The horrors of last weekend saw 21 trail runners tragically lose their lives during an ultra-marathon in extreme Chinese weather conditions that saw the worst accident in trail running history. It sent waves across the trail running community and raised questions about why they were out in those conditions, if they should have been out there and if this horrific tragedy could be avoided. The knock on effect of this will no doubt see event organisers around the world raising standards when it comes to the safety when trail running in ultra events.
Discussing this awful incident with fellow runners, we commented on how we were unlikely to get those sorts of conditions in this country only to stand corrected and reminded of the pitfalls that can befall lone trail runners that aren’t adequately equipped. Let’s remind ourselves of what we can do to ensure our safety when trail running.
Don’t Get Complacent
Trail running can be classed as an extreme sport. Some of you may be sat there wondering how that is when you go out and casually run 10 miles on a weekend. Others amongst you will think nothing of going out and pounding out 50-100 miles or more. It can be easy to be complacent, whatever standard of runner you are. Some of China’s top ultrarunners were among the fatalities during that fateful race. Even for the most elite athlete, the dangers are the same.
Check Out the Weather
While we are unlikely to suddenly get caught in a monsoon, a blizzard or a freak storm, we still have to consider the weather, and what would happen if it did turn nasty. Dress for the occasion – if it is looking like it’s going to rain, pack a waterproof. In fact, when taking part in trail ultramarathons, race organisers insist that you have taped seamed waterproof jackets and trousers in your running backpack. This isn’t so you stay dry when running. It’s in case you get injured or lost and end up stuck in the middle of nowhere. Pack a foil blanket – it takes next to no space and could be needed.
If it is really hot and sunny, think about protecting your head and skin! Wear a hat, put your sun screen on and take some with you as it sweats off. Take plenty of water too. Again, we have got complacent when running a few miles but if you do get into trouble and are out in the sun for hours you will need water.
Be Prepared for All Situations
If you do get stranded due to injury or really bad weather, or you get lost, you need to make sure you have water and snacks in your running backpack to keep you going as well as bad weather gear. Take more than you think you will need to be on the safe side.
Safety When Trail Running in Numbers
Ladies especially (sorry guys if that sounds sexist), don’t go out alone if you are unsure about an area or it’s getting dark. You may actually be safer on the trails than you are on the roads from sexual predators but I have actually been followed on a road section of my regular trail run at 4pm on a Friday afternoon by a group of guys in a car all jeering. Luckily I was able to run to safety pretty quickly but it can happen anywhere! Just be sure of the following:
- Tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back
- Take your phone and make sure you can be located on GPS
- Run with a friend or a group of friends
- Don’t get caught out after dark – try and run in the daytime
Always Take Your Phone
Have the locator on so that others can find you. Set up ‘find my iPhone’ or other similar app and make sure you are traceable. Don’t leave home with a phone that is running out of charge and make sure it is accessible. Don’t drive to a location to run and then leave it in the car (I am guilty of this). You may only be going out for 5 or 6 miles on your local trail but if you fall and twist an ankle or worse, break something, you will need it. Even if you have no signal, you are still able to use the phone in emergencies.
Standing on the edge of a ledge to get the perfect camera shot, hurtling down a hill full pelt or not watching where you are going can all end in tears. I have fallen over dried up cow’s mess while looking at a beautiful view! I still have the scar. We’ve climbed up a waterfall before now – not our brightest idea but, these things, while exhilarating are the kind of activities that can lead to some very nasty accidents. You need to think about yourself but also the air rescue people that will end up having to come out to save you!
Be Safe – Be Seen
If you are running at night or in bad weather, it is important that you can be seen. This means by traffic on the roads as well as by potential search parties. Wearing colours that make you blend into the background is not going to help a search and rescue party find you if it ever came to it. You need to wear fluorescent colours – yellows and oranges – rather than black and navy. When running at night, make sure your clothes have reflectors.
Running with an Injury
Trail running is tough on the body for the most fit and healthy. If you are feeling under par or are running with an injury then stop and ask yourself if it is a good idea. What if that injury gets worse and you find yourself unable to carry on, a fair few miles from where you started? Injuries can increase your risk of risking your safety when trail running.
Research the Course
Going off exploring is one thing but if you suddenly get stuck in a nasty weather with zero visibility and you don’t know where you are, it’s going to be a scary time. We have been up on top of the Mendips when the visibility has been appalling. If we weren’t so familiar with the terrain we would have bene in trouble. Research your route before you go out. Check out where the nearest villages are, how far from the nearest road you are and what is around in terms of shops and other public places. If you get injured and know you are only half a mile from a safe place, you can act accordingly as opposed to being completely stumped as to where you are.
Watch Out for Livestock
Only last night, we ran through multiple fields full of young curious cows that wanted to play! Luckily, I have learnt how to run around cows and how to deal with them if they get too close but even farmers won’t be complacent when in a field full of cattle. You can read more about dealing with cows when running here. Close gates to stop them escaping and being a danger to others and follow the Countryside code.
As runners, just like when driving a car, sometimes we do these things on auto pilot without thinking of the potential risks to our safety until we are reminded when tragedy strikes. It is important to relax and enjoy the sport but it is also important to ensure our safety when trail running.