As a runner, I cringe when I see runners doing certain behaviors that might be harmful to themselves. As I was walking the dog this morning, a runner passed me and I had to hold myself back from giving her unwanted advice. But as I was coming into the house, I had a thought -- why shouldn't I give unwanted advice since I'll feel better for putting it out there and it might just save a runner's life or at least some of their physical well-being.

The advice comes in two parts. First, runners, you are not like cars and motorcycles and bicycles and other moving vehicles. You go much more slowly and you do not take up a lot of the road. Because you are flesh and blood and slower moving, you are more vulnerable. Therefore, for your own safety's sake, don't run on the right side of the road. Run on the left side. The runner who passed me today, the one that I almost stopped to give the advice to, was running on the right side of the road down Carlisle.

Why should you run on the left? Because on the left, cars can see you AND you can see cars. On the right, only half of that equation is true. Cars can see you, but you can't see cars because your back is turned to them as they sneak up behind you. So let's say that you are running on the right, and some guy having an argument on his cell phone with his girlfriend comes up behind you. She says something that really makes him mad. He is not paying enough attention to register that he is drifting to the right and that you are in the sights of his car bumper. You don't realize that his Mazda 3 is bearing down on you, because you are running blissfully along with your back turned. Blam - you are his hood ornament.

Relive scenario when you are running on the left. He is having same argument, coming toward you, drifting at you and not noticing that you are there. Because you are facing him, you realize what is happening, and take your own evasive action. You are not a hood ornament, and are alive to continue your run while he careens down the street.

It seems counter-intuitive, but as a runner, you should always run on the left if you are running in the street. I realize that many streets are sloped and that some people run on both sides to correct for uneven surfaces (i.e. left going out, right coming back). But it is risky.

Now, here's my second piece of advice. I always cringe when I see runners running on the sidewalk. I think about what their knees are going to look and feel like after 20 some odd years of running on concrete. Hello, knee replacements! Not to mention nagging injuries like shin splints and foot problems. Running is already hard enough on your body, even as it's good for you. Think about it. You when you are running you are pounding your feet and knees toward the ground. When you stand, your feet are supporting your weight, your knees a little less. When you run, you are adding more pounds. According to a column in the Asheville North Carolina Citizen-Times, one hour of aerobic exercise puts 1 million pounds or more of pressure on your feet (and knees).

Why exacerbate this by running on the most unyielding surface you can? Concrete, which most sidewalks are made out of, is the hardest most unyielding surface you can run on. Now, being in a city, we don't have many options to choose from, but we do have them. Remember the NAC rule, which will tell you what surface to pick. Whenever you can, run on (N)atural surfaces, like earth or grass, a dirt road perhaps. These surfaces yield the most, and will put less stress on your feet and knees and reduce the possibility of serious injury over time.

When natural surfaces are not available, your next choice should be (A)sphalt, such as in streets or roadways. Asphalt is more yielding than concrete, and therefore should be the choice of most runners when running along city streets.

This is a tricky subject, because traffic laws differ in places. I have not been able to find yet what the law is in New Mexico. Here's a column by a guy in Oregon where the law states that if a sidewalk is present, a runner should be on it. However, when it comes to avoiding injury, (C)oncrete should be your last choice to run on. As a runner, you are potentially doing yourself more damage than good when you run on concrete, so run on it only when necessary. I personally choose to run the risk of breaking a pedestrian law, and I've run on the asphalt instead of the sidewalk right by police who don't seem to think it's worth citing me. You are really better off on the street (the left side of the street) when you run, and much better off when there is a natural surface. I live near Ridgecrest Avenue, and the median of Ridgecrest is really nice for natural surface running for about a mile. Yet I see people running on sidewalk and asphalt there all the time. If you run on the softest surface available to you, you will save your joints and knees and will reduce your risk of injury.

I don't mean to sound sanctimonious. I just want runners to be able to do what they love without hurting themselves. Any more safety/personal health tips for runners?

Views: 5

Tags: running, safety, surfaces

Comment by Izquierdo on August 2, 2008 at 4:22pm
But you can see what you're stepping into when you are running on concrete. you. Grass can hide holes, sprinklers, pests, etc. Dirt has dips that are hard to distinguish, especially if they are long and shallow. Asphalt frequently has lose pieces. Everyone needs to assess all the possibilities when making a decision.
Your running toward traffic is sound, but there may be exceptions. My rule in driving in traffic when there are two lanes in each direction and only a thin white or yellow line between you and on coming traffic is to drive on the outside lane, thereby minimizing a head-on collision. The outside lane generally has fewer pitfalls--especially a fatal accident, but there are pedestrians, cars coming out of driveways, etc., bar ditches, and slick gravel. You have to make decisions based on a survey of all the possibilities.
Comment by Dan McKay on August 2, 2008 at 4:27pm
I tend to run (slowly!) on the right-hand sidewalk because I assume that's where cars, cyclists and everyone else expects pedestrians to be. It seems me that running in the road would be a problem because you have to keep going toward the center of the street to avoid parked cars.

