should be trying to annoy or hurt you.