Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Safety

Early Morning Runs Among the Homeless

B-B Mistletoe KissWe runners tend to have a rare view of the world. Most of us will have mornings where we are out the door and back while the household sleeps. Other times we are traveling, staying with friends and family or in a hotel. Again, and always with safety in mind, the most opportune time to get in a run is early morning before the day’s activities begin.

So it is that my view of the homeless on our streets and in our parks is through the sleepy eyes of an early morning runner.

Thinking back several decades to the 70’s, the homeless population seemed to be a smattering of men, usually along a skid row area viewed through a car window. By the ’80’s I was seeing more people on the very streets I walked and ran near my office. Because I moved from one city and state to another, I first thought the larger homeless population was a quirk of my new hometown. It didn’t take long to realize that the increase in homelessness was not just where I live, but was a national and international phenomenon.

Running offers time to think and question. Questions like, why do I see more of the homeless now, where do they come from, what occurred in their lives that brought them to this park, this riverfront this retail doorway this particular morning?

The news reports I occasionally hear identify certain percentages of homeless as military veterans, those suffering mental illness or plagued with addiction, LGBT youth estranged from parents, and young families suffering job loss. Whatever the percentages, I, and I’m guessing many runners, have witnessed those from every category above.

My travels abroad have affirmed we in the U.S. are not alone in a growing homeless population.

Several years ago on an early morning run along a river walk in Osaka, Japan, I was jolted, realizing I had come upon a homeless encampment, blue tarps spreading in the distance. I quietly turned and rerouted to avoid disturbing anyone’s sleep.

Versions of that experience have occurred during most of my travels. I used my softest running steps as I encountered the homeless sleeping in doorways along Avenue de Clichy in Paris. At dawn, I’ve side-stepped those “sleeping rough” under the display windows of Christie’s Auction House in London’s South Kensington.

If you’re expecting to find my recommendations or solutions, I have none. I’m just an early morning runner reporting my observations. I do, however, believe there are smarter and more creative people than me who have within them the potential to contribute to the resolution. Policymakers, counselors, non-profit agencies, maybe some from the homeless community; among you I believe there are answers. By example, Back on my Feet is a relatively (2007) new organization with an innovative approach.  In this wide world of creative, caring people somewhere there is someone, probably many someones, who have the beginnings of other solutions.

Personally, my meager contribution is to donate to organizations that are sincerely helping. When I travel, I make it my business to identify a local group with a proven track record. Since I have benefited a city by spending my tourism dollars in restaurants, hotel stays, and race registrations, it makes sense to also contribute to the population least likely to benefit from my stay.

Could 2017 be a breakthrough year? With hope and determination, who knows.

On this chilly December evening, I wish all of my readers the warmth of family, friends and most of all, a place to call home.

B-B Mistletoe Kiss

When is Black the New Bad?

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About 50 feet away, that’s me holding a safety light reflector (that white speck you see).

Answering my title question upfront: Black is the new bad when worn at night without reflective material anywhere there is vehicular traffic.
I’m saddened by three recent reports of people over the age of 65 killed in pedestrian/auto accidents. Two I knew personally; one a neighbor who power-walked past my home almost daily, the other a former colleague and community volunteer. To my knowledge, none of the three were runners. I don’t know the details of the accidents but I do know under any circumstances vehicles and people are not an even match. 

So why am I telling you this on a blog post primarily about senior runners? Because it dawned on me that I, and I suspect you, don’t take adequate precautions when we are are not in running mode.

Out the door for a run anytime of day or night, we are in safety green or day-glo yellow. At dusk or dawn, we are wearing headlamps, flashing red lights and those bizarre but effective neon circle lights. But dear fellow senior runner, what are you wearing when you step out during the holiday season? Is it that little black dress that you can still get away with because you are a runner and in great shape? Are you out for happy hour in bluejeans, black knee-length boots, maybe a dark fleece jacket to shield you from the evening cold? Black gloves? Uh-huh, I thought so.

At about 30 feet away, look closely, safety light still in hand, I am barely visible.

At about 30 feet away, look closely, safety light still in hand I am barely visible.

Are we as attentive when out in the evening socially as we are when running? On a run, I find I can still do a fast ditch-dive when a vehicle comes too close. My antennae are on alert. Do I have the same level of caution crossing streets when out socially in the evening?  Honestly, no.

When we walk across a dimly-lit parking lot on our way to a holiday concert, to church, to a restaurant to gather with friends, is a driver likely to see us in dark colors – before it is too late?

Probably not the driver on their cell phone, not the driver talking to soothe a tired child, not the driver hurrying to a store before it closes. Even the driver with brilliant attention and quick reflexes may not spot us in time.

About 12 feet away from camera. Would a driver stop in time?

About 12 feet away from camera. Would a driver stop in time?

I’m taking my own advice here and please join me. Black is a great evening color and without it my closet would be nearly bare, but the fatal accidents of late have convinced me that it won’t hurt a bit to keep something lightweight and reflective tucked in my purse or pocket ready to add when in dark areas.

Please be safe out there and when taking in holiday events with family and friends or when crossing a street in the evening. Use the same precautions used when out for a pre-dawn run.

We are approaching the year’s shortest day and longest night, with sunset tonight at 4:43 p.m. 

Just added to my gift list - an amphipod xinglet.  Can be adjusted to fit any size and over any coat.

Just added to my gift list – an amphipod xinglet. Can be adjusted to fit any size and over any coat.

Lighten up!

Stay safe and healthy. Peace.