“Hey! I’m walkin’ here!”
The famous line shouted at a New York City cab by Dustin Hoffman in 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy” captures the perfect essence of fighting for space in crowded streets. Runners may be able to relate to this sentiment, as I’m sure at one point or another we’ve all cut off a pedestrian or two and nearly collided with a cyclist as we focused on speeding ahead of the crowd.
Some of the most treacherous places to run are heavily populated parks and along congested city streets. Runners lucky enough to hit a quiet and deserted trail don’t have to contend with – or compete with – anyone for space and they don’t need to think about their overall safety in packed surroundings while they’re training.
Who are we up against when it comes to bobbing and weaving through running paths? And how can we safely share the road if it’s all we have as a resource to train for that ultra-marathon or hilly competition coming up? There are plenty of environments that accommodate all types of athletes as well as the average resident who wants to take their dog for a morning or evening stroll. No matter where you live and where you run, common respect for space on the road is something we all want!
Don’t Run Away From Crowds
First and foremost, I’m not implying that you should always find a running path away from others – or the general public. You may live in a neighborhood/community where you can take on suburban streets without anyone interfering unless a car comes whizzing down the block once in a while.
If you must facilitate the streets or other urban terrain, don’t be afraid of racking up those miles while trekking alongside others. If crowds are the bane of your running existence, find a time when the streets are the least crowded and study which paths you can cover that don’t intersect with daily operations such as truck deliveries, gas station traffic and large parking lots. While these spaces are typically crowded and you might find yourself bobbing and weaving through some of the traffic, it could create an interesting diversion and challenge your coordination skills as long as you’re paying attention!
Why shouldn’t you avoid crowds when you’re running? Those who are training for a race will benefit from the realistic scenarios it provides, as many races with hundreds of participants force many to bob and weave through the crowd as they increase their speed or try to avoid another runner who’s also on their own mission to make it to the finish line.
Map It Out
Most states and cities have a parks department or city/federal agency which provides a bike/walking path map in a recreational area indicating safe routes that are connected to the main roads. If you’re new to running and don’t want to go in circles and countless loops around your local park, find a map that clearly marks a safe bike path or walking trail where you can feel free to take on a long run.
The best part of having a map of running trails is knowing that those trails were specifically designed and constructed for runners like us who want a paved road constructed to meet our passion!
The only thing you should be wary of is keeping track of how many miles you’re adding up as you conquer new terrain when you have to run all the way back to the beginning of the trail where you started. If the map specifies a trail that returns to the beginning and corresponds to the direction in which pedestrians and cyclists are going, you’re better off following the guides!
It’s Simple – Whether Running or Cycling, Stay In Your Lane!
Watch out – there’s a cyclist trying to swerve to the right to avoid other cyclists coming towards you in the opposite direction ahead of them!
Hey, not everyone can share a space with respect and efficiency.
You may find that along wide public spaces like boardwalks on the beach, you have ample room to stay in one “lane” while pedestrians can safely enjoy the space next you and cyclists have a few feet of their own along the path.
As a New Yorker who has to deal with a plethora of commuters, people running and cycling and walking – many of whom are tourists that don’t even know which way to walk – I can contend that runners are safest when they stick to a straight line of trekking. Some experts say we’re supposed to run against traffic so that drivers can see us coming and we can gauge where traffic is heading alongside of us. There are tons of legally designated bike lanes alongside traffic that you can utilize if you have to, but make sure you pay attention to cyclists coming up from behind you and beside you.
You definitely don’t want to get sideswiped by anything with wheels!
A battle for the road doesn’t need to go down if you are consistent with your trail and don’t veer off where oncoming bike and pedestrian traffic could cause a kerfuffle among those around you.
Don’t know which lane is “yours”? It’s probably obvious from the direction most of the people are heading – and if it’s not, there could be designated lanes painted on the trail or prompt signs indicating which direction the path is heading. Chances are, pedestrians and runners will be sharing the same lane and cyclists may have their own lane as well to avoid collisions.
You might feel a little daring on a fun run and carelessly weave around or in between different lanes just when you think you have a lot of space to yourself.
Don’t do it!
There could be unexpected trekkers also taking on the road! If you take a chance at running in different lanes and don’t see or notice an oncoming cyclist – or maybe there’s a skateboarder/skater coming down the road – you could be in store for quite an accident! Prevent near-misses – and instigating a sudden fall – by following a steady and straight line that others can see from their perspective direction.
In some towns, designated lanes for athletes and leisure activities are either clearly marked in the pavement/concrete or may even be common knowledge among residents. Whichever lane you choose to stay in to crush those miles, try to remain consistent and steady with your head up and think about those around you who may not be alert for your sudden change in direction.
