Risky business: Cycling, coyotes, and working out alone

Two events in the news this week, one local, one not, have made me think a bit about risk and exercise safety.

First the local: A coyote attacked a woman walking on a local trail. We know that coyotes are in our city. In fact, there are signs like the one on the left on our multiuse pathway.

Here’s the news:

“Police are asking area residents to be on alert after a female was injured by a coyote early Friday. A male and a female were reportedly walking through South Branch Park around 8:30 a.m. when a coyote jumped on the female from behind, knocking her to the ground. As she struggled, she suffered injuries to her arm and face, fortunately her friend was able to pull the coyote off of her, preventing further injury. She was treated in hospital and released. Anyone using the trails in the park on the north bank of the Thames River between Adelaide Street North and Egerton Street are reminded to be cautious. Police say the area is populated by coyotes and people should avoid travelling through the area alone.”

Since I’m friends with lots of runners and cyclists who use that path in and out of the city, my social media news feed was full of fear and speculation.

But interactions between urban coyotes and runners are pretty rare. How much should the risk of coyote attack affect when, whether, and where you run? Some people later said it was actually a dog but I’m not sure why that ought to make anyone feel better. Dog attacks are more common than coyote attacks.

“Coyote attacks on people are very rare. More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.” – Humane Society


Second, not so local, there was the tragic case of the tech executive Dave Goldberg who died after hitting his head on a treadmill. Surely running on a treadmill is safer than running on a path where there are coyotes? But no, people worried that he was exercising alone. See CNN’s The risk of the lonely distance runner: “Goldberg’s death is a wake-up call to be more aware of the risks of training alone and, when I do, to adhere to my own safety rules and take no shortcuts. In all exercise, proceed cautiously, for the sake of those who love us and our own love of life.

I’ve written before about the risks of cycling. See Sitting more dangerous than cycling!

The study I talk about in that blog post compares the dangers of riding a bike to the very real risks of a sedentary lifestyle. But one could object that that’s a false choice. You could do something, rather than nothing, but pick something safer than riding a bike.

Fine. Maybe we all owe it to ourselves to to the absolutely safest form of exercise.

I am not sure just what that would be but my first reaction is: YAWN!

Many people advocate walking as a safe form of exercise but the thing is I know two women locally who’ve been killed while out walking. There’s a race at the Forest City Velodrome named the Mary Kelly Memorial. Mary was a fellow cyclist at the velodrome and you might think she died on her bike. Cycling is so dangerous after all. But no. She was killed when she was out walking, hit by a car. Another woman I know from church was also killed while out walking her dog at night.

I’m not saying that walking is more dangerous than riding a bike. I am saying that for me, these stories loom large. They remind me that life is all about risks.

Tracy has written about doing what brings us joy, what makes us feel like kids again.

For me, that’s riding my bike. Wheee Zoom!

I pay attention to risk. I wear a helmet. I obey the rules of the road. But over attention to danger can suck all the joy out of life. I risk bears when I go camping. I’ll risk a few coyotes on the local pathway. I’ll even run on a treadmill alone.

How about you? How do you balance risk and joy in your physical activities?