Home > Biking, Cities, Culture, Running, Urban Transport > Rant: Runners and Others

Rant: Runners and Others

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on the Bangalore Runners Facebook page about an issue that’s on every runner’s mind when they lace their shoes and set out for a run in our part of the world – street DOGS. Someone posted on the forum asking for suggestions on how to deal with the situation when a dog doesn’t take too kindly to a runner passing by. All runners have faced this at some time or the other, anyone who runs in this city will definitely relate to this issue. Given traffic conditions and work schedules, runners prefer to do training runs in the wee hours of the morning. While we happily trade off waking up to unearthly morning alarms with the prospect of running on traffic-free roads, the flipside is that this is also the hour when our canine friends are surprised by any human activity. They tend to be wary of anyone who’s seen as even a mild threat to their territorial hegemony (exacerbated by the fact that most of these fast approaching trespassers are also clad in fluorescent neon clothing and footwear).

While many single dogs are (in my experience) usually dis-interested, packs can get very terrifying. I had first-hand experience on a winter morning last year on how bad this can be, on Martoli road near the old airport runway. A group of 4-5 dogs didn’t like me disturbing their small talk, and started to bark/growl, then resorted to chasing and then finally began snapping at my heels. All that I had read and heard about how to react in these situations – don’t panic, don’t stare directly into their eyes, slow down, walk calmly, etc. – immediately went out of the window. Terror-stricken, for what was by far the longest minute or so of my life, I literally started sprinting and frantically looking back at the same time, shouting, even growling back at them. Of course, this made an already bad situation even worse. Some of the more aggressive ones began to lunge at me. Luckily I was carrying a water bottle, and used it to fend them off, and was fortunate to have got away without getting bitten. The incident happened on the 27th km of a 30K long run that day. Though I was quite tired at that point, I probably ran the fastest couple of hundred metres I have ever run in my life. If they hadn’t lost interest in me, my lungs would have surely popped out. The Garmin Connect activity tracker reflected my state – my heart rate readings had surged way above max HR level for those few moments. It was an incredibly harrowing experience, one that I will never forget. I get the chills even now when I go past that spot.

Street dogs are a real and serious issue to contend with, if you are a runner. So the question which was posed on the forum was a very relevant one. Expectedly, advice soon started pouring in. Stop running when you spot a dog and walk till ‘the danger zone has passed’ said some, others claimed that these canines can sense your vibes, so just continue running normally. There were suggestions on taking precautions like a carrying a stick (or a water bottle) to shoo them off in case the situation becomes tense. So and so forth.

But what was striking about the whole discussion was that every response basically reflected one core, underlying principle: dogs have the same right to live in these spaces as we humans do, and their reaction is natural because we are the one who’s seen as the intruder and a threat. No one, not one runner, said anything negative about them.

I grew up mortally scared of even neighbourly pet dogs, but managed to overcome my fear and am reasonably comfortable around them now. But I know that there are many runners who carry a pathological fear, for whom it is genuinely very distressing when they see a dog in their path while they run. There have been runners who have had similar experiences as mine above, I have friends who have been bitten too. But it was amazing to note that no one in that discussion cursed the creatures, or proposed that BMC should take them away, they should be put down, etc. There were many pleas by responders imploring fellow runners to not throw stones at them. Someone asked about using high-frequency dog whistles, but got drowned by a chorus of responses on how this can damage their ears, etc.

This level of empathy towards a fellow species which competes for our urban spaces with runners, and poses a real threat to life and limb at times, was very revealing. To me, it’s illustrative of how the running community sees its place in the larger scheme of things, the world around us.

Now, for my rant.

Another topic has produced many agitated conversations in Bangalore of late, among a far larger section of the population than runners: the renovation of key roads in the city under the TENDER SURE project. To quote, the Tender Sure project is all about getting the urban road right; about addressing the issues that have made Indian roads so notorious for their chaotic traffic , potholes, broken footpaths, overflowing drainage, poorly placed power transformers and their hanging, spaghetti tangle of electrical wiring and telecom fixtures.

Sounds great, right? What’s the problem then?

This. (emphasis mine)

In the hierarchy of road users conceived under the project, pedestrians are followed by cyclists and public transport, which is acknowledged as the necessary mode of sustainable mobility, and lastly private vehicles.

Aha!

These last few weeks have witnessed long pieces in the press, frustrated water cooler conversations… all whining about how as part of the renovation, footpaths are being widened by a couple of feet, with cycling tracks built in. How idiotic, is the refrain…did you see what they have done to St. Marks! The city is already a traffic-mess….how can they screw it up even more, goes the cry in anguish.

Err, excuse me… it is people like us who have caused this mess in the first place. As this bunch of people pointed out so simply and effectively, our urban traffic chaos is largely a result of “the absurdity of using a large car to move a single person”. Getting a couple of extra feet-width on the road for motorists is not a solution at all, all it does is make a larger part of the road clogged with traffic.

cyclevscarspace

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it is a place where the rich use public transportation”- Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota.”

Sadly, it loks like we will remain buried under our own ignorance and apathy towards making this city a better place. Politicians have now  got involved, and we all know how that usually turns out.

So dear whiners, may you  continue to be stuck for longer and longer hours in worser and worser traffic jams. That’s entirely your choice, and you’re entitled to it.

But atleast stop whining, yaar.

Obviously, there is no data on how many of those who are griping over this are also runners or cyclists. I would want to think that it’s an extremely low number, if at all. Of course, I realise that this is a gross generalisation to make. (This is a rant, after all. 🙂 ). There are many friends I know who are not runners or cyclists, and believe in sustainable urban transport mechanisms. But overall, the narrow-mindedness of motorists in our city on this issue is appalling, to say the least.

Take a cue from the runners, folks. Sometimes, just sometimes, its good to look beyond our own noses, yes?.

End of rant.

 

 

 

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