See and Be Seen – City Running on a Dark and Stormy Morning

Contributed by Scott Benbow, a 2017 Ambassador for The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon.

California has experienced consistent, heavy rains this winter. This poses a challenge for many runners who prefer to train outdoors.

California has experienced consistent rain this winter, posing a challenge for many runners who prefer to train outdoors.

In the late 1990s, I lived on a small tropical island in Micronesia that was soaked by over 18 feet of rain every year. Typically, I ran to and from work each day, and, if I was fortunate on a run, I was drenched by one of the forty daily showers that made the very hot island a temporarily cooler place to live. In the tropical heat, I never had to protect myself from the rain because it was easier to run in the rain than when it was dry, sunny, and oppressively hot.

Since moving from tropical Micronesia to subtropical San Francisco, from what I consider to be the harshest to the best climates for running, I no longer favor running in the rain. The dry days are ideal days for running in San Francisco year-round and the rainy days pose some problems I never had to confront when I was living overseas. Moreover, after several years of drought in California, I’ve had to learn again this winter how to run in cold, driving rain.

Something I’ve always loved about running is how easy it is to don my running clothes, lace up my shoes and get out the door. Running in the rain in San Francisco is more problematic. Not only do you have to protect yourself from the elements with water-repellant gear, you also have to be a lot more careful on the roads and sidewalks in the city. It’s much more difficult for drivers to see runners, pedestrians, and cyclists when it’s raining. And, if you run before sunrise like I do, the combination of precipitation and darkness can be deadly on busy streets.

I’ve had a couple of near collisions with drivers in past winters. This winter, on a very rainy morning, I almost collided with another runner, so I started to explore safety equipment that would make me more noticeable to those around me. For years, I’ve used headlamps, worn reflective clothing, and exercised caution when running in the dark, but I kicked it up a notch this winter.

At night, the Lululemon Surge Run Reflective looks like this. In the daytime, it’s black and very sleek; it’s a versatile backpack for people who run and work in urban areas. Photo by Maxfield Benbow.

Just like I used to do in Micronesia, I typically run to and from work each day in San Francisco. Fortunately, there’s a fitness center near my office, so I can run there, work out, shower, and get to work by daybreak. What I needed, however, to make this routine workable was an urban running backpack that would carry my work clothes while I was running to and from work. Trail-running backpacks don’t work for me because so much of the space is devoted to a hydration bladder, which I don’t need for my morning runs in the city. And I typically don’t like to display garish neon accessories at my office.

This winter, I found a backpack at Lululemon that is perfect for running in the city, before sunrise, in the rain. It sits high and snug between my shoulders when I run, and is so comfortable that it’s easy to forget I’m wearing it. In direct artificial light (like an automobile’s headlights), the Surge Run Reflective backpack’s reflective surface is so bright it almost seems flash. It’s also water repellant and, best of all for the city, the backpack is sleek and black in ambient light. Thus it’s appropriate for carrying things into meetings during the day.

While I’ve tried to run as often as possible during the dry days this winter, my runs in the dark and the rain have seemed a lot safer than in previous years.

Two things The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon can almost guarantee is that it will be dark and it won’t be raining on July 23; it almost never rains in San Francisco in July. I hope to see you at the starting line, dark and early for the race!

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