(This is the 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
July 2000. This magazine opens each month with the stuff of dreams – an oversized photo featuring a “Rave Run.” You not only don’t see cars in these shots; you rarely even see roads.
Our own courses seldom measure up to these high standards. Yet we have routes that rate private raves. Definitions vary widely, but one trait links them – few or no cars.
An irony here is that we drive to places that let us run away from traffic. The finer the course, the longer the drive usually is.
Even for everyday runs I’ll often take almost as much time driving to the course and back as I spend on running it. One route travels in and around the local fairgrounds, where very few drivers usually go at my running hour.
One day this winter, though, a fleet of rumbling, belching trucks took over this spot for a loggers’ convention. They disturbed my peace and offended my sense of place. I thought, How dare they take over my course!
But the public road courses are never ours, no matter what the laws saw about shared access and rights-of-way. The roads belong to the vehicles, if only because they’re built at least 10 times our size and powered to travel more than 10 times as fast.
Most of us still run on the roads because they’re always right outside our door, they offer smooth, weather-proof surfaces, and (in town at least) they are lighted for early-morning and late-evening runs. We hit the roads for this convenience, and in doing so court their dangers.
Stories of collisions between cars and runners seldom end as happily as Laurie Corbin’s. She ran in the Olympic Marathon Trials and was thrilled to be there – or to be anywhere – a month after being struck down by a car and seriously injured during a training run.
Many runners can recall near-misses in chilling detail. One morning I shuffled into an intersection on a green light. From the left, through the red light on the otherwise empty street, came a taxicab at full throttle.
The cabbie saw me too late. His tires screeched and smoked as he slid past the spot with the invisible “X” where I would have been if my brakes hadn’t worked. The driver looked at me with an embarrassed shrug, while I put a hand over my heart in relief.
This incident didn’t result from the driver’s intent to do great bodily injury, but from his inattention or impatience. That’s the case with most road problems. Our best defense as runners, then, is to stay hyper-attentive and extra-patient ourselves.
We see drivers much clearer than they see us. We see them rubbing sleep from their eyes while trying to harness hundreds of horsepower of potential mayhem.
We see drivers with the day’s newspaper folded across the steering wheel. We see them eating, drinking, smoking – sometimes all at once – or holding a cell phone in one hand and gesturing to the unknown listener with the other.
Drivers speed as if the limits were the slowest pace they could legally travel. Drivers wander into the bike lanes, which serve equally well as running lanes.
Drivers turn without signaling for mere pedestrians, or drive at dawn or dusk without lights. Drivers gun through yellow lights and coast through stop-signs without looking to see who might be about to dash across their path.
If it makes you feel better, point a warning finger (no, not that finger) at the offending driver. But don’t shake a fist or shout an obscenity – and please don’t pound the side of a car or run over the hood like a steeplechaser on the water jump. This is the runner’s version of road rage, and it can have dire consequences when drivers hold a deadly weapon in their hands.
When you point a finger, remember that three fingers point back at yourself. You drive more than you run, and probably make the same mistakes that infuriate you in other drivers.
Examine your own habits, both as a driver and a runner. Then promise yourself and those who love you that you’ll drive more courteously and run more defensively – and vice versa.
Run as if the drivers can’t see you. Drive as if the lives of unseen runners are in your hands.
2018 Update. These days, when steps are slower and time is freer, I usually drive from home to wherever the cars can’t go any farther – there to put in my miles.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]