I'm probably not running enough to seriously hurt my joints. Plus, some of my jog is on a dirt path anyway.

Is there a consensus on joggers' etiquette?
Comment by M&M on August 2, 2008 at 4:58pm
I see where some of you are coming from, but in terms of running on the right versus the left, if I run on the left I can see what is coming at me and be in a better position of making a decision. By running on the right you may be assuming that's where others expect you to be, but you are also assuming that the moving vehicles behind you are always paying attention to where you are. That to me is a dangerous assumption. I can't assume that.

As for choosing where to run, certainly that is an option. If you are like me, who only recently bought a car after not having one for a few years, the ability to get to places such as the ones mentioned above is limited. Other people are limited by time. If I could, I would have driven the 15 minutes every day out to Tramway or down to the Bosque where I could get away from traffic and run on more friendly surfaces, as suggested by Sarah and Don. Even with a car, I sometimes do not have the time to do so. During the winter, when the days are shorter, it's even worse. Some like to run indoors at a health club, but I don't like it and can't afford it anyway. Sometimes it's the streets.
Comment by Brendan on August 2, 2008 at 6:20pm
Great post M&M- I used to get terrible shin splints from running on concrete and didn't know why. I started noticing that running on dirt paths never gave me that sort of trouble. The foothills, the side of the bosque bike path, and many of the local golf course perimeters (I figured this out at the one between Osuna and Academy) are all wonderful places for good views, fresh air, no cars and pain free running.
Comment by Pat O. on August 2, 2008 at 8:27pm
My legs just don't like the pounding of running, not even on grass (I get shin splints). So I walk on sidewalks, but wear good shoes.
Comment by Mary Tafoya on August 2, 2008 at 9:42pm
Don't forget the "don't get dehydrated" advice! I work near a "major workout gym" place and I cringe when I see people running around that area/hood at high noon, sweating, with no water bottle on them. Run early or later in the day when it's a bit cooler or at least the sun is not beating down on you and boiling your brains.
Comment by pineapple_yum on August 3, 2008 at 2:15pm
running + main streets/traffic = deeply breathing in car exhaust/fumes. you're not just hurting your joints. biking to the park to run is a great warm-up.
Comment by Birdy-O on August 3, 2008 at 9:44pm
I don't relish being in the car and of course time is a big commodity and so that means running in the neighborhood rather than driving 30min across town roundtrip to run in the hill trails.

I am a shade chaser, I run on the Ridgecrest and Carilse medians and I take the low traffic streets when possible but the fat & strange intersections in that area of town mean that sometimes I run on the sidewalk- occassionally with traffic!- to make the street crossing safer.

I actually enjoy the time in the neighborhood, seeing homeowner projects, gardens, home design - all that good stuff that reinforces my sense of community and neighborliness.

That connection to the neighborhood, the breath moving in and out of my body, the sense of contentment after my run - those things are fine tradeoffs for the corporeal rigors of running.
Comment by Robert S. on August 4, 2008 at 1:35am
I would add wear shoes with reflectors (or put reflector material on your shoes if it doesn't already have some of reflector built into the shoe). I was driving around just after dusk the other night and noticed how easy it was to spot runners who were doing their running - it was easier for me to see the reflections off their shoes than it was for me to see their dark clothing against the dark background and I know it would be trivial to see the reflectors and avoid hitting them if any of them had decided to dart across the street without looking for me or other cars.
Comment by Tricross on August 4, 2008 at 7:49am
One thing I am surprised that no one has mentioned is the use of headphones/earbud speakers while running or cycling. By eliminating the sense of hearing, you lose a valuable safety tool. I've been a runner for forty years and tried headphones back in the Sony Walkman days and found them to be awful in two ways. One is that they remove your ablility to hear what's around you. Two, they don't allow your mind to unwind and wander, a key benefit of running.

One last thing. I read a great article a couple of years ago about how running shoes have become over engineered. After reading that article, I tried a pair of Nike Free 5.0 running shoes. These shoes are designed with minimal support to allow your foot muscles to get stronger. After a few short runs, I found I was wearing them exclusively, even on my longer 10+ mile runs. After eighteen months of running in the Free, my feet don't get nearly as tired and I my shrank down half a size. I don;t have any connection with Nike or the sale of it shoes, just wanted to endorse a good product.

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