Rules of the Road: Running Edition

I’m sending this out as a special Friday edition, hoping it will help those who will go for a walk or run this weekend. I’ve already had to edit from my original writing due to multiple changes from new regulations regarding COVID-19.

Taking to the streets now that gyms are closed? It’s a weird time right now. But one thing that we can all do is run or walk, taking advantage of the great outdoors and nature. What else hasn’t changed? Road running rules. The following is guidance for new and experienced runners alike as we navigate our strange, new world of social distancing.

Several years ago, I went through a program with Sports Backers in Richmond called Bike Walk Academy. Participants in this 8 week class went through training about biking and pedestrian safety and how to advocate for safer roads. From that, Bike Walk Hanover was born. We organize community events and work with our local government to promote safer roads for everyone. We are currently in the midst of a social media campaign to remind our neighbors about driving, running/walking, and biking safety tips.

I created this graphic for Bike Walk Hanover with feedback from our team to help educate our followers on social media. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook!

Experienced runners already know these guidelines, but it doesn’t hurt to review every now and then. But if you are lacing up your running shoes for the first time, it’s really helpful to have some tips about how to stay safe on the roads.

For women especially, we must be extra cautious about where we run, especially when running solo. I think that while we typically prefer group or partner runs, particularly when running long distances, this time of social distancing may place us at a disadvantage from a safety perspective.

Here are my favorite tips for road running:

  • Run against traffic. This way, you can see what’s coming. Make sure you are looking at the driver as cars approach. You can at least tell if they are looking at you or their phone!
  • Wear bright colors. Please don’t run in black! Bright colors catch the attention of drivers and improve your chance to be seen.
Wearing one of my favorite neon tanks for a run! Be seen!
  • Use crosswalks when crossing the street in urban areas. Don’t cut the tangents!
A few of my phone carrying options. Hydration belt and bottles are by Nathan. Belted pouch by Spibelt.
  • Do not wear headphones. You cannot hear cars or people approaching. I still listen to music when I run alone, but I just play it from my phone. No one can really hear it unless they are within a few feet of you, and you can still hear cars and people.
  • If you are running at night, dusk, or dawn, wear lights and/or reflective gear. Nathan makes comfortable reflective vests. Noxgear light vests are popular in my running groups.
  • Let someone know where you are running, how far, and when you expect to return.
  • When we do get back to group runs, do not run more than two abreast. This is the biggest thing I fuss at my marathon training team participants about!
  • Run with ID. Many of my friends have a Road ID product of some kind. I typically run with my phone which has a pocket for my ID.
  • Choose safer places to run. I live in a rural area, so taking to the streets near my home is not my favorite, with all roads at 35 to 45mph with no shoulders, although I will if necessary. I prefer to drive to other areas to run in which have less traffic and/or with sidewalk access. For now, that’s driving less than 5 miles to “town.”
  • Maintain social distancing. This means that if you encounter other people on trails or sidewalk, move over and give them space. The virus can live in microdroplets which project even further when exercising. On my run yesterday, I crossed the street to avoid others. Unfortunately for now, this also means no group runs. This doesn’t mean you need to be rude, though! It’s always polite to give a little wave, nod, or smile.
  • Consider running with pepper spray or a noise maker. I have a hand held pepper spray with a strap, much like for my water bottle, which I carry when running alone in certain parts of town or when trail running. I have a Nathan Zephyr light for night runs which has an alarm on it. Plastic whistles work, too.

Even when we do everything right, things still happen on runs which seem to be beyond our control. The biggest issue I see is drivers who are looking at their phones instead of the road, followed by drivers making right turns who never look to their right to see you. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and assume they don’t see you. My peers have also recently reported that novice exercisers are also taking to the trails and neighborhoods who are not mindful of others, talking on their phones and not demonstrating awareness of others, including wandering right into the path of runners. Try to announce your presence to alert others that you are there.

It is your responsibility to remain vigilant at all times when you take to the streets for exercise. Even though pedestrians have the right of way, DO NOT try to stand your ground against a car. You will lose.

Trails are a nice alternative since you don’t have to worry about traffic, however, ladies do have to watch out for other people who may have other reasons for being there. In Richmond, the James River Trail system has been very crowded since the gyms have closed, making it difficult to maintain social distancing, but may be safer from a potential stalking perspective. (Per latest reports from RVA Trails, the parking lots to access the JRP trails will be closed as of today.) Many neighborhoods have multi-use paths which help avoid vehicular traffic as well. Taking to city and state parks for running may be a nice alternative, too, although we are in danger of losing access to these, too. Check your local area for ever changing rules with regard to park access. If you do take to trails, make sure you practice good etiquette, announcing your presence to other people enjoying the trail. For example, saying, “On your left” before you pass. And allow bikers to pass you.

I don’t share these safety tips to alarm you, just to make you aware of potential issues. Knowledge is power, right? (If you think that is a Schoolhouse Rock reference, you are right! 80’s kid here!) Don’t let fear keep you from running. Just use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings!

Let me know how you are maintaining fitness while social distancing! I Hope you and your family are staying safe.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, and Noxgear.

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