Rambling Roads: May Roads

By George A. Hancock


May 1 is a Wednesday this year. Day 121 begins early in the quiet darkness. Our 2019 year is steadily moving along. Many local runners wish the weather would maintain the same pace. Our current spring season frequently shares winter characteristics. Western Pennsylvania’s winter season recently has muscled into the autumn and spring season. This creates a longer and dreaded winter season.

Of course, the winter enthusiasts love this trend. Their winter sports, activities, and scenes are relished from October through April. However, most folks including this runner believe each season should last just so long. Then, we move into the next season.

Running every day for decades gives one a unique perspective on the roadside scene. 2019 is my 46th year as a road runner. I’ve run over 103,000 miles now on the Greater Johnstown roadways. I’ve seen various scenarios change my road scene.

Buildings, homes come and go. Retail stores have disappeared into faint memories. Even our first local mall is gone. The Richland Mall located along the Elton Road has slipped away into time’s mysterious mist. I still run near that area but the site is now home to a Wal-Mart Super Center and various other retail locations.

Yes, change is a constant. One change is creating challenging daily running issues. Our local weather from autumn through late spring features the freeze/thaw cycle. This basically means our regions sees colder weather followed rapidly by a warm-up than back to the freezing weather pattern.

This freeze/thaw pattern plays havoc on our local infrastructure. Local roads and streets are crumbling. Bridges are showing this damage too. Plus, retaining walls, decorative walls and even outside cellar steps are crumbling.

Several blocks fell onto my outside cellar steps due to the freeze/thaw cycle pushing the ground and those blocks downward. This same cycle pushes my patio cement slabs around.

I regularly run the Theater Drive hill located in Richland Township. The township repaved this hilly road section over a two-year period. The road was milled and the based was reinforced. Several inches of new macadam was installed. This new surface was great for running.

 However, it took only one winter season for the freeze/thaw cycle to demonstrate its strength. We are not yet three years removed from that road project. Yet, both repaired sections are showing crumbling wear.

Water flowing down that hill seeps into the freeze/thaw road cracks and fissures. These were never sealed. Thus the road cracks are now down to the base. Several areas are showing subsidence. Running over this area in the dark is disconcerting. The drop is nearly a foot or more and continues for yards.

I run with a rechargeable road light. I know where these bad segments are located. I ran through this section carefully several times in order to feel the subsidence. It really is a strange running sensation. The road drops away beneath your feet. I imagine a motorist driving through those sections at the posted speed feels that road displacement too.

This road crumbling, potholes, or subsidence is located everywhere I run. There are no exempt boroughs or townships on my daily road courses. Increased traffic patterns are not helping the situation. Heavy traffic flow just makes those troublesome roads worse.

So, if you’re a local runner living in these freeze/thaw regions what can you do? My first suggestion is to run with open eyes. We do not need any distracted runners. Running along the road while not paying attention to your surroundings is a recipe for a bad happenstance.

Stepping into a pothole while running a swift pace could have nasty consequences. Even a twisted ankle or foot means downtime. And, a broken appendage means more downtime. Is there anything worse than an injury before some major race, run, or event? The training time, effort, and sometimes even resources spent is quickly eliminated by that misstep.

Runners on the road before dawn or late in the evening need light illuminating their path. There are many excellent lightweight road lights available. Purchasing and using one is highly recommended for all dark runners. These lights can be waved to alert motorists of your presence besides lighting up potholes and other road issues. Moving critters are also identified with your light. Stepping on a copperhead or black snake is never fun.

Pothole debris also poses a running issue. I recently witnessed a vehicle driving fast through a potholed road segment. That vehicle’s tire lifted and threw a chunk of macadam onto the roadside berm. A runner or pedestrian easily could have been hit by that flying debris. The speed and force of that churned-up chunk could have bruised someone.

I’ve been hit by road shale. That impact stings. I never thought about flying pothole debris. This debris is bigger and no doubt creates significant issues upon impact. My advice here is remaining aware until those potholes are repaired.

A smart runner is a safe runner. Running with open eyes and a cautious attitude is prudent. Spring and May are finally here. Our runs stay pleasant with the right mindset. Run smart, run well.

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