My Running Thoughts on Getting Hit By A Car
I had planned to write about a new theory of tapering that I’ve been mulling over for the past few weeks. The aches and pains have begun to sneak into my daily life, so the timing seemed perfect. Then I got hit by a car. Now I have legitimate aches and pains that snuck into my life like a herd of elephants crashing a golf tournament. I’ve had some time to process and I thought I would share my experience, for whatever it might be worth.
This past Tuesday, I was out for my weekly group run, and squeezing in some extra miles with a friend. We were heading north on a nice wide, brightly lit sidewalk and approached an intersection. The walk signal had just turned, and the timer began counting down. It was still at around 24 when we approached the intersection, with me in the lead. I noticed a car stopped in the righthand turn lane, and thought the driver saw me. I was ahead of my friend and went to cross the intersection just as I heard him yell. At this point,everything happened rather quickly but I know I was struck relatively head on as the driver hit the gas into her turn without seeing me. The car hit my knees and I rolled to the left as I fell. I hit the ground and bounced, snapping my head on the back wheel well, and the car came to a stop. Luckily, none of my limbs were underneath the car, and I was able to get up after shaking off the tumble. After the initial shock, we called the police to file a report, exchanged information, and my friend and I walked to his house so he could give me a ride home. Needless to say, I was rather shaken and annoyed, especially since I still had a few miles left on the calendar. I suppose I can do without them, eh?
My body was understandably amped up on adrenaline, so I didn’t really have an initial sense of the full impact of the collision. After I had calmed down and showered, I took note of my aches and pains. Both of my knees were pretty sore, and I tweaked my right knee, making it hard to support my weight in certain circumstances. My right upper quad was also sore, and my tailbone was feeling the effects of a bounce on the ground. My left shin was scraped up, and the back of my head was sore as well. All told, things could have been much worse, and I was incredibly thankful that the driver had not been going faster, and that I had the presence of mind enough to at least jump a bit so I could roll out-of-the-way after the initial impact. I’ve had dreams about much worse since the accident!
Several thoughts have crossed my mind now that I’ve had time to consider what happened and put it in context. First, I’m reminded of just how important it is to always be present and aware of your surroundings. I’ve talked before about the joy I get from being able to zone out while running and just get lost in my thoughts. The miles just seem to fly by when you are left to your thoughts. However, when you are running in any sort of populated area, whether it be a small town in Iowa, or NYC, you need to always be aware of what’s going on around you. This incident reminded me once again to never trust anyone except myself when it comes to my own safety. We all want to think that drivers and other pedestrians will be paying attention, that they will follow traffic laws, and that they are generally aware, but that is often not the case. As a cyclist, I’m familiar with voice commands to indicate position, oncoming traffic, and other aspects of awareness while on the road. This seems logical when you are on the road with motor vehicles, but these same instructions can be just as useful for runners.
As cliché as it may seem, my second thought revolves around the importance of enjoying each run the privilege it is to be able to lace up your shoes and put one foot in front of the other. There seem to be stories every year in Iowa (and beyond) about cyclists and runners that are fatally struck while out on the road, and I cringe every time I hear about them. It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of goals, paces, distances, and races, but for me, the real love of running boils down to the ability to do something I love every day. We live in a society that teaches us to work hard for the weekend, or for our vacations. We are trained to think that happiness comes in short bursts, in between periods of work that we endure. Running is a burst of happiness for me every day, and I’m thankful for the opportunity every time I lace up. I know that a million things could happen to me and take away this gift, and I know that I am and always have been temporarily able-bodied. This experience has reminded me to embrace my ability and never take it for granted.
A bit more down to Earth, I’m also struck by the complete lack of awareness of some drivers. I certainly realize that, as with most things, the number of “good” drivers most likely outnumbers the “bad” drivers. However, the more I run and the more runners I meet, it seems like everyone has a story about a close call (or worse) with a vehicle. Drivers don’t stop at lights or stop signs, or don’t look both ways at intersections (as was the case this time), or just aren’t paying attention behind the wheel. I could probably launch into a monologue about texting while driving as well, but the problem seems to be much more basic. People just don’t seem to be aware. The day after the accident, I went out on a slow, gingerly moving run to test out my legs, and I was cut off at an intersection by a woman who went rolling through a stop sign and looked right through me as if I wasn’t there. Perhaps drivers don’t understand right-of-way, or they are in a hurry, or they truly shouldn’t have a driver’s license in the first place. Whatever the problem may be, it keeps happening. Some folks would argue that runners don’t always pay attention either, and this is true. However, in the one-on-one competition between a 180 pound runner and an 1800 pound car, I think we know who has the advantage!
Thus, I will leave with a request, nay, a plea. When you get behind the wheel of the car, revert back to the adolescent driving paranoia that came with getting behind the wheel for the first time. Look both ways at all intersections, and then look again just to be safe. Adhere to the rules of the road and remember that pedestrians have the right-of-way at intersections when they have a walk signal. Even though you CAN turn right on a red light, you don’t NEED to cut off someone to do it. The sunlight seems to be a fading memory during the winter months, which means visibility is decreased. Snowstorms, blowing wind, and other nastiness is right around the corner, so remember your winter driving techniques. Allow more following distance, pay attention to ice and snow on the road, and stop short of that white line just in case you go sliding through it. These reminders go for runners and non-runners alike. We all end up behind the wheel at one point or another, and we all have a responsibility. As a runner, I promise to continue to be vigilant of my surroundings, keep an eye on my footing, only cross when I have a walk signal, and make sure I do whatever I can to get your attention in the car before I cross in front of you. I may look silly with all of my reflective gear, and you may wonder why I’m waving vigorously as I pass, even though I don’t know you, but we’ll both be happy it all happened. Next time, I’ll cross, then you’ll turn, and we’ll both go about our evenings and complete the journeys we have planned without stopping to file a report with the police.