The Hierarchy of Horsepower: Five Rules of the Road

Posted by Filed Under: Running Tips

One of my track club’s most beloved female runners was killed by a motorist last year. She was cooling down from a workout and went to cross a street when the driver of a VW Beetle approached; she crashed into its windshield. The year before, another elite runner suffered broken bones after being mowed down by a cyclist going too fast to avoid a collision. These incidents and others I occasionally read in the news led me to write about several road rules for runners.

  1. Run against traffic. This way you see cars and cyclists coming at you and can quickly maneuver if needed. Do not assume motorists will move out of the way if they see a runner on the road. Most can’t or just won’t. Concrete is tougher on the body than asphalt, but if there’s heavy traffic, a sidewalk’s your safest option (provided there’s no cushier grass or dirt path beside it). If there is no sidewalk, and there is no leeway, consider a less busy course or quieter time of the day to run on that particular street. This is especially true if you run on pitched roads to avoid injuries like iliotibial band syndrome. There is one exception: blind curves on rural roads lacking any shoulders. Run on the side deemed safest.
  2. Bike lanes are for bicyclists. Some park bike trails actually spell out rules for sharing between pedestrians and cyclists. But in all other instances, especially street-oriented bike lanes, yield to anyone on wheels. Even those on rollerblades. Do this by running on the inside of the path and, again, paying close attention to your surroundings. The same goes for trails; try to stay to the right when you can. A few years ago during a 10k trail race, we watched in shock as a pair of peeved mountain bikers tried to push an entrant off a cliff because he stuck to the middle of the narrow, rocky path and wouldn’t let them pass.
  3. Never run more than two abreast. This can be tough for gabby groups of three or more. You get caught up in conversation and don’t realize you’ve overextended your reach and now monopolize a road, sidewalk, trail or bike path. A clear sign you’re hogging is if someone behind asks to pass, or someone running toward you forces the group to move in. If it’s especially congested, run single-file and save the gossip for afterward. It’s been said before but it bears repeating: This is especially true if you are in a race. You may not care about getting to the finish line quickly; but the more motivated people behind you do. Seed yourself appropriately and if there’s a group of you, do not congregate in the middle of the road. Stay to the right. The far right.
  4. Do not try to outrun a stale yellow traffic light or walk sign. Urban runners know not to cross a busy six-lane street when there’s only two seconds remaining on the Walk sign. Yet this is exactly what a woman wearing headphones did last year, right in front of me and my training partners. No sooner had she stepped into the street when a car turning right (and with a green light) struck her. We and the driver stayed until police arrived. Fortunately, the runner was okay, but we also heard her being gently reprimanded by the officer because the driver had the right of way at the time of the collision.
  5. If it’s dark, make yourself visible.I like to run before dawn during the week. Many who prefer running after work or school will soon have to run in the dark too. You must wear a reflective vest, headlamp or flashing red light so you are more easily seen, especially if you run on rural roads lacking any other type of light. Also, if you are running in an isolated area, make sure someone knows your intended route and when to expect you to return. This is tricky for early morning runners. I used to drive two blocks to a health club, rather than just run from home, simply because I then had people looking out for me at 5:30 in the morning, when my family was still fast asleep.

Most of these rules should ring familiar. Yet I’ve seen plenty of runners who don’t follow them. Two legs (or six, if you like to run with your pet) are no match for anyone with wheels. Never assume you have the right of way, even when you do. Stay alert, stay safe and remember: We’re all stewards of the streets. Now go do the right thing.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Nancy Toby on October 23rd at 12:29 pm

    Good piece!

    Also – for bikers and cyclists – assume you’re invisible. Because you probably are. Assume they DON’T see you, and act accordingly.

  2. Nancy Toby on October 23rd at 12:29 pm

    Er, I mean for runners and cyclists.