Off road running as a safer strategy

New sidewalks make for safer running

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself running on the sidewalks more frequently than on the road. I’ll admit to being extremely safety conscious when it comes to running, and the driving behavior I see in my neighborhood supports that position. After years managing production and technology operations, I’ve adopted the philosophy of minimizing or preventing risk whenever possible.

Running on the sidewalk minimizes the chance of an encounter with a car, but sidewalks can also present problems. I tripped and fell badly at the end of a run a couple of years ago, when my toe caught a slightly raised section of my driveway. The town has done an impressive job this spring, replacing sidewalks that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. However, there are still plenty of sections in need of repair that could trip a runner.

I did about 85% of today’s run on sidewalks, only using the street to cross or when I encountered an impassible section. Besides the safety benefit, the relative flatness of sidewalks (compared to roads that are banked on the sides for water runoff) prevents my right foot from doing more work than the left, because I always run on the left side of the street.

I did encounter some rough sidewalks along my route this morning, but I managed to step around or over the trickiest sections. I tried to push a little harder than I have of late, and was rewarded with an overall pace that was slightly faster than average. I expected to do better than that, and I wonder if I’d shortened my step slightly on uneven sidewalks. If that’s the case, I’d rather run slower and be a little safer.

Bethpage is better, but some bikers are bozos

The new, improved Bethpage trails

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 6.4 miles

It’s a beautiful day on Long Island, sunny and a little cooler than yesterday. Today is Cinco de Mayo but we’re not doing anything related to that. Tequila lost its appeal many years ago, but by dinner time I may be persuaded to go out for Mexican food. Today is also the day of the Long Island Marathon, Half and 10K. I feel slightly guilty for not participating this year, but I’m glad that I didn’t need to run 13.1 miles this morning.

It’s been at least six weeks since I ran at Bethpage and I’ve missed it. The last time I was there, me and KWL did an early morning run and covered six miles. I haven’t done too many runs greater than five miles this year, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to renew my Empire Passport and run the bike trail. 

After getting my sticker, I drove to the lot and saw that much work had been done to the trails since I last saw them. The entrance to the north trail was now open, and a small structure had been put up next to the trail head off the parking lot. There was fresh paint marking the newly paved sections, and a new sidewalk was added along the main driveway.

When I reached the northern trail entrance I noticed more improvements. I saw some new access points to the dirt trails and some decorative fencing around rest areas. They’d also stenciled distances in tenth of a mile increments in bold white numbers. Even though I wear a Garmin, I still found that to be extremely helpful during my run.

I felt good at the start and had no trouble with the rolling trail as I moved north. I wanted to go six miles to get a little more base conditioning and my energy level seemed to support that. A year ago I was at Bethpage every weekend doing progressively longer runs as I trained for the half marathon. I thought about the LI Marathon and Half that was going on as I ran. I did feel strong, but I don’t think I could have managed a half today.

I crossed Haypath without a problem and then Old Bethpage Rd. Neither had much traffic. I wondered if I’d reach my projected turnaround point of 3.1 miles before I hit Old Country Road. I preferred not to cross that busy street if I could avoid it. I was about a quarter mile short of my halfway mark, so I needed to keep going. There was a traffic light and crosswalk, so I had no safety issues except for the bozo on a bike who cut me off when I reached the other side.

There were many walkers and cyclists on the path today, along with a smaller number of other runners. I had another bike incident, when a cyclist riding in the same direction that I was running, passed me with an inch to spare. She was busy talking to her two friends and wasn’t being careful. I yelled “hey!” but she didn’t react (or apologize). Most cyclists are courteous and careful, but it was amateur hour this morning.

I covered the second half of my run faster than the first. I had no trouble getting past the two short but steep hills located a mile from the trail entrance. For some reason I began feeling stronger on that last mile, so I picked up the pace. That helped get my overall time into my “acceptable range.” When I got back to the lot, I saw what looked like a clown car convention. It was actually a Mini Cooper show taking place at the park. Unfortunately it attracted some losers who decided to tear around the parking lot in their cars (not Mini Coopers BTW) before exiting at a high rate of speed.

I was very happy with my run today, especially for the fact that I haven’t done a six miler in a while. Now that I have my new Passport, I look forward to visiting Bethpage and the other state parks without needing to pay an entrance fee.

