Wednesday, 17 November 2010

get off the road

Posted by speedygeoff on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 with No comments
I wrote this a while ago for this month's "Vetrunner" magazine.

Q: Why did the runner cross the road?
A: To get to the other side.

I was running along Coppins Crossing road the other day, wondering why the road seemed narrower than I remembered, as well as steeper. It is a well known fact that gravity has doubled in the last thirty years, which makes running up hill twice as difficult as it used to be. But I didn’t realise that roads could shrink as they got older. Someone said it was because cars were getting faster, drivers were less careful, and that it had nothing whatever to do with senior citizens having poorer hearing and slower reaction times, but I didn’t believe him. I just wasn’t used to the road any more I reckoned, having run on tracks, trails, and the peaceful circuit around Parliament House for so many years without venturing out onto roads much, except by car, which is hazard enough these days for a humble Canberra citizen such as myself..

How safe is it to run on the roads nowadays? Once upon a time we would regularly run along Uriarra road, but it isn’t now the certainty of a crush of cyclists bearing down on me unexpectedly that deters me from ever repeating those experiences. My reluctance to persist with any serious long distance road training is best illustrated using words that start with a “P”. “P” for “P-plate”. Or rather, “P” for “Passing” “Public nuisance”, “Pinhead”, and “Panic”. Twenty-first century drivers are insane, as any regular commuting cyclist would readily attest, and any reasonable court of law would agree.

I have occasionally had run-ins with drivers who swear I am on the wrong side of the road. Sometimes they just swear, but that is another story. The more you run, the more you’ll run into people who object to your presence on the road. As I said, I was running up Coppins Crossing Road when a driver slowed enough to yell at me that I was on the wrong side of the road. It was a gravity assisted slow-down from his reckless speed because he, like me, was travelling up hill. As you know there are no footpaths on Coppins Crossing Road, and off the road it was slightly damp. Dangerously damp, actually, so I had little choice about where to step. The exchange went like this. “You are running on the wrong side of the road” suggested the driver. “No I’m not, this is the best side of the road to run on” I replied in a sensible, calm voice. “NO IT ISN’T” was the loud, hysterical reply. So to help the discussion, I crossed over, waited until the driver was out of sight, and crossed back.

The main problem with all of this is I have no idea which side of the road is safest to run on when there are no other options, or whether there is any local legislation which can assist one’s decision in this matter.

Way long ago in the distant past I had run “facing the traffic” because it is best if you can see on-coming drivers and if they can see you, I thought. However on one run there were a couple of incidents where no driver was approaching, but behind me and therefore not in my line of vision at all, a car was coming towards me, passing another car, and nearly cleaning me up in the process. The first notice I had of anything untoward happening was a “whooshing” sound next to my ear-hole, not unlike a magpie attack although by something larger, more solid, and most likely unrelated to the protection of young chicks. A single step or stagger to the left by yours truly would have seen my demise, a car with a dented and blood spattered right fender, and a driver rather badly shaken up and with a case to prove about dangerous driving or manslaughter. This happened not once, but twice, on the same run! So from that time, after thinking about it and consulting others, I decided it was far less dangerous to run “with the traffic”, especially up hill, where I could see if any maniacs were passing too fast up ahead and could safely leap off the road when that happened.

Clearly neither option is safe. There are two obvious morals to this story: the first is you should avoid the roads altogether if you can. And you can, I think. And the other is, if you cannot avoid running on the road, always wear bright reflective clothing so that you are highly visible. You know, a pedestrian gets killed on the roads every minute around the world. If you ever see this guy, tell him to GET OFF THE ROAD!

Since writing this it was suggested to me: pick the side of the road with the least camber! A flat surface is better than a curved surface for the feet and ankles.


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