A few weeks ago, when mornings were suddenly dark at 6:30, a friend emailed me:
“Cynthia, I’m so upset. I almost hit a jogger. I didn’t even see him. He was wearing black. I’m still shaking.”
Tonight, while driving along a dark and quiet street, I went through similar emotions. A man was running on the road, facing the direction of oncoming traffic (i.e. me), and wearing an orange jacket with a reflective strip. He likely thought that the orange made him visible; it did not. The jacket itself was not reflective and the reflective strip was worn so I didn’t see it until after I saw his face – at the last minute. I swerved to get out of his way and he was fine. In fact, he probably had no idea of what was happening or that I felt panic; he continued jogging down the road and I cursed the fact that he wasn’t wearing reflective clothing.
Visibility for runners is essential. Whether it is day or night, we need to be seen. For this reason, I tend to run on the road – and am sometimes criticized for this by my non-running friends – but I am safer. First, drivers are more likely to see me when I am on the road than on the sidewalk; since I am sharing a lane with traffic, it is hard for them not to notice me. Secondly, without trying to sound too cocky, most drivers can’t judge my speed; if I am on the sidewalk, a driver will often try to quickly swerve into a turn, thinking that he/she can beat me to the intersection but, instead, forces me to a grinding stop just as I am about to jump off the sidewalk onto the road. For me, running on the road often seems to be the better option; I just have to dress for it.
For the past few winters, I was sporting a Vizipro jacket by Saucony.
I loved its vibrant pink and, even more, the battery-charged piping that lit up when I ran. When training with my club, I often did a reverse-Rudolph run and ran at the back of the pack so that we could be sure that cars from behind would see us.
In January, when I found myself lying face down in the middle of a busy road, I clearly remember thinking “It’s okay. Drivers will see me. I have my jacket on.” The next day, I looked at my running gear and noticed a rip on the right sleeve of my Saucony jacket. Since I loved that jacket, I considered fixing it with duct tape but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the jacket’s life looking at the sleeve, remembering the night that I broke my jaw. My husband agreed. “Get rid of it,” he said. Being frugal, I usually pass unwanted gear onto running friends but this one didn’t make the cut; I didn’t ever want to see someone else wearing this pink vizipro because of the negative connotation it now had. Straight into the garbage it went.
Since I haven’t really needed to run in the dark or the cold since that night, I haven’t had to worry about a jacket either. A few Tuesday’s ago after school, I was dressed to run when my husband stopped me at the door. “You are not wearing that,” he insisted. “You’re wearing black. By the time you get home, it’s going to be dark. No one will be able to see you.” I reminded him that I hadn’t replaced my reflective jacket yet. “Take my Brooks jacket. I don’t need it. I have another.” It is orange (not my favorite colour), a little big on me and a little warmer than I need right now, but it does the trick. I can be seen when I run.
Tonight, I realized how much I do need this jacket until I do replace it with one that fits better. In the past few weeks, drivers have slowed down to let me go first, or they have given me space on the road; I know they can see me. But the guy who was running tonight when I was in the car? He was not visible; he may as well have been dressed in black.
A simple trick to check your reflectivity is to ask someone to shine a flashlight on you, dressed in your gear, before you head out the door. If that doesn’t work, trying taking a selfie outside. You may be surprised by what you do – or don’t – actually see.