I Love My Park Days at Caleb Smith

A beautiful day to volunteer

Today’s run (street): 4.2 miles

We had a busy morning planned, so I got out on the road early, for a run around the neighborhood. It was another beautiful spring morning, sunny and cool enough to wear long sleeves. Just for a change, I took a route that goes by the middle school. It’s always nice to see some different roads.

While approaching the school, I noticed a woman running about 100 feet ahead of me on the right side of the road. She was running slower than me, so I eventually caught up with her. As I was passing her, I said hello, and suggested that she run on the left side for safety. She said that she’d been running for 25 years and wasn’t worried because there’s hardly any traffic. I said that things are different now, with people talking on the phone and texting. She acknowledged that, but I didn’t see her moving over. I can only do so much.

I completed my run and, soon after that, we all headed to Caleb Smith State Park to participate in “I Love My Park Days.” This is a program where volunteers perform numerous tasks to help NY parks that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Caleb Smith lost 300 trees in the storm and the goal was to replace them all. Our task today was to plant a tree at a designated spot. Did you know that the New York State tree is the Acer saccharum, better known as the sugar maple? We didn’t!

One down, 299 to go…

We were given a map and told to locate a yellow marker with the number “4” written on it. The park gave us a bucket of loam, a gardening spade and a sugar maple sapling to plant. We trekked along the yellow path until we found our marker. The kids did most of the work by digging a hole in the root-covered ground, planting and positioning the tree, and adding supporting loam. We remembered where we planted it, so we can visit it and watch its progress as it grows. 

We do love our parks!

After we turned in our bucket and shovel, the park people offered us the chance to fill a small cup with sunflower seeds embedded in dirt. My daughter took one cup to replant in the back yard, once the seeds germinate inside. We did a short hike in the park and were then rewarded with “I Love My Park Days” tee shirts. It was perfect weather for visiting the park and it was nice to be able to help out today. I look forward to watching our tree’s progress every time I run or hike at Caleb Smith.

Running against tragedy

I’ll keep this one under wraps

Today’s run (treadmill): 5.1 miles

Yesterday’s senseless shooting in Connecticut upset me deeply. How can kids ever feel safe at school with the knowledge that sick people, with ready access to guns, can so easily hurt them? Coincidentally, our own town was conducting an emergency dismissal drill at the time of shootings. Let’s hope that if anything good comes out of this, it will be a call to action to address the NRA’s paranoid and obstructive agenda. Easy access to guns have made these scenarios all too common.

I’ll admit that I know very little about the details of yesterday’s event. I’m usually on top of the news, but I’ve avoided watching or reading anything about this tragedy. I haven’t even been able to bring myself to take the newspaper out of its wrap. I think I know everything I need to know.

Due to our schedule today, I was kept at home in the morning and couldn’t go outside for run. Later today we have a party, so my options were limited. I look forward to weekends, because they usually give me the freedom to run outside for as long as I wish. Since I was place-constrained but not time constrained, I decided to do a longer run on the treadmill.

I’d normally put the news on the TV and watch it as I ran, but that wasn’t going to happen today. Instead, I put on one of the music channels at the upper range of the cable spectrum and pumped up the volume. I set the incline at 1% to keep it interesting, and increased my speed periodically in order to get my heart rate to the targeted zone. I had plenty of energy for the run, but I felt very tired when I finished. The good thing about a hard workout is that it lifts your spirits when you’re done. I really needed that today.

I have a trust issue and you should too

Today’s run (treadmill): 25 minutes

As I’ve said in a recent post, I don’t trust drivers when I’m out on a run. I am constantly flabbergasted by what I see while I’m out on the road. Cars driving 50 MPH in my neighborhood that has a posted speed limit of 30. No one using turn signals or coming to a full stop at stop signs. By believing that drivers will always do the wrong thing, I’m able to manage safely.

