When Megan Brown was driving home a few nights ago at dusk, she happened to notice a runner many other drivers might not have spotted. "All I could see were the whites of her shoes."
As a running coach for MB Performance in Toronto, Ms. Brown makes a point of watching for runners and cyclists while she's out on the road. And in the past few months she has had even more reason to be hyper-aware: two members of her running group were hit by cars in separate incidents, as well as two cyclists she knows.
With Friday marking the first day of fall, daylight hours are steadily decreasing, meaning those who do early-morning and evening outdoor activities will be doing them in the dark. But while Canadians generally consider dressing for the time of year a no-brainer, many don't dress for the time of day. It may seem like common sense, but runners and cyclists, whether newbie or veteran, all need a little reminding once in a while. Here are some tips from the experts.
Light up the night
Whether you're on a bike or running, drivers have to be able to see you to have time to react. That means wearing reflective gear or flashing-light arm and ankle bands, not just light-coloured clothing. "Six years ago you had to wear a crossing guard-style vest," Ms. Brown says, "but athletic clothing companies have done a good job of bringing out night-time clothing." Runners should also plan routes through well-lit areas. Ms. Brown's motto is "just because you can see them, doesn't mean they can see you."
And if you're cycling, "be outrageous with lights," Currie Gillespie suggests. The Manitoba Cycling Association's chair of recreation and transportation says it's essential to have at least one flashing red light on the back and one flashing white light on the front; he uses three on the back, two on the front and frog lights on his hubs, and wears reflective clothing.
Map your run
When Lucas McAneney, a Toronto-based member of the Brooks Canadian Marathon Project, plans a new route, he will drive it first to check out traffic volume and signals. "You can plan a route online, but all that will show you is the distance." If you don't want to be slowed down by traffic lights, pick your route carefully and use roads you know, says Mr. McAneney, who typically runs about 190 kilometres a week.
As a safety precaution, Michelle Kempton, co-founder of Heart & Sole Running Club in Dartmouth, N.S., suggests downloading a mobile app called RunKeeper Live. Using a GPS system, it not only tracks your pace and distance, it keeps tabs on your precise whereabouts in real time with an option of giving family or friends a password so they can log in and identify where you are at any given moment. Or do it the old-fashioned way and tell someone else your planned route and the time you expect to return home.
Turn off the tunes
Cycling with headphones on is an absolute no-no, and the same goes for running at night. "If a vehicle is coming up behind you, you can't hear," says Sabrina Young, president of Toronto's Longboat Roadrunners. "The onus is on you to be aware of what's going on around you. If you don't want to be hurt, be defensive about what you do."
Kyla Rollinson, head coach at Boreal Runners Club in Montreal, offers another reason to leave the music at home. "At night your perception is already off, and music disturbs your sense of balance even more. It's not safe."
Obey the rules
Stop at all traffic lights and stop signs, and don't ever assume drivers can see you, Ms. Rollinson says. "Follow basic traffic rules and don't run a light just because you think no one can see you."
During the day, Ms. Kempton always makes eye contact with a driver of a vehicle before crossing a road, which is virtually impossible to do at night. She suggests holding up your hand before crossing, waiting until you get a signal from the driver that they're going to stay where they are. She also says it's important to slow your pace at night.
Ms. Brown says you should be just as cautious when you have the right of way, particularly if you're in a province where vehicles can make a right turn on a red light. "Cars aren't always looking for pedestrians, just for cars in the other direction."
At Longboat Roadrunners, there's an ethics committee that ensures runners obey the rules. "We watch for that. You're representing the club and it looks bad," Ms. Young says. "As a running [or biking]community, you all get lumped together."
Buy an ID tag for your shoes, sew one into your clothes or just write your name, address and phone number on a small piece of paper and put it somewhere in your shorts or jacket pocket so that if something does happen, emergency officials can identify you, Ms. Rollinson says. She also suggests carrying a little bit of money in case you get a minor injury and have to make it back home.
Special to The Globe and Mail