Running on sidewalks along roads can be great. It might be your only option if you live in a city, or you might be trying to switch up your running route. Like any running option though, it carries pros, cons, and revelations about life. Without further ado….
12 Things to Know if You Run on Sidewalks Along Roads
1. Your running route will never be boring.
Compared to a treadmill, running on a sidewalk is the conqueror of boredom. Now, I love getting into the treadmill groove as much as the next person, where you’re just pounding out the steps and the miles in an almost out-of-body state. (This might be a clever defense mechanism that my body developed – being in too much pain in-body, it sends me out…. ) Still, there are times when the treadmill is boring, the shows on the TVs are banal, and the gym is curiously devoid of Greek god-like athletes. On sidewalks, however, there will always be something to look at, whether its the people you pass or the cars that pass you. (If you’re passing the cars, kudos to you and your fast feet, my friend).
2. You will spend a lot of time looking down.
Unlike a treadmill, where you don’t have to look where you’re going (because you’re not going anywhere), you’ve got to be on alert on sidewalks. Cracks can do more than break your mother’s back – they can catch your toe and send you sprawling. You also have to be ready to dodge sticks, leaves, trash, puddles, and the occasional doggie present. It’s a regular obstacle race out there.
3. Your running route will never be the same.
You may have your favorite path to take and take it all the time, but it will almost never be the same. Was there a storm the night before? Now there’s a tree collapsed in your way. Has there not been garbage pickup for a week? That trashcan you pass is more ripe than your socks…. which is an impressive feat (see what I did there?). You can’t cross the same river twice, and you can’t run the same patch of sidewalk twice either.
4. You will get frustrated at walkers.
The rules of the sidewalk are the same as the road…. at least as far as I know. If I’m wrong, someone please correct me and my skewed perception. But, so far as I know, you walk on the right side of the sidewalk. If you’re passing, you pass on the left. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the times an oncoming person has seen me coming and moved to their left, my right… right into my running path. If you’re coming from behind someone, it’s common courtesy to let people know you’re coming with cries of, “on your left,” “excuse me,” and “sweet mercy, please don’t make me slow down.” Sometimes, however, people don’t think you’re talking to them, for whatever reason, and will go on taking up the whole sidewalk. This often happens with two people walking abreast. I’m more impressed when just one person manages to pull off this feat of spacial alignment, particularly without an assist from a telephone pole, garbage can, or bus stop bench.
5. You will face sudden peril by car at some point.
I only cross streets at crosswalks. I only cross when the white walking man is lit up.
Despite every precaution – and sometimes some neon running gear – cars will fail to see me. I have had to slam my palm on a hood of a car and use that to propel my feet out of the way. Both the driver and I were very surprised. And that’s the point. We’re out running, and we see the cars. We expect the cars. Sadly, despite driving around a city and seeing people running, walking, biking, etc., cars don’t always expect runners. They turn only checking one direction of traffic. They turn focused on the ten other things they have to do that day. They turn while texting or checking a GPS. Watch out for cars, especially because they won’t always look out for you.
6. People in cars will get frustrated at you.
Even if you’ve got the right of way, cars will beep and honk. The people inside will yell or flick you off. I don’t know if they think you’re not going fast enough, or they don’t appreciate the effort you’re putting in. I like to think that these people aren’t runners, but the truth is that both runners and non-runners can be mean. It’s a human thing.
7. People in cars will be really nice to you.
People will slow down to allow you to cross the crosswalk at your pace. They’ll refrain from turning just to give you a chance to continue your run unimpeded. They’ll cheer you on when you’re dogging it up a hill. These people restore some of my hope for humanity and put a pep in my step.
8. You might have to run on the road at some point.
The trouble with running on sidewalks is…. sometimes they end. And I’m not talking about the Shel Silverstein book. Sometimes there are random patches where the sidewalk ends, only to be picked up later. If you know there are these patches, I suggest either a) avoiding them or b) running them only if the road isn’t highly traveled. Cars already forget about runners on sidewalks. You don’t want to give them any more opportunity to kiss your golden heels. However, sometimes you don’t know there’s a patch of missing sidewalk until you’re out running. In that case, make sure you do two things. 1) Make sure, when you get off the sidewalk, that there’s not a car coming. You don’t want to do anything unexpected. 2) If you can, run on the side facing oncoming traffic. This gives you and them a better chance to see (and avoid!) each other.
9. You should keep your headphones turned down.
You want to be able to hear what’s going on around you. This includes traffic, faster runners coming up from behind, and rampaging bears. Often cars are honking at each other – and when they do I jump practically five feet – but it’s better to be on the safe side. Also, you’re running outside: Enjoy the sounds! The wind, the birds, the sounds of people talking…. let that be your soundtrack now and again. You connect more with what’s around you, and you experience your run more fully.
10. You will be extremely self-conscious at least once.
You’re running in a public place. I mean, sure, gyms are public places too. But there everyone is kinda doing their own thing. When you’re running on a sidewalk, cars driving will stare at you. Especially if they’re caught in traffic and there’s nothing better to keep their eyes on…. like, um, the road?! Sometimes this phenomenon can make you faster. My brain says, “People are watching, so I’m going to trounce this hill!” Other times, I’m discouraged. “I’m already going slow, which I have XYZ reason for, but now they’re going to think I’m not a REAL runner.” It makes me feel like I can’t take a break, even if I need one. The important thing to realize is that, yes, people are probably watching, but they’re also probably watching less than you think. And they’re probably not critiquing your running form.
11. You will cultivate a love of beauty, hopefully.
You’re going to be passing houses, landscaping, buildings, people. You have a chance to see flowers in bloom and out of bloom, yards fresh with the night’s snow or dew, beautiful houses, eclectic houses, and everything in between. Sometimes all it takes is seeing a yellow flower to send me smiling.
12. You will feel a part of a greater community.
It’s one thing to feel like part of the running community when you’re pounding out your miles on your own. It’s another to be plodding along and see another runner coming at you in the distance. You pick up your pace. You feel a pep in your step again. As you pass each other, you nod or smile or raise a hand in greeting. Sometimes all you can muster is the fraternal huff of breath in each other’s general direction. But for that moment, you were by someone who understood.
BONUS: 13. You will likely experience something unexpected.
Which, now that I’ve told you, does it become expected? Ha but in all seriousness, we runners are really good at planning and self-discipline. We have our weekly mileage plans, our training plans, even just our I’d-like-to-get-in-a-run-this-morning plans. When you run outside on a sidewalk along a road, you give the unexpected a chance to insert itself.
Just recently, I was trying a new route. At about mile 4, I passed a lending library. Rather than keep trucking, I stopped and found one of my favorite books! It was completely worth running the rest of my mileage with a book in hand. If you allow the unexpected into your plan, you never know what you might find! Now I’ve just got to return with a book to share……..