Coach Mike Mead

Taking it to the Streets - May 2006

We’ve all read or heard the stories over the years of pedestrians – that includes us runners – being struck by a motor vehicle. Many have died and some escaped with their lives. As a runner, I’ve been vulnerable a few times when it comes to running on the roads and mixing it up with automobiles. With increased daylight and more of us “hitting the pavement,” it’s time to ponder how we can be safer when running along our busy roadways.

When I’m traveling through some Atlanta neighborhoods in very busy areas, I’m amazed at the folks out running along these potentially dangerous thoroughfares. With so many intersections to cross, it’s a wonder more runners are not killed or maimed!

I once coached a young lady whose father would not allow her to run on the roads. He was a paramedic and he saw first-hand what happens when runner and machine collide. Machines are undefeated.

It’s too bad the Atlanta metro area lags in offering a network of pathways and trails for foot and bike traffic. While some may live close enough to some of the sparse trail systems that exist in the state, most are resigned to running the roads. So to be safe so that you may live to run another day, be sure to adhere to the following suggestions:

Always run facing oncoming traffic. ALWAYS! If I’m going to be hit, I want to see the driver’s whites of their eyes! We runners tend to forget how many drivers these days are “multi-tasking” while driving, especially during the morning and afternoon rush hours. I’ve seen people reading books while driving! Think they’re looking out for you? Chances are they are not paying as much attention to the road as you may think. Ponder this too; since the Atlanta area draws folks from everywhere else in the world, chances are some of these drivers are not as skilled as we’d like them to be. When I lived in the Midwest and traveled through Chicago, I always thought the drivers there were crazy. Guess what. Some of those folks now live in Georgia!

Wear light-colored clothing with reflective material during dawn and dusk time running. This one really gets me! I don’t understand folks who run in the dark wearing black! You might be okay if you’re running on a trail or sidewalk. But if you come across one of those fore-mentioned “multi-tasking” drivers, you just might end up fresh road kill. Many people wear clothes to make a statement or to be seen. If you’re running along the roads in the dark you surely want to be seen! Along this line, I don’t understand manufacturers of men’s running clothes. How come you can only find men’s running gear in about four colors (black, gray, blue and red), not counting white, and they’re usually the darkest colors? What happened to the bright colors, anyway?

Avoid busy and dangerous roadways. When I was a high school runner, I knew this rival who thought he was smart running along an interstate highway, but the police didn’t think so! I just don’t understand running along the busiest roadways at peak hours. If you must run these roads because that’s all you have, try to go at the least busiest times and adhere to the above suggestions.

Never run wearing headsets listening to music! This one might be worse than running against traffic -- perhaps the running world’s version of the “multi-tasking” drivers. You’re not only vulnerable to someone running you over; you’re also at risk of some predator or a bunch of reprobates attacking you. Be aware of your surroundings! If you must be entertained while you run then take up figure skating instead. You’re missing out on the mental benefits of running.

Run with a buddy. I cannot stress this enough to the female runners. Life is no longer the 1950’s “Leave it to Beaver” days of innocence. You might live in the safest neighborhood in the world, but it only takes one psycho! Find someone to run with you if you’re taking it to the streets. Just be sure that if you run with more than two people that you run single-file when being approached by vehicles or other pedestrians.

Look both ways, and then look again. Mother always advised looking both ways before crossing the street. We runners think we’re fast when it comes to road crossings and take mom’s advice lightly. We might be able to max out at 20-25 miles an hour for a short burst across the street, but most cars can top out at over 120 miles an hour. It’s hard to judge speed and distance head-on. A friend once told the story on an unsuccessful crossing of an intersection in his car. He was stopped at an intersection and saw a car coming. He thought he had plenty of time to make it through the intersection and proceeded. He was unaware the other car was involved in a high-speed chase and was traveling at over 90 miles an hour when it hit his car. Fortunately my friend came away unharmed (except for his car) and ended the chase. A car going just 20 miles an hour can kill you! Don’t risk having to wait an extra 30 seconds to cross a busy road and end up getting a ride in an ambulance. When you cross a road, make a straight cut to the other side – perpendicular to the road -- rather than running on an angle and allowing more opportunity for a motor vehicle to hit you.

I hope you will be serious about the dangers of running along the roadways in your community. It makes no sense to run for your health and risk it at the same time. Running on the roads can be a safe experience as long as you are cautious and constantly aware of your surroundings. Enjoy!