I consider myself something of an expert on pedestrian safety. In 25-plus years of being a runner, I’ve encountered more than a few obstacles. I’ve been flashed, chased by dogs, and had a car door opened in my path. I’ve been followed, and even called 9-1-1 once.
I’ve tripped over roadkill, snakes, and even a wire coat hanger. I’ve had squirrels, cats, more snakes, and a Florida black bear cross my path. Once, much to my surprise, my running partner pushed me off the sidewalk into the street. Turns out he saved me from stepping into an open manhole.
I’ve been run off the road by cars, street cleaners, bicyclists, and even the University of Florida Gators football team. It was on that narrow sidewalk that runs along 13th Street between Museum Drive and University. A steep embankment to one side limits a runner to the sidewalk or street. I was focused on the sidewalk, watching for open manholes, when I looked up to find the defensive line on their morning jog, coming right at me. I am sorry to say they were less than chivalrous—they didn’t budge. I was forced to make a split-second decision between the oncoming traffic or tucking my chin and assuming my best three-point stance. I took the traffic.
You may be thinking, “Why not yoga?” There are hardly ever snakes lurking under the pile of yoga mats. And if someone flashes you, it’s usually in the downward dog pose and they didn’t mean any harm. But there’s nothing like running—or walking—in the pollen-saturated, sauna-like, carbon emission-filled air. Once you’ve become addicted to that endorphin rush, at dawn or dusk, it takes more than a few snakes, bears, or Gators to push you under the fluorescent lights of the gym.
So if you choose to get your exercise in the great outdoors, do it safely with these tips.
1. Buddy up.
There’s safety in numbers. Buddying up is more fun and makes you more accountable. It’s not as easy to hit the snooze button if you know someone’s waiting for you at the corner. Particularly if that person is prone to vengeful pranks. If you can’t find a friend whose schedule or fitness level matches yours, you can hook up with groups at local gyms, the Ocala Runners Club, and the YMCA. There are even Web sites like friendsworkout.com that help you find workout partners. Of course, never meet with a stranger one-on-one; meet as a group and in a public place. And when in bear country, choose a partner you can outrun (just kidding).
2. Know the rules of the road.
While cyclists travel with traffic, pedestrians should stay on the left, facing oncoming traffic. When a car is coming toward you, move onto the shoulder, not into the right lane. This is a common mistake. If the driver of the oncoming car starts to go around you to his left, you are now on a collision course. Also, if you move to the right lane and another car comes up behind you, you become the monkey in the middle. When crossing the street, cross at an intersection or crosswalk.
3. Be seen!
Black workout clothes may be slimming, but before dawn or after dusk you simply disappear. Not to mention that lurking around neighborhoods in the dark, dressed in black, could get you a police escort. Many manufacturers now incorporate reflective materials into their clothing. You can also purchase small clip-on lights, reflective wrist and ankle bands, and vests at most sporting goods stores.
Even if you’re lit up like a Christmas tree, don’t assume that drivers can see you. Even in broad daylight, it’s best to step aside. Be “the friendly jogger” who waves at everyone. The extra movement will make you more noticeable. When approaching an intersection, never assume the driver will stop for you, even if there is a stop sign. You’d be amazed how many people ignore stops signs if they think no other cars are approaching the intersection, especially in the early morning. Watch the volume on your tunes, too. You won’t be aware of traffic or lurking strangers if you’re in la-la land belting out a duet with Shania.
4. You have the right to bear arms.
I don’t mean wear a tank top. And I don’t mean carry a crow bar. Now that cell phones are approaching miniscule size, you can carry yours on a belt clip. This is good for calling a taxi if you sprain an ankle, become ill, or forget your way home. But since most mad dogs and attackers won’t accommodate you while you phone 9-1-1, you may want to carry a personal safety device. There are a number of devices available online that you can carry easily while exercising.
Pepper spray canisters and personal alarms with a belt clip or wrist band can give you peace of mind. Pepper sprays can be used against humans or dogs. Ultrasonic devices made to ward off dogs using high frequency sound waves are also an option. Personal alarms emit a loud siren that will scare off an attacker and attract attention. A simple whistle is an excellent tool. Easy to carry, it will attract attention without being mistaken for an errant car alarm. Note to my neighbors—if you hear a whistle, it’s not an early morning soccer practice.
5. Don’t be too predictable.
Change your routes around, particularly if you exercise alone. This is good for your safety and for your body. Varying elevations, terrain, distance, and direction is more effective training and keeps strangers from knowing your routine and where you live. If you are exercising alone, let someone know where you’ll be and when you should
Walking and running are great cardiovascular exercises. You’ll reduce body fat and stress while toning your lower body. Being outdoors can be a great mood-lifter, too, if you spend most of the day in the house or office. So lace up those sneaks and get out there. Just remember that it’s better to be safe than sedentary.
Great Places to Walk (Or Run) In Ocala
Jervy Gant Park
SE 36th Avenue & SE 24th Street
2 miles, paved and unpaved
Brick City Park
SE Lake Weir Avenue
1/4 mile, paved track
SE Baseline Road
5 miles paved, 3 miles unpaved
SE 31st Street
SW 27th Avenue to SE 36th Avenue
5 miles, with sidewalks
SW College Road
Any length you want (doors open for walkers at 8am, M-S, 11am on Sunday)
- running buddy
- reflective clothing or clip-on flashing light
- whistle or personal alarm
- cell phone (also, does someone know where you are?)
- pepper spray or dog repellent