Last weekend I was running along a road when I spotted a woman four houses ahead getting into her car. I had a suspicion that she wasn’t going to be careful and as I came closer, I saw her backing out quickly without looking. Had I not been hyper aware, she might have hit me – or come close to it. I was up and over the curb before the situation became dangerous. That didn’t stop me from screaming, “Hey, did you look before you pulled out?! Do you ever look?!” I could tell she felt bad or was freaked out by my screaming at her. Either way, I’m hoping she won’t forget the lesson.
This morning I ran on the treadmill because it was raining slightly and that meant conditions outside would be dark and slippery. Nothing interesting to report about my indoor run, but when I left for the train a little after 6:00 AM, I found myself in the position of being the driver pulling out with a runner passing by. Even though it’s dark and quiet at that time, I was careful and looked both ways. The runner was hard to see because he wore dark colors and was running on the right side of the road. He either assumed I’d see him or was planning to thread the needle and run past my car once it cleared the end of the drive.
I saw him after taking a careful second look to my right and hit the brake before backing out. He passed by unscathed. I wanted to yell to him that he’s invisible and was taking a risk by running in dark clothes, but I’ve learned by now that people resent being told these things. The only reason I didn’t hit this fool was that I double-checked both sides before I backed out. I don’t trust drivers when I run, and I don’t trust runners when I drive. Trust must be earned and so far, no one’s earning.   

A whole new world to run, right across the street

Today’s run (street): 4.25 miles

The holiday week continues with our weekend guests arriving mid-morning. I wanted to get in my run before they got here so I headed out early to try a new route. I got out of the neighborhood today, but I didn’t travel too far from home. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I’m  reluctant to cross major roads when I run. Doing that on foot is risky, but but it would unlock a number of available routes. For safety’s sake, I decided to take a short drive and park on the other side of Route 25 to start my run.

I’ve run on Jericho Turnpike near my house a number of times, but always on the southern side. Today I ran on the opposite side, allowing me to track north to Jackson and mimic my daily drive to the train station. I often see runners on my way to the train and envy them for running while I head to my commute. I was always curious to experience this road, but after a couple of minutes I turned into a neighborhood and followed a street that wrapped back to Jackson. This road had some rolling hills that I appreciated after running the flat streets of my neighborhood.

I eventually ran past the train station and headed east before turning back for the second half of my run. I enjoyed the change of scenery and the chance to break out of my large, but ultimately contained, neighborhood. I reached my car and made the two minute drive back to my house. This was another nice change from the 15+ minute drive I often make to and from Bethpage.

I’ll probably run in the neighborhood tomorrow to save time and get it down before our house guests wake up for breakfast. New venues are always fun, even if they’re less than a mile from home.

The Emerging Runner risk mitigation policy

What’s wrong with is picture (see rule #1)?

Running after Hurricane Sandy (though I think we’re supposed to call it a “post-tropical cyclone” now) has become a little more complicated and dangerous. I do everything I can to avoid risk when I’m out on the roads, but two weeks after Sandy hit, my local streets are still covered with debris. In addition, some roads still have hanging or fallen wires, along with electrical cords running across the street from neighbors sharing generator power.

I got a comment from Running On Candy who expressed concern about the dangers of the road under these conditions. I was horrified to read that she had some close calls with cars due to limited room on the roads that she runs. I’m a low risk runner and, even under the best conditions, I’ll never cross a busy road on a run unless traffic is sparse. I’ll only run on a main road if there’s a sidewalk and most of my runs happen within my neighborhood or at parks and preserves like Stillwell and Bethpage.

I occasionally see a hostile dynamic with drivers who don’t like the idea of sharing the road with runners. Ask any runner and they’ll tell you the same. I also don’t trust that drivers are paying attention or consider stop signs anything more than a suggestion. For what it’s worth, this is the The Emerging Runner’s risk mitigation policy:

  1. Always run on the left side of the road (facing traffic).
  2. Assume that every driver is distracted, drunk, high, texting, on the phone or incompetent.
  3. Do not run on main roads that don’t have a sidewalk.
  4. Keep in single file formation when running with others on the street.
  5. Wear bright, colorful, reflective clothing no matter what time of day you run.
  6. Wear a reflective vest when it’s dark, at dawn and at dusk.
  7. Wear a headlamp or some type of light when running in dark (too be seen as much as to see).
  8. Avoid crossing four-lane roads, even those that have traffic lights.
  9. Don’t listen to music at a level that will drown out the sound of approaching cars.
  10. Always have an exit strategy for cars (run up on the lawn, prepare to dive into a snowbank).

