Monday, January 23, 2017

Running Safety Issues

In the months of December and January the sunrise in Birmingham, Alabama is around 6:45 AM and the sunset takes place around 4:45 PM while civil twilight is roughly 6:30-5:00.  That means if you work 8-5 as I do, at least some of your training will have to be done in the dark.  For me, any solo running on relatively high traffic roads in the dark has always been a NO NO.  About 5 years ago, a local runner was hit by a car and killed on an early morning training run in Mountain Brook on one the roads that I train on a regular basis.  If you do insist on running alone or in a small group in the dark with traffic, PLEASE take the following precautions:

-Wear a reflective vest that can be purchased at any local running store such as Trak Shak or Fleet Feet
-Attach a blinking red light to your pants so you can be seen by cars in advance and carry a flashlight.
-Do NOT wear headphones.  You need to hear oncoming traffic.
-Do NOT chance it crossing the road when a car is approaching at a distance especially on a blind curve.  Waiting 15-30 seconds to cross won’t hurt your fitness.

As for me, I have joined Gold’s Gym which has a 1/9 mile running track and I use it quite often in the summer and winter.  High school tracks such as Vestavia, Mountain Brook, Pelham and Spain Park are almost always open during the winter.  Lakeshore Trail, which is a paved bike trail closed to motor vehicles, is another safe option in the dark.

Birmingham’s climate is not the best for runners but it’s not the worst either.  On average, we’ll get 2 days of measurable snow per year and only 5 days in which the high temp does not make it out of the 30s.  Some nights can be quite chilly but it normally warms into the mid-50s by afternoon.  I would prefer it if the group runs started at 7:00 AM during the winter but I recognize that some people have family commitments and thus must be back home early.  Here’s my clothing chart for the following temps: You need to dress for at least 15-20 degrees warmer when running.

-70F+-Shirtless or tank top
-50-70- Shorts
-40s-Long sleeve shirt with shorts and gloves
-30s-Long sleeves and pants
-Below 25- Need a hat and light running jacket
Below 15- Scarf and sweats

If it’s sunny with relatively calm winds, you can get by with less clothing.  I believe the coldest temp I’ve run in was about 15-20 degrees.  It’s very rarely much below 25 here even in the mornings.
Summer heat and humidity is a much bigger problem than winter cold.  A common rule of thumb is that if the air temp+ relative humidity exceeds 152, you need to back off.   To me, it is the dew point that is the most important factor in determining the comfort level on a particular day.  I’ve found that if the dew point is below 65 even on a 90 degree day, you can still push it pretty hard.  Approaching 70, you need to back off and your best bet for a quality session is intervals or a short tempo.  Once the dew point climbs over 75, at least for me, forget it.  I’ll stay inside or just tack on a few junk miles.  If you are training for a marathon during the summer, consider doing 2 medium long runs on Saturday and Sunday rather than the single long 18-20 miler at least a few times.   I recommend finishing your run before 8:30 AM or starting after 4:30 PM between June-August.  As for the dry heat out west, 95 and dry, I can do.  100 plus?  Not so much.

Morning or Evening:
During the summer, I prefer evenings.  Although the air temperature is warmer at 5PM than 5AM, it is a bit more comfortable when the humidity goes down.  If you can wait until after 6:30, it’s usually fairly pleasant outside when it gets closer to twilight even if the midday was very hot.  The only risk in the afternoon and evening is the possibility of pop up thunderstorms, which can be severe.  It is not uncommon for it to be nice in one part of town but stormy just a few miles down the road.  Check the hourly forecast before going out.  If there is a risk of storms, stay on the track or choose a short out and back route that can be repeated.  I’ve gotten soaked a few times by a sudden heavy rain.  Seek shelter if possible in cases of lightning.   I’ve raced in all sorts of conditions from snow, heavy rain/wind, sub-freezing cold and 100 degree heat.  My two least favorite conditions are a cold rain/wind and when the sun comes out after brief storm in the summer (80 degrees/100% humidity).

Some people have different needs than others.  I can usually get by in a 10K without drinking anything unless it is a very hot and humid day.  For distances 10 miles and above, I require electrolyte replacement.  Drinking water alone can be worse than nothing at all at long distances because of the risk of hyponatremia.   If I’m training for a marathon, a water and sports drink stop is taken at least every 5 miles.  Some can get away with less than that.  Others require more.  You’ll know your body with regular training.

Theft/Women’s Issues
Mountain Brook and Homewood are not high crime areas but I have heard reports of car break-ins on Lakeshore.  For this reason, I almost always carry my car keys on the run rather than leave them in the car.  Even SimpliSafe, a home security company has a mobile app for their wireless security system that notifies you via text if there’s an issue at home while you're out on a run.  I’ve been heckled countless times including once when a car got too close to me before yelling something and driving off.  I’ve never been physically attacked on a run and I’m sure those instances are very rare.  I do have a friend of a friend from Mobile who was a victim of rape.  Any precautions to take against that?  I know someone who carries mace or pepper spray.  Don’t go too far off the beaten path.  Choose a route that is popular with the local running community so that others can help if you are in trouble.  If I saw a person who is not dressed like a runner on several occasions hanging around the trail at dawn, I’d be inclined to take his picture and report him to the police.  Fortunately, that has never happened yet.  Avoid high crime areas on your routes and don’t carry anything of value with the possible exception of a cell phone. 

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