“This is why I am constantly worried when my husband goes out for a run,” texted running enthusiast Radhika Kaushik on our running group. She had attached a screenshot of a news clip about the death of Rajalakshmi Ramkrishnan, CEO of Altruist Technologies, an IT company who was hit by a speeding car in Mumbai. The accident happened early last Sunday, a day when thousands of runners, cyclists and morning walk enthusiasts hit the streets of across India. The location of the fatal mishap was Worli, which, a runner from Kolkata noted, lies along the race route of the Tata Mumbai Marathon.
Ramkrishnan was training for the upcoming London Marathon. This incident has not only shocked the running community but also brought runner safety back in focus. “We all are amateur runners. All runners closely help and support each other and there is always a special bonding between us where we motivate, inspire and push each other. Such incidents of loss of life rattle us and fill us with grief and even the fear that it could have me,” says Girish Bindra, a Mumbai-based running coach.
That India’s roads and streets are dangerous for runners, walkers and cyclists is a well-known fact. Despite this, people hit the streets every single day to get in some much-needed exercise. Due to the overbearing summer heat, most people are forced to run in the dark, either before sunrise or after sunset. Poorly lit streets add to the dangers faced by both pedestrians and runners. Also, the roads and pavements are in a state of constant disrepair leaving runners and walkers open to the risk of falls. This could result in injuries ranging from a simple sprain to a fracture, say runners.
India accounts for 11% of global road accident fatalities. According to a Ministry of Road Transport and Highways report in 2019 there were 449,002 road accidents leading to 151,113 deaths, making Indian roads the deadliest in the world. Pedestrians accounted for 17% and cyclists 3% of the fatalities in road crashes.
Bearing this reality in mind, Bindra suggests we should be extra careful and aware when we are out. Praful Uchil, co-founder and director of the running group Striders Miles, says that runners need to be vigilant in order to ensure their own safety. Striders is one of the biggest running groups in the country with 30 training centres in Mumbai and another 16 centres across India. “The situation is pretty much the same everywhere. This is not a Mumbai-only problem,” says Uchil.
Both Bindra and Uchil urge runners, cyclists and pedestrians to be alert, always run towards the oncoming traffic and avoid using headphones. “Have a clear view of the oncoming vehicles and watch out for those coming from the wrong side. Many vehicles often tend to make sudden turns, so bear that in mind if you are too close to any car, bike, bus or auto. A positive frame of mind, quick reflexes and fast decision making will make all the difference in case of an emergency and help you avoid an accident,” says Bindra.
Uchil suggests that runners should avoid wearing dark or black tops, especially when running at dawn or dusk when visibility and lighting are poor. “It would be safest to choose locations, like Aarey Milk Colony and Borivali National Park in Mumbai or Lal Bagh or Cubbon Park in Bengaluru, which are runner-friendly and have little to no vehicular traffic at all,” suggests Uchil.
Delhi-based celebrity trainer and founder of training group Kosmic Running, Gagan Arora, is so spooked by the recent accident that he suggests people run on pavements as much as possible. “If you must run out on our streets and roads, always run with someone or in a group. Never run alone. Also, all runners who hit the roads frequently should learn CPR and first aid techniques from a certified medical trainer. If possible, train on a treadmill or indoor track. And if you must step outside, find routes with minimal traffic for intense workouts,” he says.
Bindra, who never uses headphones or earphones while running, also urges runners and cyclists to wear an ID tag clearly mentioning all the important details such as name, blood group and emergency contact details.
Of course, it should not be just up to the runners. City authorities also need to step in to ensure such incidents do not happen and our roads become safer overall. Small steps which are implementable immediately can start right away, points out Uchil. “Keep the street lights on till it is bright enough outside for drivers to see pedestrians and cyclists without headlights. This doesn’t need any additional infrastructure. It’s as simple as a flick of the switch, literally. Put up barricades on the high speed stretches till the rush hour begins. Bringing back the open streets weekends which were introduced before the pandemic would be helpful. Also, some parts of the city could be declared as ‘no-vehicle roads’ between 5am and 8am,” he says. The running community, for their part, should organise road safety drives on a regular basis and launch awareness campaigns, adds Bindra.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.