It almost happened on today’s run. A storm blew in early this morning and we received about 3 inches of snow. Once again the roads were snow packed, slippery and just plain pretty messy.
“Three inches,” you say, “that’s nothing.” In the big winter storm picture, you would be right. Here in Colorado, however, I would rather get two feet than two to six inches. When snow is measured in feet, a wonderful thing happens: the rookies stay home. But I digress.
Anyway, it almost happened. Ascending a hill about two miles from home this morning an oncoming car began sliding in my direction. I escaped without incident (so did the car and driver). Why do I mention this uneventful event? Because with a little thought, preparation and a good system, you’ll escape too. So what follows is what I believe to be the most important winter running tips of all: The Three Tips to Safer Winter Running.
Tip #1. Ask a Tough Question. The first question on a hazardous looking day should be, “Do I really need to run today?” If you’re like me, the answer is “YES, of course I do. I run all the time.” The next question, however, is the biggie: “Do I need to run outside?” The answer to this question revolves around one thing and one thing only…. SAFETY. The decision is simple, if it’s dangerous to run outside, I don’t! Your ability to take responsibility for this decision is critical. My motto is simple: when in doubt, don’t go out! And that goes triple for running in the dark in the snow. But if I decide I will brave the elements, Tip #2 comes into play…
Tip #2. Prepare. Once committing to the outdoor run, it’s time to prepare. This consists of two things: my clothes and my route. I will not pontificate on what to wear. You can get that advice anywhere. I will, however, say this: what you wear needs to work for you as far as protection and comfort. If you’re fighting your clothes, winter running is terrible.
To me, the bigger part of preparation is where you will run. From the first snowflake through spring, I pay close attention to the streets that get plowed (and how quickly), the neighborhoods that remove snow from sidewalks and overall traffic patterns. It would be great if the trails were well manicured, but usually they are not. I will say, however, the Denver area includes some of its trails in the snow removal protocol and this is certainly helpful. Most often, however, I’m taking to the streets. Before heading out, however, I spend a good amount of time constructing the safest route given my knowledge of the area.
Tip #3. The C.A.T. System. I approach my winter run with one irrefutable rule: Vehicle vs. Rich = Rich loses (the same goes for you). In deference to that rule, I run the sidewalk whenever I can. Often times, especially when the storm is happening during the run, the street can be the safest place. It is that occurrence that activates the C.A.T. System.
C. Car. I ALWAYS run FACING traffic. I joke that I do this because I want to see the look on the drivers face when he/she hits me. In reality I face traffic because, yes, I want to see them but mostly because I want them to see me seeing them. As a vehicle approaches, I try to identify something about it. Is it an SUV, a truck, a little compact car? Right off the bat, I equate the type of car with the driver’s potential ability to maneuver. Next I check speed and control. Is their speed appropriate for the conditions? Are they under control? If any of these checks create nervousness, I retreat to the sidewalk or anywhere well off the road.
A. Awareness. Once the car has been evaluated, I look at the driver to see their level of awareness. Are they on the phone? Do they appear to be seeing me? Do they look petrified? Often I will wave at them (a hello wave, not some other gesture) to capture some semblance of awareness. The other part of awareness of course is activating my own heightened awareness. I don’t wear headphones when I run, but if I did, I surely wouldn’t be doing it on the winter street run. By the way, just following the C.A.T. System will elevate your own awareness. Again, if their lack of awareness or my own nervousness about them sends me a red flag, I retreat.
T. Tires. C and A have taken all of a couple of seconds. Most often the car has to be evaluated and awareness activated very quickly. In traffic (more than one vehicle coming), I multi-evaluate. Finally, as the vehicle gets closer, I lock in my sight and complete awareness to the TIRES. It’s mighty difficult for that vehicle to slide your way without the wheels locking, so my eyes become totally fixed on the tires. I’ve escaped a few incidents in my time because I saw it coming before even the driver knew it was happening. Any indication of locking wheels or a loss of control sends me retreating as well, and as you can imagine, QUICKLY. Remember our formula…. Vehicle vs. You = You Lose!
The lure of the spring race, for many of us, means training in less than desirable winter conditions. Keeping these tips in mind will not insure that you will never have an incident. But safety is first for me and hopefully you too. Decide first if running outdoors is your only alternative. Remember: When in doubt, Don’t go out is a good guideline. If you must venture into the elements, prepare ahead of time and use the C.A.T. System to make your winter running a little safer.