Running Safety

Running is just downright awesome! You aren’t reading this unless you already agree with that. However, it can also be dangerous like most activities. Just remember you will be fine unless you cross one of the safety red lines. That’s a term I just made up for something you do to put yourself in danger or get seriously hurt or worse. For the most part, common sense rules the day. But where do the dangers lie?

Weather extremes, bad footing, health issues, cars, bad dogs or bad people can all turn a run turn into a nightmare. Let’s take these one at a time and how to deal with them.

Beginning with weather is easy. NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS run during an electrical storm. If you hear thunder, there is lightning. Don’t mess with this one. It isn’t worth it. Lightning doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t kill often but it does kill people who think it won’t hit them. So, if there is thunder, don’t go for an outdoor run. It’s as simple as that. If you’re into treadmills, go for it but not outside. Rain itself is no problem. If you don’t like to get wet, then don’t go outside but it won’t hurt you. If it’s heavy and you get wet shoes, watch out for blisters but getting rained on won’t kill you like lightning.

What if it’s too hot or too cold? Too hot is more likely to be dangerous than too cold. You can only take off so many layers if it’s too hot outside. How hot is too hot? That depends on the person and how far you are going. If you live in the south and are acclimated to heat, then you can probably run in hotter weather than I can. While in Savannah on a vacation I was on a trolley tour of the city and saw 3 different runners out at noon in 103 degree heat. That didn’t appeal to me. I hope they weren’t going far but they were out there. I don’t recommend running in that much heat. If it’s too hot, plan your runs for early in the morning or late in the day or once again, think treadmill. I wish I didn’t hate treadmills but they just aren’t an option for me. Stay well hydrated and cut back on mileage. Proving how manly you are in the heat is a recipe for disaster.

Too cold? It has to be really cold before it’s too cold to run. Your lungs will NOT freeze. That just doesn’t happen. But you can get frostbite. Be careful of ice (more on that later). So, how do we handle the cold? Dress for it. Layers are always the answer. A rough rule of thumb is to wear enough that you would be comfortable just standing around in temperatures 20 degrees warmer than you are running in. For example if it is 40 degrees out, wear enough that you would be okay wearing what you have on if you were sitting outside in 60 degree weather. Just like when it’s too hot, you might need to cut back on your mileage if it’s too cold. I have run below 10 degrees but I know others who have gone way below that.

Bad footing is another danger. Ice is the number one danger to running surfaces. Snow is okay but ice is not. During the winter, if the roads are icy, try to stay off to the side so under that snow you have grass or dirt which provides a much better surface. If it’s icy, once again don’t chance it. Hit the treadmill or take the opportunity to cross train. The ice won’t last forever unless you are living in the tundra. Even there, global warming might eventually give you an ice free surface but moving south would be a much better and predictable solution to permafrost.

Potholes in the road or ground are something to keep your eyes open for. Pay attention! Run when it’s light out or on a well lit street if it’s dark out. Stepping in a hole can bring on a career ending injury or if not that bad, a sprain or break which will set you back a long way.

Underlying health issues are a big deal. Anyone from elite athletes to raw beginners can be struck down at any time. Our most famous example is Jim Fixx who wrote The Complete Book of Running. It was the ultimate book for the first running boom in the 1970’s. Fixx died of a heart attack while out for a run at age 52. People used this as a reason to disparage running but the truth was that Fixx had underlying genetic problems. So, it pays to get a good physical before taking up running and make sure your doctor knows you are planning on working into a running routine. When you hear of younger people such as high school athletes who keel over at their sports practice or during a game, it is usually from an undiagnosed genetic cardiac issue. Although it can also be from heat stroke or dehydration. The lesson here is to ease into the running lifestyle, eat healthy and do everything you can to be healthy overall. If we are running to get healthy, it just doesn’t make sense to let the running make you unhealthy by doing too much too soon and dropping over.

Cars can be runners’ public enemy number one but only if runners do stupid things. Count on cars doing stupid things. Assume that every driver is an idiot and they are all texting and playing with their radios. So, what do we do? If you run on the roads as most of us do, try running on the berm instead. ALWAYS run facing traffic. You learned that in kindergarten. It still applies. When a car is coming, get out of the way. I spend a lot of time running in people’s yards. I’m not a big fan of sidewalks as the concrete surface of a sidewalk is harder on your knees and ankles than the relatively softer asphalt, but for short periods, I will not hesitate to run on the sidewalk if there is one. The best way to avoid cars is to run on trails if you have access to them. Nice soft surface and no cars. Yay! While cars can be a major danger, it will only be if you let them. Unless a car veers off the road to go after you, I believe it is your own fault if you get hit by a car while running. It might not be your fault in a legal sense but you can avoid it by paying attention.

Prevention is the key thing for bad dogs. Avoid routes where you know there are loose dogs. I love dogs but I have been bitten twice while running. What really pissed me off was that the owners were nearby and didn’t do anything. I won’t get into what you should do if you do get threatened. Google has all kinds of information. Just know that you will not outrun a dog. Pepper spray is not a bad thing to have if you are in unfamiliar territory.

Worse than a bad dog is a bad human. Girls, this is especially important for you. Like it or not, the fact is you are a target. Pepper spray is good for this purpose too, but just like with bad dogs, prevention is the key. Don’t run alone or in unfamiliar territory. Try to stay away from isolated areas. If someone or a car starts following you, run straight to the nearest house and bang on the door for help. If you just get a bad feeling, head for the nearest help. Better safe than sorry.

Does this all sound like running is a bad idea? Well it’s not. Running makes me happy and just takes a little common sense. See how happy runners are?

Keep running my friends!


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