It’s also a good idea to bring a phone and carry ID of some kind for emergencies. Accidents can be avoided as long as runners consider their safety as importantly as the do their workout.

Hitting the streets with my Road ID



Sample Road ID wristband

 Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Earlier this week I received my Road ID, a light wrist strap with a faceplate engraved with my name, address, contacts, blood type and other information. I had mentioned to my colleague, FS, that I run with an ID card tucked into my SPIbelt, but she strongly suggested that I wear something on my wrist or on my shoe. Her point was that EMT’s will look for ID in those places first in an emergency. I thought that made great sense and finally ordered the bracelet. It took a discount offered through Active.com to get the process started, but  I did it!

The Road ID works well because it doesn’t violate one of the the most important Emerging Runner commandments for gear, “Thou shalt not distract or irritate me on my run.” It’s an inexpensive item and should be standard gear for anyone who runs outside of their home.

Speaking of irritants and distractions, I gave the Kinvara 3’s another chance this morning and the feel underfoot was better, but not perfect. As I ran along, it felt better, and this makes me think it’s my foot, not the shoe. I’m still dealing with soreness from the long runs that I’ve been doing on weekends.

 I didn’t have a lot of energy today and so I wasn’t surprised to see that the Gamin had clocked me at 25 minutes for my 2.53 mile loop. I tried to move along but I just couldn’t generate much speed. I did finish with an overall pace in the high 9:00’s, so it wasn’t all that bad. Tomorrow I’ll go out again in the Spiras as a point of comparison with the Kinvaras for both speed and comfort.

Runners: know thy enemy!

Today’s run: 2.6 miles

Hoping to keep my cool

Like most runners, my performance degrades with a rise in temperature. Adding humidity makes it worse and it all makes sense scientifically. If your body needs to cool itself, it will deplete your body’s fluid level through sweat. This leads to a loss in plasma volume and a reduction in oxygen to muscles because blood low is being pushed to the surface of the skin. Humidity prevents efficient evaporation of sweat that dissipates heat and helps regulate body temperature.

It seems like every running magazine I read has an article or two about running in the heat. They all say basically the same thing — that proper hydration (including electrolyte balance) is key. They are also pretty clear that running in extreme heat can drive your body temperature up to dangerous levels. At that point it goes from bad to worse.

I’m thinking about this because I’m two weekends away from the Dirty Sock 10K trail run. It’s a great race that goes through the woods and around a lake. It’s always held the third weekend in August and the two times I’ve run it conditions ranged from high heat and humidity to high heat, humidity and rain. Last year I drank 24 ounces of water after I finished and still felt depleted. It wasn’t until my daughter brought over an electrolyte drink that I finally felt restored and balanced.

This morning’s run did not feel humid (though it was) and I appreciated the temperatures that were still in the 70’s. I had a decent run and by the time I came home I was drenched with sweat but I didn’t feel overheated. I’m looking for a singlet to wear on race day. Despite the “wife-beater” look that I’ve always avoided, that may be a good tool for keeping my body temperature down. One thing I’m counting on is that Dirty Sock will fall on a hot and humid day.

What’s a run worth?

What is a training run worth? Is it worth risking your life? Of course it isn’t, yet I am constantly surprised to see runners who take chances or make choices that could easily lead to tragedy. Yesterday afternoon I went out to do some errands and drove along the service road that borders my neighborhood to the south. This service road is a two lane, one way street that connects traffic that comes off the highway. Cars often consider the service road an extension of the highway and whiz along at speeds approaching 60 MPH.

Yesterday, as I drove it, I encountered a runner heading in the same direction as the traffic running to the left of the shoulder stripe, within the right car lane. I found this horribly naive and stupid. Cars coming around the corner are not expecting to see runners, walkers or bikers. There are no sidewalks because the road is not intended for pedestrian traffic.That runner assumed that cars would see him and move over. Bad assumption. I looked behind me using the mirror after I passed to the far left and saw a white SUV fly by the runner and sharply move into his lane just a few feet in front. I wonder if that made him think.

When I got home I went for a 1.25 mile run with my daughter. She just got a pair of running tights and wanted to give the a try. We had a great run through the neighborhood, staying on the sidewalks just to be safe.