Rule the Road: City Running

Contributed by Scott Benbow, a 2018 Ambassador for The San Francisco Marathon.

One of the many virtues of running The San Francisco Marathon is the unfettered access you get to some of the most beautiful roads in the city. There are dozens of vistas on the course that are so jaw dropping, they prompt some runners to find a safe spot in the middle of the road to take a photo or shoot a short video.

However, city running on non-race days calls for a bit more focus on safety. For example, several times each week, I run a portion of the race course. I live near the 21-mile mark and, depending on the weather, the time of day, and especially the traffic, I can run south for the final five miles of the course, or northwest to Golden Gate Park to run part of the course backwards. My runs resemble a collision course. I almost never have a moment to pause to enjoy the view because I’m sharing the road with cars, trucks, bicycles, and other potential hazards. Invariably, I’ll have to execute an impromptu full stop at some point during a run to avoid a collision with a vehicle.

When I was a younger runner convinced of my invincibility, I focused more on rights-of-way than on physics. If I thought I had the right-of-way, I’d often try to enforce that right at the risk of being struck by a car or truck.

Looking back at a long list of close calls, I am grateful I survived those years of ignoring the science of physics for the inescapably shortsighted purpose of enforcing a right-of-way. The smallest cars I encounter in San Francisco are Smart Cars, which weigh approximately one ton and move a lot faster than I do when I’m running. Even a low-speed head-on collision between a Smart Car and a runner could result in considerable body damage to both; the driver of the car would walk away but the runner definitely would not.

While I’m not obsessed with safety, I am more cognizant of the phenomena of matter, motion, and energy than I once was. I no longer challenge drivers, even drivers of small cars, to enforce rights of way. I also rely on other physical phenomena, light and reflectivity, to make me safer on the roads of San Francisco.

When running long before sunrise this winter, I’ve been using a reflective running jacket. The reflective parts of my jacket, which include the entire front & arms, and a significant portion of the back of the jacket, are made with tiny, highly reflective glass beads. The reflectivity is astonishing in direct light.

By being safe, running defensively rather than right-of-way obsessed, and by ensuring I can be seen by anyone else on the road, I hope to run many, many more miles in San Francisco.

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