Thinking about Trail Running Safety

The other day while running on a local trail, I found a runner who had slipped on a root and hurt her leg really badly. She could not walk on it at all – it turned out that she had fractured her fibula.  We had to carry her out and she safely got to the hospital and is fine now – she just has a broken bone in her leg and is in a cast.

Made me think

Finding this girl crawling towards the trail head, has really made me stop and think about trail running and how I would have handled the situation if it had been me with the broken leg.  Would I have been able to do anything any differently than she did?

A couple of things, but I didn’t have much more gear than she did that day – hell I didn’t even have a cell phone with me to call for help.

Most of us drive or run to the trail head and then bomb around the trails, until we get tired or have gone the distance we planned to go. We don’t think about what we would do if we got injured while out on the trail. Usually, unless we are going to a back-country trail, most of the time we just carry some water, car keys, possibly a GPS device and sometimes a phone, besides what we are wearing.

Usually I Run Alone

When I am trail running, I usually run alone and I hate things bouncing around or having to carry anymore extra weight than I have to when I am running on trails. I want to stay as light on my feet as possible and so I am not distracted by something I am carrying. In fact, I would prefer to just run in sneakers, shorts with shirt being optional (a sad or scary sight to be sure) and go as minimal as possible. This incident is making me re-think that strategy.

Use Common Sense

Some common sense stuff to do before going trail running:

  • Run with someone else when possible – two is better than one on the trails and the buddy system will keep you safer.
  • Run with your dog if you have no one to run with and your dog is appropriate to run with.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back, BEFORE YOU LEAVE. If you change your route let someone know (this is also a good chance to check to see if your phone works where you are).
  • Run in shoes appropriate to the conditions – Yes you can run on trails in road shoes, but the extra traction and protection that trail shoes give, can make the difference between being injured or not. Why take the chance on an injury – think about it, especially if the trails are muddy, icy, wet with lots of roots on them – running in a pair of shoes made for the gym or the road is not the best shoe for trail running.
  • Slow down – if the trail is not in the best shape, slow down a little and focus on running the trail, think about what you are doing next, not what is happening at home or work.
  • Carry a bit of basic survival gear.

What do we need to carry?

If an accident happens, that makes it so you can’t walk out, what would most of us do?

Crawl or lay there?

I have a feeling that is what would happen to most of us who run trails and don’t bring anything with us.

Admittedly, I am not an expert trail runner, but I have spent a lot of time in the woods as a hunter, fisherman or hiker and always had a “just in case” kit with me, so that I could spend a night outside if I had to with me. Carrying something like this as a trail runner is something I have given a lot of thought about, since I found that girl crawling towards the trailhead.

What is the bare minimum that I would need if I broke my leg, twisted my knee or hurt my ankle to the point where I couldn’t walk out unaided or needed to stay where I am:

  • Cell Phone (I know in some places they just don’t have service, but if you can get service it would save your ass) – the one thing that I know I will always carry with me, fully charged.
  • GPS device – most smart phones are GPS devices, even an old iPhone or Android phone without phone service still works as a GPS device and help people find you quickly.
  • Water – Most of us carry some water, personally I don’t like hand-held water bottles, so I wear a hip carrier with bottle holders or a small hydration pack.

Gear to put in a small pouch:

  • a mylar blanket – will help keep you warm
  • a folding knife – you can create a lot of things with a small sharp knife, including a pair of crutches, if you are on a trail that not too many others will be on
  • 20′ of parachute cord – lots of uses (splint to immobilize an area – comes quickly to mind)
  • Aspirin – pain control
  • lighter – fire
  • flashlight – I plan to carry a small shaker light so I don’t have to depend on batteries
  • tick spoon – get rid of ticks, which are a real problem in my area
  • whistle – a whistle can be heard a lot further, with a lot less effort on your part than yelling.
  • extra pair of glasses – I can’t see worth a darn without my glasses and I have a bunch of old pair lying around, keeping one pair in the bottom of my hydration pack makes a lot of sense – now that I think of it.

Everything has its place on the hydration pack or in the small 6×3″ pocket that I can put on the waist belt or just keep in the bottom of the pack. I keep the mesh compartment for my wallet and car keys or a power bar or two. The pack doesn’t weigh that much more and I don’t notice it at all when I am running.

But it does give me some peace of mind, that if something bad does happen while I am trail running or on a long run, I will be able to make the best of a bad situation.

Do you have any special items for your area or did I miss any must have items?

The reality is that

This little kit doesn’t sound like much, but it might be enough to make a big difference.

  • With the cell phone if I have service I can get help
  • If I have a GPS device and I have shown someone how to find me with it, I can be  found pretty quickly, if I am overdue
  • With the small kit I put together, I can create a pair of crutches and splint whatever is hurt to get myself out. Or if I can’t move, put together a little camp, until someone pulls me out and could do a night or two if necessary – not ideal, but I would survive until help arrives.
  • My outdoor experience, gives me a skill set that some others might not have and confidence that I will survive.

If all I have with me are shoes, shorts and a shirt, my choices are to either gimp, crawl back to the trail head or wait for help (hoping that another runner or hiker happens by) or make do with what I can find around me.

That is not a good situation to be in and I would prefer to be proactive as possible, while at the same time not being weighed down with a lot stuff, while I am running. Therefore, a small kit with the basics will be in my hydration pack “just in case”.

Be Safe

I love running on trails and like most everyone have no plans to get injured, but a wrong step or landing wrong on a root or rock can quickly ruin your day.  I don’t plan to stop running on trails, just because of “what if”, but if “what if” happens, I want to be somewhat prepared for it.

Also if I come up on someone who is crawling on the trail because they are hurt, I am a lot more ready to help them out than I was last time.

If you are a trail runner – think about it – what would you do if you couldn’t just run/walk out of a trail you were running on?

I don’t want to just sit/lay there in agony or do the long crawl.

Semper Paratus is the Coast Guard motto, guess I still think that way. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Thinking about Trail Running Safety

  1. I really like that post, it makes perfect sense to me. We’ve got big mountains in here with beautiful racks but if you get lost in there you might never ever be found because the forest is really dense and it is easy to break yourself in thousands pieces on the big rocks… Thanks for your wisdom !

  2. This is a great post. Not everyone has common sense 🙂 I think sometimes people forget about safety. I always have my phone with me and I never run alone.

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