Tips for drivers and runners
Running on a quiet dirt road near the Castleton/Poultney line on a clear twilight evening, I saw approaching headlights and I moved toward the right shoulder.
The driver, recognizing the reflective gear of a pedestrian in the road, switched to high beam, perhaps to signal this recognition or just let me know that my safety would be a concern. But the high beams effectively blinded me, and I stepped in a pothole and fell. I was fine. Before I left the house, I had underestimated both the amount of available light and my running speed; two common enough occurrences in the running community. I finished my run and looked for the bacitracin. But being blinded by the lights brought to mind some potential issues important to drivers and runners.
First, let me note that I coach cross country runners at Castleton. The teams were due back for preseason last week. Castleton belongs to the NCAA Division 3 and cannot provide athletic scholarships. In comparison to other state college systems, for students, the Vermont State College system is one of the most expensive in the nation. That being said, all of our runners work long hours in the summer and most continue to do during the academic year, even with full academic loads and participation in athletics. They work in all kinds of jobs from landscaping to maintenance to fast food. For many, the only time they can run is in the evening, and we all know that daylight grows shorter in Vermont as August runs into September.
Our practices are scheduled in daylight hours: We run in the mornings and late afternoons. We make good use of the D&H rail trail, our on-campus cross country course and occasionally, a local track. Still, I have several runners whose academic schedules (late afternoon labs, etc.) do not permit them to run with the team every day. Academics come first, but these are competitive individuals and aware that they are representing our college. Consequently, they occasionally schedule a make-up run in the evening. There are some real dangers. I’ve been running for 50 years now: When a runner and an automobile collide there are no winners.
Some advice for drivers on seeing a runner in limited light:
Proceed cautiously. There may be more than one runner on the road.
Be aware that runners are instructed that automobiles have the right of way.
But also be aware that periods of intense running can impair perception and judgment.
If your lights are on, and a runner is approaching, be aware that the runner can see you. Flashing your high beams will blind the runner and increase the likelihood of a misstep and fall, perhaps into the path of your car.
Some advice for runners:
If you are running alone, make sure someone knows where and when you are going.
Wear reflective clothing and avoid high traffic areas when possible.
Respect the fact that drivers have the right of way.
When you see an approaching car, you should anticipate that a driver’s instincts may be to switch to high beam. Be prepared to stop until you can see again.
As fall begins, drivers and runners alike should be aware that condensation and frost on windshields may impair a driver’s ability to see early morning runners. Drivers should keep their windshields clean, and runners should keep in mind that sometimes they are less visible than they might expect. Please, don’t even get me started on cellphones and earbuds.
Finally, there is a lot of good high school cross country in the area. If you would like to see some good collegiate races, come to Castleton’s Athletic Complex on Glenbrook Road at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 (home meet) and Saturday, Sept. 28 (Vermont state championship). And please share the roads.
John S. Klein is chairman of the psychology department at Castleton State College and head coach of men’s cross country.