Running Safety: Three Lessons to to Help You Stay Alive on the Road

If you’re like me, you think you’re invincible. You say things like, “That will never happen to me!”

This morning I was out running and got caught in a crazy thunder storm. Torrential rain. Bright flashes of lightning…immediately followed by deafening claps of thunder.

It was scary.

You’re not supposed to be out running when lightning is striking down so close. I was slipping around in mud on the trails in Rock Creek Park and being splashed by cars driving by on the road.

And it reminded me of the same thing that happened about a month ago. Except last month the lightning and thunder was coming every five seconds. The rain was also thicker – so thick I was actually choking on it.

When I finished my run I thought to myself, “Damn, that thing that I thought would never happen JUST happened!” I was in a pretty dangerous situation. Sure, I wasn’t hurt, but I easily could have been.

What if I broke my ankle on the trail because I couldn’t see in the rain?

What if I slipped in the mud and fell into the road… in front of an oncoming car? (Sounds ridiculous, but I’ve fallen mere feet from traffic)

What if a tree near me got struck by lightning and fell on me? Shit, what if I got struck by lightning?!

Maybe I was being paranoid but I was freaking out. Running isn’t as safe as most non-runners make it out to be. There are some very real risks that you expose yourself to when you go running around town, through the woods, and into unfamiliar territory.

“You Worry Too Much!”

That’s what I used to tell my mom when I was in high school. My motto back then was, “Barring nuclear war, I’m getting my run in today.” I’m still bullish on running no matter what, but I recognize that I’m not invincible. I’m not Wolverine.

Maybe I’m getting old.

Or maybe all those dangerous things I never thought would happen to me have already actually happened to me. Thinking back a few years, I’ve had some VERY close calls.

Just last winter, I was bit by a dog twice during my long run. Since I’m Wolverine… uhh… almost Wolverine, I kept running for over an hour. I couldn’t see where he bit me because I was wearing three layers because of the cold. Take a look for yourself what happened:

Dog Bite

Gross huh? That’s my ARM but it almost looks like my leg. That’s how big the bump was – like a golf ball. I should have gone to the hospital but I didn’t. Next time (hopefully there is none), I definitely will. Don’t take chances with dog bites or other animal wounds like I did.

Accidents don’t just happen when running. When I was getting back in shape after my ITB injury, I was riding my bike a lot to boost my aerobic fitness and make the transition to running a little easier. I knew that triathlon training was a great way to get in shape, so I was adding in the bike portion where I could.

I was on a typical ride on a typical day. Less than two miles from home, I hit a big downhill and decided that it was a good idea to see how fast I could go. At the time, I didn’t have a bike computer so I had no idea how fast I was going. But I was cruising….

All of a sudden, my front tire jerked to the right and I fell hard on my left side, scraping my ankle, shin, elbow, and part of my forearm. I sat on the ground in shock for a full 30 seconds before I slowly stood up and pulled my mangled bike to the side of the road.

Luckily, the car behind me didn’t run me over. He pulled over and turned out to be a doctor, who evaluated me and found that I didn’t break anything. He then told me that he was driving 35 mph and I was pulling away from him. Yep, I was moving.

This is what my shin looked like:

Somehow I didn’t break any bones. But here’s a pro tip: if you ride bikes a lot, for God’s sake shave your legs! There’s a reason pro cyclists shave their legs – the scab on this road rash was made even more painful by the leg hair intertwined in it. Not cool.

After three weeks, I was able to start running again. The throbbing went down and the scab finally fell off. If you’re curious what a scab like this looks like after a week or two – I got you covered:

Bike Scab

Oddly enough, I have no idea how I fell. The road wasn’t wet, I didn’t hit a pothole or patch of sand, and I was in full control of the bike the entire time (or so I thought). All of a sudden, for a reason I still don’t know, my tire went out to the right and I fell hard.

It’s a good lesson: you never know when things will go wrong. I heard a quote recently that said, “There are two types of cyclists – those who’ve crashed, and those who haven’t crashed yet.” Your time will come.

After my scare on the bike, I got nervous and bought a Road ID bracelet to wear whenever I was riding or running. I learned that I wasn’t invincible and bad things can happen when you least expect them to. It’s better to be safe and cautious.

It’s Not Just Me

Recently Lisa emailed me to tell me about a scary situation she found herself in while running. She was running a trail in the morning and some creepy guy stepped in front of her and tried to grab her. I can’t 100% identify with Lisa because I’m a guy, but I can only imagine this must be absolutely terrifying.

She’s a champ and brushed it off and got on with her workout. Thankfully nothing happened – it was just some weirdo trying to get a cheap thrill (or worse). But as a runner that I coach, Lisa’s story got me nervous. Dangerous situations are happening more and more to me and the people around me.

If you run in the dark predawn hours or after the sun sets, be careful and stick to roads that are well lit where there are other cars and people. Running desolate roads in the dark is asking for trouble.

I’m not trying to scare you, but I do want to be realistic and recognize that you’ll probably find yourself in an unpleasant situation on the road, while trail running, or on your bike at some point.

Staying inside on your coach isn’t a safe alternative either. Get out there and hit the trails! Pound the big ring! Tear up the track! But when you do, be mindful of your surroundings and don’t take unnecessary risks. Running when there’s enough daylight and where there are other people are ways that you can reduce your risk of falling or being confronted by a weirdo.

You should also be wearing some form of ID so that in case something happens, you’ll have your name, contact information, and any vital information available to first responders. I wear my Road ID almost every time I run and definitely every single time that I ride my bike. It has my penicillin allergy and Meaghan’s phone number – just in case.

Stay safe!

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