With the influx of trail users in recent months, I am often amazed at how many walkers, runners, and cyclists are willfully isolating themselves by talking on the phone, listening on headphones, or talking to their companion.
In my observation, there are two detrimental effects of this lack of situational awareness: personal safety and lack of engagement with a growing community of users.
One could say I’m hyper-vigilant, but in my defense, that comes from many miles of running by myself, and being followed, harassed, and even the focus of one man’s masturbation on the trail. I recognize that when danger comes, I’ll likely be by myself, and I need to see it coming as far away as possible so I can move out of its way, or defend myself. I am also aware that people out for a more easy-going walk can consider those of us more focused on finishing a specific distance, or speed (not this gal!) can be intimidating, and can inadvertently make a trail seem unfriendly, or unwelcoming, to those with a different objective.
I choose to be friendly and outgoing on my runs, essentially taking an “offensive” position by briefly acknowledging everyone I pass with eye contact, a brief wave, a hello, or good morning, even if they can’t hear me because they’ve blocked out their surroundings. This indicates I’m aware, paying attention, and acknowledging that “I see you.” If I choose to listen to music, I only ever wear a single earphone, leaving one ear open for people, traffic, or other noises.
My recommendations for this approach are not limited to women who run alone, but to everyone. I see people of all genders, backgrounds, and ages isolating themselves behind earphones or phones, or laser focused conversations between themselves, making themselves susceptible to anyone with less than noble intentions. I believe everyone deserves to exercise without being a victim of unwanted attention or behavior.
I’m a believer in good running manners: I let people know I’m coming up behind them, that I have a dog with me, that I intend to pass, and I stay to my right instead of in the middle or on the left of a trail. I’m optimistic new users will adopt some of these behaviors, and they will spread, improving some of the more selfish trail manners I’ve seen in recent months.
Going out for a walk, run, or cycle serves many different needs for people including exercise, peace of mind, and socialization. I am not implying that people forgo the intent of their venture outside, but perhaps consider how they are approaching it to ensure they are not placing themselves in harm’s way or inadvertently creating an unwelcome environment.
In my many miles, and certainly more recently with the influx of users, I see so many people who choose to block out the world around them while they are out walking, running, or riding. I understand that many readers of this article may recognize what I’ve seen, and have great situational awareness and manners, but I encourage all of us who are more experienced and comfortable in our surroundings to be ambassadors to those around us for their own safety and to help build a better, more aware community.
I can’t think of any downsides of being open and friendly to people who use the trails we all enjoy each day. Do you have any additional ideas to create an open, safe environment by actively engaging other users with small, simple gestures indicating they are welcome, and that we are looking out for each other?