The Importance of Observing Basic Safety Tips Cannot Be Overstated

The Importance of Observing Basic Safety Tips Cannot Be Overstated

Principal at Sanders Elementary School in Ashburn VA. Tragically killed on November 21, 2012.

This past Saturday morning, I opened the newspaper to find an article entitled “Loudoun principal fatally hit by SUV.”  The article stated that last Wednesday, tragically the day before Thanksgiving, Kathleen Hwang, the principal of Sanders Corner Elementary School in Ashburn, was run down and killed while out walking.  The death of this beloved educator is tragic in so many ways, but made even more so because it could have been prevented.

According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Ms. Hwang was not in a crosswalk and was wearing headphones.  She didn’t hear the approaching vehicle, and the driver was not charged.

National Running Safety Month

Ironically, November is National Running Safety Month and running specialty stores across the nation, including ours, hosted night runs and safety clinics reviewing the basics of running and walking safety.  This campaign was sponsored by Competitor Magazine and The Independent Running Retailers Association with vendor support from Brooks Running, Knuckelights, and Illuminite

One of my customers in the store last night told me about the “Springfield Groper.”  I have to admit I hadn’t heard of him, but did a Google search and discovered that since early September, there have been ten assaults on women in Fairfax County, and police suspect the same person may be responsible for at least three fondling incidents in the greater Springfield area during this same period.

In light of the accident involving Ms. Hwang, and the recent attacks in the Springfield area, I sat down to write a an article on personal safety and awareness and a diatribe against headphones for this month’s newsletter column, but as I started writing, I remembered I’d written a related article nearly three years ago.  In re-reading it, I think it bears repeating, so, with a few updates, it appears below.

Safety 101

(Originally Published in the October 2009 MRW Newsletter)

This is another of those “common sense” or “conventional wisdom” articles.  I had a series of incidents happen to me this past month that brought home the fact that personal safety is a 24/7 concern – especially if you’re outdoors exercising and, unfortunately, especially if you’re female.

Earlier in the month, a customer came into the store asking for a case for her MP3 player.  I recalled an incident from years ago – I was running on the National Mall, when suddenly a young woman shot out from a clump of bushes, clutching her half-torn-off running top and shorts, screaming wildly.  A scruffy looking man was running in the opposite direction.  She’d been attacked and nearly raped – unable to hear her attacker because she was wearing headphones with her WalkMan.

The issue/topic of listening to music (books, radio, whatever) while running comes up frequently at the store, with folks coming down squarely on both sides – yes and no.  This is obviously a personal choice and personal decision, but we strongly recommend that if you do choose to wear headphones outdoors (indoors doesn’t usually present the same issues), you run mindfully – fully aware of your surroundings at all times.  You can also run with a group or a companion or a dog.  Be aware, though, that paying attention to what’s playing through your headphones will certainly distract you somewhat.  Just stay alert to what’s going on around you.

You can also carry a self-protection device.  We carry several in the store.  One is a capsaicin pepper spray that allows you to carry a powerful, debilitating but non-lethal anti-personnel spray.  We also carry a device called The Screecher – a small air “horn” that emits a piercing blast.  Both are small, unobtrusive, very convenient, easy-to-use dispensers that can easily be carried with you when you’re out and about.

The second incident occurred two weeks ago when I was returning from a run in my neighborhood.  Normally, I run a loop course in a clockwise manner, always on the sidewalk with traffic.  On this particular day, however, I had to cut my run short, so did an “out and back” instead of my normal loop, and I stayed on the sidewalk on the same side of the street – so that on the way back I was running against traffic.  On two occasions, cars pulling out of streets nearly struck me, as the drivers were performing a “rolling stop” at the stop sign and looking LEFT for oncoming traffic, completely forgetting to look RIGHT for pedestrians (and the occasional cyclist that insists on riding on the sidewalk illegally).  The lesson here is to run “with” traffic when running on sidewalks, and “against” traffic when running on the shoulder – and, again, to be very mindful of your surroundings.  A related admonition is that when driving, be very mindful of pedestrians and cyclists (who may not always be watching for you).

The third incident occurred at night that same week, when I was returning home from a meeting and nearly hit a runner, who was correctly running “against” traffic on the shoulder, but who was running on the street, too close to traffic and DRESSED ENTIRELY IN BLACK.  Many of us have no choice but to run before dawn or after dusk.  In these situations, we strongly recommend wearing reflective attire – and the running clothing with little reflective logos and stripes simply isn’t enough when it’s dark.  Consider wearing additional reflective accessories or lights.  We carry a full assortment at the store.

The fourth incident occurred just this past Saturday.  While driving home in the afternoon, I received a frantic phone call from a woman who had called because she’d come upon my wife who had fallen while running and needed medical attention.  Fortunately her injuries were minimal, and she suffered more from embarrassment than anything else.  BUT – she’d forgotten to take her runner’s ID with her.  Imagine if she had knocked herself unconscious instead of merely skinning her cheek, elbow, hand and knee?  CARRY AN ID with emergency contact information at a minimum.  You may also want to consider putting additional helpful information on the ID – e.g., name of an additional emergency contact, any allergies, and name of physician.  An Internet search for “Runner’s ID” will turn up many options.

It all boils down to “common sense” (which isn’t so common after all!) and mindfulness.  Think about what you’re doing, and prepare for the unexpected.  We’re not suggesting that you worry so much about your safety that the enjoyment of your activities suffers, but that you take a few simple precautions, and minimize your exposure to the risks out there.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and wish you all the best the upcoming holiday season offers.

John Faith

Senior Staff Member, Metro Run & Walk

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