It was a cold crisp morning in early December with a forecast for late morning snow. I knew I needed to get out, so after a glorious cup of coffee and some microwaved pancakes for my kids, I strapped on my sneakers and went for a run.
Now, me even saying those words right now makes my whole body cringe. Before the pandemic, I rarely exercised. A weekly walk around the block or a 15 minute cruise on my elliptical was something that would have felt like a win. I probably would have congratulated myself and granted my body a two-week reprieve from anymore exercise.
However (like millions of people around the globe), when quarantine hit I needed to find a way to get out of the house by myself…and so I started running.
Over the past several months, I have done my best to be a responsible runner. I have all-weather sneakers, a blinking visibility light, a sports face mask and protective gear for all temps. I have even gotten to a point where I will run in the rain, demonstrating to everyone I know just how desperate I am for a little me-time every day.
So back to that morning…I was following all the protocols possible – running on the sidewalks, stopping at stop signs and checking my blind spots at every crossing. I live in a city-suburb outside of Pittsburgh where on a two mile run, I cross about 20 intersections. There are days it can be really nerve wracking constantly being on the defense from other pedestrians, cars and traffic, but in order to be safe, it is really the only way to be.
On this day, a pickup truck and I arrived at a four-way stop sign at the same time. He signaled for me to cross, and I went. Unfortunately he was looking down at his phone and he must have thought I was crossing in a different direction. He hit the gas and went straight into me. I slammed my hand on his hood, which made him immediately hit the brakes.
I was thankfully not hurt, and so with my heart racing, I just waved and kept running. I felt lucky to be okay, and I am sure he felt lucky to have escaped having a victim of his absent-minded driving.
As a runner I experience things like this almost every day. And if I am being really honest, this situation was far from the worst thing I have seen.
I have witnessed countless people breeze through well-placed, unblocked stop signs. Men and women alike blast through neighborhoods filled with children at speeds that are not even okay for four-lane highways. People young and old honk and swerve at runners like me if they deem their actions to be in appropriate (when there is absolutely nothing wrong). And everyday I see people looking at their phones, putting on makeup and even reading the newspaper while driving through the streets of my neighborhood.
There are days it feels like some people have lost their minds, and they simply forget that a car can kill a human. That their actions while operating this large piece of machinery has consequences if ran inappropriately. That my life in many ways is in their hands. Because believe it or not, I am literally no match for a moving car.
And it’s not just me; this pandemic has driven people out in droves. There are elderly people, young couples with new puppies, parents with waddling toddlers, and teenagers on bikes. It’s actually amazing to see, but also a change so many drivers are not quite used to.
I have often felt like I am in a game of Frogger, just leaping left and right to avoid some obstacle. It’s almost a miracle some days I make it home unscathed.
I wonder way too often while walking out the door, “Will I come back home okay?” I look at my husband reading and my kids stuffing their faces with gooey, sprinkle-filled mini pancakes and ponder if the exercise I chose could actually be something that could really hurt me.
I know my dramatics may seem severe, but think about it — when’s the last time you breezed through a stop sign or checked a text while driving down a familiar road? It’s not something most people would do on purpose, but unfortunately it’s something a lot of us do subconsciously.
So I beg you to just think about it. Be aware of the people around you while driving through places where people walk with their kids or run with their dogs. Simply obey the laws and give them some space. Realize their vulnerability, and that the responsibility of the road lies with you.
And if it helps, imagine if it was was your mother or daughter trying to get some fresh air and time to herself. Then (just for a second) you look down at your phone, drive a little too fast and miss a stop sign. Now place them innocently on the side of the road. Can you guarantee you won’t hit them?
It’s a risk I would never be willing to take. So do yourself and everyone out there a favor, and please please please just pay attention while you drive.