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Running Safely on Indian Roads - Run Facing the Traffic

Running on Indian roads is fraught with challenges and needs a heightened sense of awareness

Bhavin Jankharia
6 min read
Running Safely on Indian Roads - Run Facing the Traffic
Running on Indian roads is fraught with challenges and needs a heightened sense of awareness
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Last Monday, Rajalakshmi, a lady runner at Worli was hit from behind and killed by a speeding car. The driver claims he did not see her as she was in a blind spot. Irrespective. The fault is the driver’s. Period.

While there is nothing better than running to live long, healthy, it is clearly counterproductive if you are injured or killed when running.

In Mumbai and India, you need to maintain a heightened sense of awareness when running, given the many hurdles…from the lack of footpaths to run on, to the terrible state of the roads, to dogs, other runners, walkers and vehicles.

I started running in 2003 at the age of 38 and have been running ever since. Initially, I competed in a slew of half-marathons, but for the last ten years, I just run…3-4 times a week, locally in the area where I live, and see no reason to participate in races anymore.

Perhaps one of the safest places to run are gardens and stadiums, the only danger if at all, being other people who might get in your way. But not all runners have access to these and not everyone likes running round and round and round in circles all the time.

In most saner countries, people run on pavements, which often just don’t exist in Mumbai or India. Even if they do, there are no pavement stretches I know of, at least in Mumbai, on which you can run for more than 100 meters, without coming across a pothole or crater or a sleeping person, or some poop, or a vending cart or multiple four-legged animals of all kinds or sometimes even a police chowky.

The only choice then is to run on the roads.

A new concrete or tar road without potholes or speed breakers is perhaps the next best place after a garden or mud-track to run on… avoid potholed roads and those that have been surfaced with paver stones…the gaps and bumps can cause significant imbalance and injury.

Paradoxically, the safest roads are the main roads in Mumbai, well lit at all times…as long as you run facing the traffic. If you run along with the traffic, you are handing over your life to two-wheeler riders, car drivers, BEST, school bus and truck drivers, who at any instance, can swerve into you and injure you or hit you from behind. Do you really think they care about your safety, when most of them couldn’t care less about their own?

In India…and I will repeat this ad nauseam…you have to run facing the traffic. That way, you always know what or who is coming towards you.

The only caveat is when the road curves to the right and both you and the oncoming vehicle are blind to each other, usually on hill roads, when you may have to cross over to the other side. It’s all about using a little common sense when running and being aware of your surroundings.

In short, when you run with the traffic, the onus of your safety is on others, while when you run facing the traffic, the onus is on you.

The other problem are stray dogs. It is rare to find dogs on main roads, but on smaller roads, they believe that they are lords and masters of their 100 meter long territories and will often come running after you, barking and baring their teeth, doubling your heart-rate and/or paralyzing you.

When I see a dog or pack of dogs, I immediately slow down to a non-threatening walking pace, avoid looking straight at them and sidle onto the footpath, if there is one. I also carry a stick in smaller towns or on beaches to shoo them away…it seems to work.

Other runners can also be a problem, especially novice runners in groups, who often run 3 or 4 to a row, putting anyone who comes from the opposite direction at risk…there are times when I have had to jump onto the pavement to avoid vehicles coming from the opposite direction simply because a large group of runners is pounding towards me. Forget me, the outermost runner in a row of 3-4 is also at risk of being mowed down by a car or a truck. A simple request to all trainers…please train your runners to  run in a single file or at the most, two together.

Walkers are the same, often occupying an entire road-width, 5 or 6 to a row, making it extremely difficult to run past or through them. I often have to use my forearms as a battering ram to push through these people.

Headlights are a problem when you run facing the traffic since most drivers have no concept of dippers. These are not a problem if the vehicles are moving…the trouble is with stationery taxis or young parents dropping off kids to school. If you are reading this, switch off your lights in the morning when you are parked…please.

And lastly, try not looking at your phone or watch while running. These are distracting and can lead to accidents.

Many of you who don’t run, will read this and ask…if there are so many hurdles to running in India…why bother? Why not use treadmills or stick to gardens and stadiums?

If you’ve ever run, you will know.  I wrote this in 2009.

And yet in the end it comes down to just one elemental issue. The simple act of running! Putting on a pair of shoes, with shorts or a track-suit and a T-shirt, without any fancy equipment, getting out into the open, either in a garden or sports track or on the road and pounding the ground, one foot after another, on and on, emptying your mind of all unnecessary thought, zen-like, focusing on just one goal; running.

So run. There is nothing better. But run safe and smart and be aware of your surroundings at all times. And…run facing the traffic!!

An abridged form of this piece was also published yesterday in the Hindustan Times

The many impediments to the meditative act of running
After HT’s test drive on the pitiful state of footpaths, following the death of tech firm CEO Rajalakshmi Ramakrishnan, a physician and runner writes about how to run in Mumbai

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