Whether you are training for a race, or you like to run simply for the fitness and well-being, summer running raises two distinct safety concerns:
- how to keep your body from becoming overheated, dehydrated or exhausted on hot, humid days
- how to protect yourself from injury on roads shared by runners and motorists, particularly where traffic (of cars, pedestrians, or both) naturally increases with the season.
The two concerns do intersect in one specific situation: when runners choose to work out before sunup or after sundown to beat the heat.
The problem, of course, is the diminished visibility in the predawn or dusk light. Runners who choose these hours need to make themselves as visible as possible, ideally with a combination of light, reflective clothing, and lights—at least a headlamp, if not additional body lights.
Otherwise, these general safety tips for road runners apply to any time of day:
- run on the left side against traffic
- don’t wear headphones or earbuds
- stay alert, especially at intersections
- where possible, use sidewalks and running paths rather than roadways.
In fact, under New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law for Pedestrians (Article 27), it is unlawful for pedestrians to walk or run in roadways “where sidewalks are provided and they may be used with safety.” In the absence of sidewalks, runners may use the road, but only on the left side against traffic, using the shoulder if there is one. Pedestrians may not legally use expressways or interstate highways.
Photo by: Dan Grogan
When crossing roadways, runners are directed by law to follow all traffic-control signals; any pedestrian entering a crosswalk when not facing a green light or green “walk” signal, or entering the roadway where there is no crosswalk, must yield right-of-way to motorists.
On the other hand, motorists must yield right-of-way to any pedestrian in a crosswalk where no traffic-control signal is present. Also, drivers entering or exiting from an alleyway, building, private road or driveway must yield right-of-way to pedestrians (including runners) on sidewalks.
Many vehicle-pedestrian accidents occur in situations where the pedestrian technically does not have the right-of-way.
However, a runner injured by a car may still have rights in court, depending on the relative behavior of the driver and pedestrian. New York State law provides that “every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist, pedestrian, or domestic animal on any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.”
This means a driver not judged to be exercising “due care” may still be found liable for injuries even if the pedestrian is not strictly within the law.
If you are running in daylight hours under a summer sun, here are some tips for a safe, healthy workout:
- Slow down and acclimate. Trust your body to recognize the amount of effort it is ready for. As it adjusts to the summer heat, it will begin to work more efficiently, and you can gradually pick up the pace.
- Run at cooler times. You don’t have to get out before dawn to beat the midday heat; it is generally cooler in the morning even after the sun comes up.
- Plan your route. Choose roads that offer some shade. If there is wind, run with it on the way out and against it on the way back, which will help cool your body in the later stages of the run.
- Wear smart clothes and sunscreen. The latter is a must, especially if the back of your neck is not protected. A visor will allow the heat to rise from your head while keeping the sun from your face. Loose, light-colored clothing will deflect the sun’s rays and allow your body to cool itself.
- Run in loops—and walk if you want to. If you’re not sure how your body will react to a long summer run, do it in loops where you return to your starting point to assess your energy, replenish with a sports drink or ice pop, apply cold towels, etc. And if a longer run is sapping your energy, go ahead, stop and walk. You’ll allow yourself to cool off, and guess what—you’re still getting a workout.
Finally, make sure you recognize the signs of heat exhaustion (including heavy sweating, rapid breathing, headache, and nausea) and heat stroke (rapid pulse, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and vomiting), and if you think you are experiencing either, seek help immediately.