I had an eye-opening, scary, and quite painful experience this morning on my daily run. It really opened my eyes to the dangers of long-distance running or even walking alone.
There’s been a tragic story all over the news here in New York about Karina Vetrano, a beautiful young girl who was killed while out on a run in her neighborhood. Every time I see an update about this story, my heart breaks for her family.
Today I suddenly realized that I may be putting myself in a very similar situation every time I go out for a run alone.
I live in the Hudson Valley, about an hour north of Manhattan. It’s beautiful here. I have 2 acres of property that is surrounded by hundreds of trees that provide a lot of privacy as well as complete seclusion. The houses on my street are very far apart, and most properties are either horse or livestock farms with hundreds of acres. I can’t see any of my neighbors from my house. I don’t even really know any of my neighbors, aside from a few people I see on the road when I’m out running that I exchange friendly “hellos” or “good mornings” with. I certainly don’t have any of their phone numbers.
When I started running, I mapped out exactly how far I’d have to go from my house to do a 3 mile and a 6 mile run. Normally, I just run to my half-way mark, which is 1.5 miles and turn around and come back. But for the last two days, I’ve felt really good and the weather has been gorgeous, so I pushed myself to do the full 6 miles.
I love doing the longer run because it takes me down a road that I don’t travel on often, and it’s really quite beautiful. There are ponds, more farms and gorgeous views of the Catskill Mountains. There are also a few stretches where there are no houses at all and nothing but woods.
Now I have never felt unsafe in my neighborhood, as we have an almost non-existent crime rate. But today, as I was running, a truck passed me with two men inside and slowed down. I could see the driver looking at me in his rear-view mirror. The truck got slower and slower and almost came to a complete stop. I was on one of those stretches where I was surrounded by nothing but woods. I panicked. I looked around to see where I should run or if there was anything I could grab to use for a weapon in case I needed it. I was genuinely scared. But thankfully, the truck drove on.
I was so startled by the experience though, that as I was running on the side of the road, I fell. Hard. Of course, I immediately jumped back up, as that’s my usual response when I fall. (Get up quickly and hopefully nobody saw you. If nobody saw you…it didn’t happen.) My right hand took the brunt of my fall. I was bleeding from two fingers and my palm was throbbing. I had broken three fingernails. My knee was also scraped and bleeding.
At this point, I was half-way through my run and I had 3 miles to go to get back to my house. Now I had my phone with me, and if I had broken my leg or something, I certainly could have called 911. But my injuries weren’t that serious. However, I was in a lot of pain, so I had to walk instead of run. That gave me a lot of time to think about my daily runs and what I could do to protect myself from a situation that could be dangerous in the future.
Here’s what I came up with.
#1. Don’t stray too far from home.
I’ve decided to stick with my 3 mile route, and if I want to run further, I’ll just do it twice. That at least keeps me within 1.5 miles of my house. Plus, there are no stretches of desolate wooded areas on this route.
#2. Make sure someone knows your running schedule and path.
The manfriend knows that I run every morning and he knows the path I take, but he doesn’t really know the exact time. So from now on, I will text him when I start and when I finish my run.
#3. When a car comes, stop running and step to the side.
This is especially important if you are running on a road that has no sidewalks. The area on the side of the road may be grassy or gravelly, but chances are, it’s uneven. You could wind up with a sprained ankle or a busted hand (and three broken fingernails like me!)
#4. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
Yes, I listen to music when I run. But I only put one ear bud in. I want to make sure that I can hear when a car (or a wild animal) is coming. And while running can certainly put you “in the zone” – you certainly DON’T want to zone out.
#5. Use your mobile phone wisely.
Yes, I also occasionally Snapchat or Instagram while I’m out on my runs. But I ALWAYS stop and step to the side of the road to do this. I don’t try to read emails or surf the internet when I’m running or walking. That would be a good way to get yourself hit by a car.
Here’s another thing I thought of when it comes to using your mobile phone. I should have started Snapchatting that truck as soon as I felt uncomfortable. If indeed something horrible had happened and I had disappeared, at least my friends and family on Snapchat would have had something to show the police.
So as it sit here pecking out this article with my left hand (I’m right handed, and of course that’s the one I injured this morning), the moral of the story is to be smart. If you run or walk alone, take my experience into consideration. And even more importantly, remember the story of Karina Vetrano. Plan your path, be aware of your surroundings, and make sure someone knows where you are. Getting in shape should never get you killed.
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