Trail Sisters Half Marathon & 10k

September 14th • Buena Vista, CO

Situational Awareness: For Safety and Community

Andrea considers herself a mediocre endurance athlete and has slowly plodded her way through marathons (26.2 miles), 50K ultra-marathons (31ish miles), and half iron distance triathlons (70.3 miles) over the last ten years. She does not consider herself an expert in anything, except eating ice cream.

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With the influx of trail users in recent months, I am often amazed at how many walkers, runners, and cyclists are willfully isolating themselves by talking on the phone, listening on headphones, or talking to their companion.

In my observation, there are two detrimental effects of this lack of situational awareness: personal safety and lack of engagement with a growing community of users.

One could say I’m hyper-vigilant, but in my defense, that comes from many miles of running by myself, and being followed, harassed, and even the focus of one man’s masturbation on the trail. I recognize that when danger comes, I’ll likely be by myself, and I need to see it coming as far away as possible so I can move out of its way, or defend myself. I am also aware that people out for a more easy-going walk can consider those of us more focused on finishing a specific distance, or speed (not this gal!) can be intimidating, and can inadvertently make a trail seem unfriendly, or unwelcoming, to those with a different objective.

I choose to be friendly and outgoing on my runs, essentially taking an “offensive” position by briefly acknowledging everyone I pass with eye contact, a brief wave, a hello, or good morning, even if they can’t hear me because they’ve blocked out their surroundings. This indicates I’m aware, paying attention, and acknowledging that “I see you.” If I choose to listen to music, I only ever wear a single earphone, leaving one ear open for people, traffic, or other noises.

My recommendations for this approach are not limited to women who run alone, but to everyone. I see people of all genders, backgrounds, and ages isolating themselves behind earphones or phones, or laser focused conversations between themselves, making themselves susceptible to anyone with less than noble intentions. I believe everyone deserves to exercise without being a victim of unwanted attention or behavior.

I’m a believer in good running manners: I let people know I’m coming up behind them, that I have a dog with me, that I intend to pass, and I stay to my right instead of in the middle or on the left of a trail. I’m optimistic new users will adopt some of these behaviors, and they will spread, improving some of the more selfish trail manners I’ve seen in recent months.

Going out for a walk, run, or cycle serves many different needs for people including exercise, peace of mind, and socialization. I am not implying that people forgo the intent of their venture outside, but perhaps consider how they are approaching it to ensure they are not placing themselves in harm’s way or inadvertently creating an unwelcome environment.

In my many miles, and certainly more recently with the influx of users, I see so many people who choose to block out the world around them while they are out walking, running, or riding. I understand that many readers of this article may recognize what I’ve seen, and have great situational awareness and manners, but I encourage all of us who are more experienced and comfortable in our surroundings to be ambassadors to those around us for their own safety and to help build a better, more aware community.

I can’t think of any downsides of being open and friendly to people who use the trails we all enjoy each day. Do you have any additional ideas to create an open, safe environment by actively engaging other users with small, simple gestures indicating they are welcome, and that we are looking out for each other?

About the Author

Andrea considers herself a mediocre endurance athlete and has slowly plodded her way through marathons (26.2 miles), 50K ultra-marathons (31ish miles), and half iron distance triathlons (70.3 miles) over the last ten years. She does not consider herself an expert in anything, except eating ice cream.

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6 Responses

  1. I totally agree with your offensive approach, and I do the same. I hate running with earbuds. Though I sometimes run with friends, when running alone, I don’t run with a dog but I do run with Damsel in Defense products. They make small compact alarms, a runner’s fingerless glove that holds a pepper spray, and many other lightweight, convenient products that are handy for any situation. I used the products for years and told so many runner friends about them that I decided to be a rep! Check it out:

  2. I agree with one’s saved me from being startled by cyclists passing me, and not announcing themselves.
    My question, why do 2 walkers go to either side of the path when approached, leaving me to run between them ?

  3. I totally agree with this! I live in a high rattlesnake place and people wearing headphones on the trails are not aware of them. To me it’s very meditative to focus on the trail and be in my surroundings. To hear the birds, the wind sometimes water. Great article!

  4. On one of my recent runs I overheard a group of teens ask a woman for directions to the lake in the park. It was pretty clear there was no danger to the woman but you could see she was visibly distraught about being confronted and didn’t know where the lake even was. All it took was for me to pause my run for a minute to give directions. The kids were happy to finally head in the right direction and were clearly having a great day and the woman looked a lot more at ease not having to handle the situation alone.

    I’ve also had to stop many times on long runs from just pure exhaustion and just sit down on the ground for a moment. Without fail, someone always asks if I’m ok or if something is wrong as they pass by.

    Little helpful acts like these help make the trails more welcoming! It’s comforting to know there are tons of other people on the trails that are looking out for you and ready to help if you need it.

  5. I totally love the idea of emulating good behavior for new users, though it is hard if they aren’t paying attention at all for them to take in that gesture. I’m a trail runner, mountain biker, and I also hit the trail with my horse and trying to set a good example with all three, it’s amazing how someone can be not paying attention and in their own world to nearly run directly into a 1000 lb animal waiting for them to notice. Saying hi and waving at other users I think, and hope goes a long way.

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Sept. 14th 2024

Buena Vista, Colorado

Half-Marathon & 10k

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