Guest Blogger Christina Torres

Look, I get it. We’re runners. Our bodies are not only temples, but well-oiled machines born to run (or learning to, at least). They often do things we never thought they could.  A lot of times, they succeed at goals we never thought possible.

While this success feels amazing, it can occasionally add a sense of invincibility to how we see ourselves. After three years of running and pushing myself, that sense of power combined with the heady influence of youth made it easy to assume that my body could handle anything. I had made it through a case of bad runner’s knee, and after tearing up my leg falling on a trail in Griffith Park, got right back up and ran 5 miles with blood running into my sock– all with a smile on my face. I assumed that I could handle anything.

So you can imagine my surprise when I realized how close the car was before it threw me across the street on a crisp October afternoon.

Still, I was a lucky one. I escaped with only a bad sprain and some cuts and bruises at the end of the day. It could have been much, much worse. While I did take safety precautions while on the road, I now realize how important it is to do my part to stay safe while I’m hitting the pavement.

So, as the Thanksgiving Turkey roasts in the oven, your holiday decorations and hot chocolate mugs are pulled out of the dusty back-corners of the cupboards, and the sun sets at a wholly unreasonable hour, here are a few tips for this winter season (and all seasons) to stay safe:

1) Wear the Right Gear. This is probably one of the most essential and basic tenets of runner safety. Even if you live in a well-lit city (such as Los Angeles), it’s easy to fall prey to a less-than attentive driver.

I recommend using at least a reflective vest (Amphipod makes a great one that’sreally light and well-fitting), and a bicycle light as well. Both of these will increase the likelihood that a car or bike will see you as you go. Also, the more reflective strips on your regular-run gear, the better. Look for hydration belts, music holders, or running jackets that have reflective strips on them already. That kind of built-in safety just makes running smart a little less work.

Also, consider a headlamp. I’ve tripped on enough L.A. city side-walk cracks and suffered enough bloody knees to learn my lesson. Sure, you’ll feel like a coal miner while you run, but think of the visualization exercises you can do:

The mine is on fire! You have to escape! Run! Run faster! Now, hold this pace for another 3 miles!

2) Choose Your Runs (and Run-Partners) Wisely

Sometimes, a change in the weather requires you to completely retool your running routines (I can imagine it’s worse for those of you in snowier climates. As a life-long-SoCal resident, I don’t understand places where ice falls from the sky, so I’ll let someone else discuss that). It can feel frustrating to have to change things around, but I’ve found it to be a nice way to force myself to check out new places to run.

Look for well-lit areas if possible. My new favorites have been some of Los Angeles’s nicer residential streets. While trails can be beautiful, night trails can pose a threat for both animals and just generally losing your footing. Unless you have experience working them at night, or are a crazy-advanced runner, you may want to save those trails for another time. MapMyRun and Daily Mile are great for finding routes, and some people leave comments on the ones they post about their lighting and safety rating.

Also, consider running in a group or with a partner. This is something I am striving to do more myself. For me, running is some of my sacred alone time, but I’ve also noticed that when I run around others, it can challenge me to keep my pace up. If you can find someone who holds similar values (maybe both of you love to talk it up), it could be a great way to find someone to help pace you and keep you safe as well.

3) Be Aware, Communicate With Your Surroundings

This is the safety habit that took me the most practice, but has paid off quite a bit in the long run.

It’s tempting to blast the newest Childish Gambino track on your iPod, but keeping a mid-to-low level volume in your ears will help you listen to your surroundings. Also, consistently be looking around and communicate with whomever you are sharing the road with. Sometimes I feel as though running around others is a little like driving a car: I look over before I change sides of the road or the trail, and I use my hands to communicate where I’m going, or if I’m about to take a turn in front of someone. Post-accident, I’ve even taken to holding a hand up at intersections if I’m running during rush hour, just to make sure any cars that might be tempted to attempt a speedy turn in a break in traffic will see me. Does this make me look a little paranoid to an outsider? Sure, but I’ve also noticed that cars do slow when they see me do it, so I think it’s worth it.

Alright, runners. As the temperatures drop, I hope you’re able to stay motivated and keep your mileage as high as ever. If you have any tips to staying safe in these darker, winter months, be sure to leave us a reply. We’d love to hear from you.

Christina Torres is an active runner, writer, and proud USC alumna. During her time in Teach For America, Christina got her start running three years ago with Students Run LA, where she trained for the L.A. Marathon alongside her high school students. Before then, she had never run more than a mile. She has now completed 3 marathons: L.A. 2009 and 2010, and earned her PR in The San Francisco Marathon’s 2010 event. Now out of the classroom, Christina uses running as a way to find positivity, stability,and unfettered joy in her life, and hopes she can help others do the same in the L.A. running community and beyond. You can follow her on Twitter at @biblio_phile, or read her blog at “What’s Next?”