Running Operations: Under “Construction”
Sometimes people who are running and cycling and other athletes aren’t your only road enemies – or competitors!
Let’s say your favorite running path is getting rehabilitated with new asphalt, concrete, shrubbery, and lighting – it’s going to look better and cleaner than ever! Before it’s done, though, you could be battling that ever-so-popular “Where do I go?” syndrome as you’re rerouted to different lands or alternative temporary spaces that are more narrow and less accommodating.
As a tip, you may want to routinely cover the running and cycling and walking path that’s currently undergoing construction a few times before venturing out and hitting a roadblock – literally!
How can you be prepared to conquer alternative roads while your running path is getting a makeover? The answer is probably as simple as checking your local news/newsletters, political posts, or department of transportation for route updates and expected completion times for the projects.
You may want to change or alternate your course if the reconstructed path is too narrow, heavily populated with machinery and construction debris, or if it’s closed altogether!
If you can still complete your training along a modified bridge, highway or oceanfront pathway, for example, you should still be mindful of the change in directions and how much room you have to yourself or to share with others.
One of the not-so-great aspects of running along a path that’s under construction is breathing in all of the dust, concrete and other potentially toxic materials at the worksite that you can’t avoid. You may also have to run around maintenance or construction vehicles – parked or slowly heading in your direction, so don’t get possessive think they have to work around you – make sure you allow those highway or park workers to pass with their vehicles and don’t try to outrun them!
Whether you take on another trail during this time period is up to you, but again you may have to compete with your fellow runners and cyclists in a new space for the best and safest path to temporarily trek.
Don’t Fear Our Four-Legged Friends
How many times have you been to the local park for a quick morning or evening run and found that pooches just can’t help themselves but try to break free from their leashes to chase you? Most dog owners have hopefully trained their pups not to hunt down strangers, but if you find yourself feeling insecure about running in park where man’s best friend is infringing on your marathon training, make sure the breed in question is on a leash and won’t stray from its owner.
Dogs may feel scared too, thinking you’re running after them or that you’re running because there’s cause for alarm/panic. Slowing down as you approach the pooch may help them gauge your level of safety and trust and prevent them from translating your hardcore movements into their own version of hysterics. Dogs are known to pick up on panic situations and high tension events and many of them who accompany their owners to the park have been hopefully trained not to run after passersby!
Keep in mind that if you pass a four legged friend during your run and you freak out about them following you, make sure their owner is nearby to curb any dangerous reactions. It’s sometimes cute when a dog wants to run next to you or after you, but make sure it’s all in playfulness – for a short time – and allows you to get back to wiping out those miles!
Whether Running or Cycling, Don’t Get Distracted By Your Tunes!
The most important part of being able to share the road in all of these scenarios is paying attention to your surroundings. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but music is probably the number 1 culprit when it comes to distracting runners from what’s going on. Sometimes we’re so in tune to a beat that’s helping us keep our pace that we have no idea another runner is coming up from behind us/next to us, or if a cyclist is speeding up behind our tails. Even if a cyclist has a bell on their bike, if you’re ears are plugged up while you’re fully ensconced in a run, you won’t be alert or even be able to hear oncoming traffic.
Besides having common sense and paying attention to who’s around you, keep your headphone earbuds playing music at a reasonable decibel so you can also hear what’s going on around you.
Runners can get distracted by their muse – whether it’s a rock anthem that closes out their long training trek or a hot new rap single that pushed them through their first mile. We have a tendency to “zone out” when we’re listening to our music as we’re running. It can be the best feeling in the world – but not if you’re about to get run over by a slew of cyclists speeding past you without notice!
Running and Cycling Coexistence 101: Some Simple Reminders
With all of the noted factors in mind, how can you maintain an overall sense of safety while sharing the trail with dozens of others who use the same path?
One advice is to wear reflective running gear and bright colors that can help others notice you before you notice them! There are also tons of running accessories, markers and gadgets on the market with lights for night runners so you can be sure to be seen by everyone on the trail.
Another safety measure for avoiding run-ins with people cycling that may utilize the running path is running with others. Sure, you may want to run alone and zone out, but sometimes running with others in an area that’s heavily populated and highly trafficked can help keep a tight-knit group visible and clustered – so you’ll be more powerful with your group in whichever lane you stick to.
You might think sharing the road and getting along with your fellow trekkers – whether you’re running or cycling or crawling – is a matter of common sense and “streets smarts” – but you’d be surprised at how many near-misses take place during your average run.
So, stay safe and stay dedicated to the road no matter who you share it with – and if they yell something in your direction in the midst of your training, take it from the Hollywood experts and shout out in return: “Hey, I’m running here!!”