It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Here are a few simple things to be followed when it comes to running, no matter where you are.
Surface:A medium hard surface, such as tar or a dirt road, is good as it is firm, yet not totally unforgiving, such as a concrete surface, and does not provide that extra tough workout as on sand. I tend to run a lot on the road and find that, in India, the side of the road often has some mud, which serves as a cushion for the shoes. In a park that has a concrete track, I run a bit off the track too, just to play safe.
Traffic: When you run outdoors, traffic can often be a hazard. Run on the side of the road facing traffic, run preferably in the early mornings when traffic is sparse and exhaust fumes are few and far between. Always give traffic right of way and watch for those crazy overtaking speedsters who don’t care about runners. Caution another runner in case you find one is not being mindful of something you think is basic—it could save someone from getting injured.
Dogs: Man’s best friend can be a runner’s worst nightmare. I have heard stories from friends about how they got chased, even nipped, by dogs while running. When I returned to India from the US, I had bought an electronic pet trainer which would send out some sort of ultra high frequency sound waves to give negative vibes to dogs. I tried it on my first few runs a few years ago in Gurgaon but it did not seem to work. I have run on a few routes with a stick in hand. I have stopped using a stick, but keep two critical things in mind about dogs:
• If I run along a regular route at a known time, there are the same strays and pet dogs I encounter. They know me and don’t bark any longer.
• I make sure I do not look scared when I encounter a dog. Steer clear of a bitch with pups—they are normally docile, but you don’t want to test their maternal instincts. I carry a water bottle with me and at times, have had to pretend to throw something at them or look suitably armed before they back off.
People: You need to be aware of the people around you in some places. In Chicago, I was almost provoked by two kids along the Lakeshore one morning after 9/11. I have been warned that certain areas in Gurgaon are not too safe to run—it has not bothered me, but I would not take my wife and kids with me for a run there. Forewarned is forearmed. Women, in particular, need to be more watchful of stares and lecherous glances. This is not only in India; women have been attacked in parks and other areas in many cities around the world. For this I would say—women should ideally NOT run alone and should try and run in the early morning rather than the later part of the evening.
Evenings: If you must run in the evenings, go to a park, preferably with some friends, and use reflective stripes on your T-shirt or shoes to make sure you are a bit more conspicuous while crossing a road, etc. A stick or baton can help you against dogs and even keep that extra friendly guy at arm’s length.
Your gear: Remember, being safe also includes being injury-free and a lot of that has to do with gear—it does not have to be expensive. Check your feet, and buy appropriate shoes for your feet.
The sun: Wear microfibre T-shirts and non-cotton clothes. These help keep you dry, protect your skin from chafing, and also help sweat evaporate and keep you cool. It would be a good idea to carry a cap and sunglasses in case you run in a place where you will encounter some direct sun. A headband helps absorb sweat before it hits your eyes, and keeps them salt free.
WRCS: Warm up or loosen up, run, cool down and stretch. It works!
Schedule: Start gradually, build up and then always step back. Do not increase mileage overall in a week or for the long run in a week by more than 10% of the previous week—a safe thumb rule followed by many.
Listen to your body: Your body is your best doctor. As you run, you become more aware of what each muscle or joint or part of your body is telling you. Push forward or slow down accordingly and do not hesitate to ask other runners or doctors for advice. Visit runners’ websites for more specific experiences and see what may work for you. Stay safe and have fun.
(Rahul S. Verghese is a management consultant and founder of runningandliving.com Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)