So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beware of Human: Winter Training Tips For Drivers and Driven (Runners)

I enjoy the autumn - comfortable temperatures, dry air, pumpkin & spice everything - but I also have to be on my best behavior as a motor vehicle operator & as a runner on the roads. My wife often points out pedestrians for me; the ones crossing in the center of the roadway, half a block from a lighted crosswalk, by calling out "human being, human being..." Nine-to-ten times out of ten I notice them before she does, & cannot help but marvel at the abject foolishness of a human pedestrian, jaywalking in darkness, doing their finest "stealth bomber" imitation. What is it about wearing black or subdued gray that makes otherwise seemingly sensible pedestrians want to do something stupid, like not use a signal-lit crosswalk at night?

These thoughts crossed my mind again yesterday evening after a truncated tempo run on Pensacola Beach. If not for the overcast conditions we probably had fifteen minutes of daylight; it was definitely past twilight once I began to walk a 600-meter cool-down back to my car. A running friend, Walt, chatted about the quickly-darkening conditions as I changed into a long-sleeved t-shirt. We both considered ourselves lucky; traffic on the beach was light because of the weather conditions & darkness. We knew it was high time to adapt some of our favorite mid-week running. "I guess it doesn't matter whether you're in the right as a runner," said Walt. "Even if you are, the car always wins on account of sheer weight."

My wife and I have been in a twilight automobile collision, on the way to a track workout, which injured both of us; her more so. The accident taught me a hard lesson about defensive driving. Why is night driving so dangerous? Insurance companies & motor vehicle bureau statistics say one obvious answer is darkness. We have a harder time judging distance, color, & objects in our periphery, add to this our need to adapt to growing darkness during twilight hours (maybe even the stress of work & a rush to get home)...danger, danger, Will Robinson. Honestly, I can tell you my vision isn't what I'd like it to be...disorders like macular degeneration, which come as a result of aging, can wreak havoc on night vision. If you're over forty it's probably affected you, too.

As a result of that one accident, I've adapted many of my driving routes from work to home, from home to workouts, & even the routes on which I train. Ample street lighting is almost a mandatory item for me if I'm in an area where motor vehicle traffic can be accessed. I also try to avoid routes where darkened side streets, blind corners, parking lots which are situated lower than the running or training surface can cross my path. My mid-week run is on a barrier island with relatively few cross streets, so I don't have to adapt much there.

Sometimes, though, your workout may need to be moved to a time where there is ample daylight. If you can't move the workout, and it's dark, be certain to run either on a path or on the edge of the roadway which faces approaching traffic.

Autumn runners (or cyclists, for that matter) should take advantage of clothing items which have large reflective patches, stripes, spots - or are completely reflective on their own accord. Some clothing manufacturers have materials which are neon bright & cannot be missed...unless the driver of the motor vehicle wants to miss it. Also think about flashing clip-on lights, headlamps, & small flashlights. If you don't want to wear reflectorized or lighted items, light-colored clothes are a nearly-acceptable alternative...but I like something which sends light back in the general direction of the driver. Some people may disagree with me on this, but I used to wear yellow or amber-tinted glasses during darker conditions - it helped not only to keep down some of the glare of high beams (we'll talk more about that) but also to keep wind & grit out of the eyes. It's difficult to see in the dark when your eyes are closed half of the time.

While you're thinking about how to be seen as a runner, you might want to consider enhancing your ability to see as a driver on the road. Clean headlights, tail lights, signal lights & windows at least once a week, and replace them as soon as you learn one is out (Is that a motorcycle or a large truck? You can only answer that one wrong once.). Make certain your windshield wipers & any rear wipers are in good condition. I would even recommend using window defogging/rain repellant products, such as Rain-X. Turn your headlights on at dusk to help other drivers see you. Don't drive with the high-beams on unless you are in a very dark area & you're driving at high speed. And please, don't flash those high-beams at an approaching runner.

I've often complained, ranted, railed & beat the drum about the dangers of running with headphones, especially at races. I do wear headphones - when running solo, in broad daylight, out of the general path of automobile drivers. When I do, I keep my volume down & my head on a swivel for approaching bicycles, pedestrians & hazards. A large dog once joined me on a run while I was wearing headphones. I had no clue until I looked off to my right and saw him. Big dog. Very big dog. Thank heavens he was "friendly," taught me a lesson. So, if you have to have music while running, keep the volume as low as possible. If I can hear your music 12 feet away from your head, the volume is probably too loud. But that's another rant altogether.

For drivers, it's painfully obvious that to drink & drive borders on insanity. However, drinking & driving is a leading cause of accidents – including night driving accidents. The next big culprit to add to the list of hindrances & distractions which can cause an accident would be cell phones. Military bases have forbidden the use of cell phones without hands-free operation, so I learned early on to check messages or make calls while sitting in the parking lot. I can almost justify a brief "I'm at this location & on my way" phone call while driving, but I've seen animated ten-minute-plus conversations going on in the heart of town, while driving thirty miles per hour. Scared me to death. I shouldn't even have to complain about how dangerous text messaging, e-mailing & web surfing is on some of the newer smart phones. It's not smart phones which cause accidents, just dumb drivers.

So, as the leaves turn brown & the sky becomes gray, begin to think about your fellow man, whether they are a pedestrian, a runner, or a motor vehicle operator. It's all karmic - doing right by your fellow road user can lead to safe & sane road use for everyone.

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