Last Sunday Stephanie and I volunteered at the Detroit Free Press Marathon as guides for hand cyclists (also known as a “wheelers”). There were approximately 50 wheelers that raced in the full marathon. The majority of them raced with the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans , an organization that provides disabled veterans with the high-tech wheelchairs needed to complete a marathon.
These specialized chairs are positioned very low to the ground, making it difficult for wheelers to see turns ahead of them or pot holes and other debris. In addition, their low position makes it hard for runners to see the wheelers. For these reasons, each wheeler is assigned a guide on a bike. (Insert Kendra and Stephanie.) The guides’ role is to ride next to the wheeler to point out what lies ahead, and to make runners aware of their presence. Also, on downhills, the guides ride ahead of the wheelers, blow our whistles, and warn the runners to move to the right because a wheeler is about to come flying by them. Because, although they are pretty slow on the uphills, those fancy chairs can get upwards of 40 mph on their way down, which can be a dangerous situation for everyone.
Going down the other side of the Ambassador Bridge (pictured above) heading into Canada, and going down into the tunnel on the way back into the USA are two of the scariest descents, but every single hill can be a challenge when you are surrounded by runners. Especially, when you are surrounded by runners that are wearing headphones and blasting music into their ears, completely oblivious to their surroundings.
This was the case on Sunday, far too many times. It was not only frustrating for me, as I blew my whistle as hard as I could to try and get their attention, but also frustrating to my wheeler, who continually had to slow way down to avoid crashing into runners.
In one extreme case, I was quite a ways ahead of my hand cyclist, heading down a hill, blowing my whistle and yelling at runners to “Move right, wheeler on your left!” when I came up behind a young man with headphones in, who didn’t hear me. I continued to blow my whistle with all of my might, so hard that there was spit flying out of my mouth. He still didn’t hear me. Runners near him were also yelling at him. My wheeler was heading towards him and had no room to go around. So, I did what I had to do, and I pushed that runner out of the way.
Yup. I rode my bike right up next to him, pushed him over to his right, and kept riding past. The thought that went through my mind: Oh! Did I push you? Sorry…NOT SORRY! Take out your stinkin’ headphones!
Really, they just aren’t safe if they keep you from being aware of your surroundings.
Throughout the course of the 26.2 miles, I actually ended up pushing two runners out of the way, and having a quick chat with an additional runner who almost got herself run over after she ran right in front of my wheeler. And the number of times that I was frustrated by runners who didn’t hear me because of their headphones was approximately 874. Or something like that.
Don’t get me wrong. I know, you love your music. It keeps you pumped up. It motivates you. I get it. But if it puts you or those around you in danger, it’s really not worth it.
So, as you look into your next race, check and see if there are hand cyclists racing. If there are, do me, and them, and yourself, a favor and leave the headphones at home. Or, at the very least, only put one side in so that you can still hear what’s going on around you.
Because everyone deserves a safe race.
Sparkle.Pounce.Run A Safe Race.