Trail Safety – The Basics

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PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Swanevelder

Being an avid trail runner, you tend to find yourself in relatively remote places and mostly on your own at that. In part one of a series of articles on trail safety, we will be discussing the basics of safety when out running on the trails.

  • Be a groupie – As relaxing as it is to run on your own, it’s always more fun to go running with your mates and more importantly a lot safer too. If you still feel the need to be “alone” on the trails, or you can’t find runners that match your skill/speed levels to run with, try travelling to and from the trails with other runners and then setting off at different intervals. This way everyone can enjoy a relaxing workout at their own pace while still having someone nearby if something happens.
  • Stay connected – Whether running solo or in a group, always ensure that there is at least one cellphone in the group. However the act of carrying the phone on its own is not enough to save the day, a few other details need to be attended to. Ensure the phone is in working order, fully charged, has sufficient airtime to make calls and has reception on the trails you will be running. Also try getting one of the roll-up waterproof pouches sold in kayak shops to keep the phone dry. No use carrying the weight around if it won’t work when you need it to! The next step is to ensure you have an I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) number programmed into the phonebook that can quickly be phoned in an emergency. Also save the contact details of the trail centre/nature reserve/race you are visiting and the emergency services in the area to your phonebook.
  • Communicate – Conventional trail safety wisdom dictates that you should always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return so they can come look for you in case of an emergency. You need to tell someone EXACTLY where you are running, not just the place you are visiting. Make sure they actually know how to get there and have the contact details of the trail/reserve/race. If possible carrying a GPS tracking unit with you, or, if your phone supports it, activating Google Latitude on the trails will allow someone to keep track of your movements and provide additional peace of mind knowing that help can be sent to your exact location.
  • Plan B and C – One would obviously try to avoid having any type of trail emergency in the first place, but if something does happen action needs to be taken. Ideally the first few tips would ensure that the proverbial cavalry arrives to save the day. But what if the cavalry can’t get to you or takes their time? It’s for this reason that a lot of races prescribe mandatory safety gear that each trail runner needs to have with them. This allows you to take control of the situation and either rescue yourself or stay safe until you can be rescued. Items to consider will differ with the terrain covered, location and person using them but a general guideline is to always have a basic first-aid kit, space blanket, small torch (that works and has fresh batteries), lightweight jacket and some sort of signalling device with you – whether it’s a whistle, mirror, bell etc. Then depending on the person, extra medical items may be needed.
Remember, always be vigilant on the trails and be safe!