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Safety tips for running on country roads

"Take me home, country roads" - John Denver.  A runner's guide to exploring the back roads. I’m originally from the remote mountains of Pennsylvania, so I have run my fair share of country roads. I’ve also made my fair share of mistakes while running on them. A lot of the same runner safety rules apply on bumpy dirt roads, but these paths do require a bit more attention – and the lack of cell service on the many of them makes it even more crucial to be prepared and think ahead.

Run in daylight
I love running at night, but when you’re on a dusty, dark country road – it’s just not safe. Not only are there few – if any – street lamps, but your footing may also be compromised and not as steady as on city sidewalks. Plus, since it’s more desolate in the country, if you run into trouble, it’s far less likely you’ll be seen if you need help.

Stay visible
Yes – you need to be seen. People driving on country roads aren’t as alert to possible pedestrians as they are on city/town streets. The speed limit is also usually higher. Just last month a male runner in a neighboring county was struck and killed on his morning route out in the country. Wear bright closing and run against traffic to give yourself a defensive edge in this situation. Wearing bright closing will also help you be seen if you have an accident or otherwise need help.

Stick to main roads
This tip isn’t just for visibility, because I think we’ve covered a lot of that already. I ran up a windy back road one winter only to find myself turned around and somewhat lost. What looks like it makes sense on a map doesn’t always pan out that way in real life either. Bridges fall out of commission and some country roads even close in the winter months for lack of maintenance. There wasn’t a house or soul for miles in my case, and my run ended up being much longer than anticipated. Stick to the main roads so if you get lost – at least there’s someone around to guide you.

Pack a snack
If you’re running over an hour on country roads, you’ll want to bring some hydration and fuel with you. I learned this one the hard way when my trek took me up a long, steady climb on a day that was much muggier than forecasted. I ended up having to walk/jog 3 miles home because I was so dehydrated. Though the view was gorgeous, the lightheadedness I experienced surely took away some of the fun.

Share your route
So, cell service. If you’re running in an area that’s notoriously off the grid, help might not be just a phone call away. Tell a friend or family member your plan. Tell that person when you plan to start and end your run. What route you’ll take. And ask if he or she will check in with your once you’ve complete (or vice versa). Some of us just like being out in the wilds – so, this one’s just an extra safeguard.

Be prepared for animals
Whether it’s an unleashed family pet or a mountain lion, you could encounter wildlife while on the run. Here are some tips for protecting yourself from aggressive dogs. And check out tip No. 5 on this list of safety rules for runners for tips on dealing with different types of predators. Just keep your head up and your ears alert. Consider carrying pepper spray if you feel it’s necessary (and check with your local authorities for rules in your area).

Wear sunscreen
We should all wear sunscreen on our runs, but if you’re on a country road – chances are there isn’t much shade. Slather on the SPF no matter the time of year. Here is more information about sun care for runners, as well as some tips for protection and relief using coconut oil.

Written by Ashley Marcin.

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