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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Safety First. And Second.

It's dangerous out there for an athlete.

The other day, a runner was killed on the Town Lake Trail by a driver who, for reasons unknown, jumped off the road and onto the trail. This month's Runner's World features an article about Alison Delgado, a marathon runner who was hit by a car while on a bike ride (and has since returned to running). And just yesterday, I was almost creamed by a Jetta that went cruising through a crosswalk without bothering to see if there might be someone in it.

My complaints about the lack of consideration from drivers are not new. When I first got back into running, I found that I was constantly dodging luxury cars and giving dirty looks to those who had the audacity to park their cars in my path. I've developed a level of paranoia when approaching driveways and intersections. If I do not actually make eye contact with the driver and get some level of acknowledgment regarding my status, I will not take the chance to cross in front of the car, unless I'm quite sure that they cannot enter the intersection, and even then, I'm taking a risk. Hence the Jetta.

The sad fact of the matter is that drivers aren't going to change, and no matter how hard I shake my fist at every driving school I pass, it's not going to make a difference. This leaves it up to runners to take care of ourselves, both on and off the course.

Step one is avoiding injury. Today, I took a planned rest day to save my legs for the coming weekend. I'm feeling relaxed and recovered, and I'm looking forward to my speed work in the morning. While I'm generally not a fan of rest days, I now acknowledge just how important they are. That acknowledgment is especially easy to make at the end of such a day. By running when you are rested and strong, you increase your awareness of the world around you as well as your ability to avoid undesirable contact, be it with car, cliff or giant snake.

Step two is increasing caution. Sometimes, obviously, there won't be much that you can do. If a car suddenly jumps off the road and comes at you, there aren't many options but jump. Still, during your daily run, there are steps you can take. When running, stick to the sidewalk whenever possible. Wear brightly colored clothing if you're running at night, and if you have the option of running with lights, do that as well.

And even if you've done everything possible to make yourself visible, always assume that you're not. As I said, I always try to make eye contact with the driver, and if I can't do that, I assume they haven't seen me. At that point, I generally choose to cross behind the car or simply wait until they've passed. It's annoying, but I've come to realize one simple truth: the five seconds I would save are not worth the use of my legs. And there will be little consolation in the fact that I had the right of way when I'm lying in a hospital bed.

In the wake of an unbelievable tragedy, here's hoping the drivers of Austin think a little more about the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists. Still, I won't count on it. Keep your eyes open, your music down, and your paranoia up.

Get in your miles, and get home safe.

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