The risk of the lonely distance runner

(CNN) — The sudden and tragic death of David Goldberg, CEO of Survey Monkey, filled me with pain and sadness for those who knew and loved him. The second thing that struck me was that while all the details are still unknown, he was exercising alone when he died. I actually learned of his death just as I returned home from a 50-mile bike ride.

I’m a triathlete, and that requires roughly 10 hours of exercise a week, or “training,” as I call it. Most of the time I spend working out I am not alone. I am fortunate to have a team of women with whom I train. But the conundrum facing experienced and novice athletes is always time. How do you fit it in?

I get up at 4:30 a.m. four or five days a week. That schedule means sometimes I must train alone, even when it may go against my better judgment, like going for an early morning run in 15-degree weather when even the streets of New York City are empty.

I also know about injuries. Anything can happen at any time — all it takes is a fraction of a second for a bicycle wheel to hit rough road or for someone to cut you off. Accidents happen to the best and most experienced athletes with devastating and even deadly consequences. I hit the pavement in Central Park about 6 years ago when I lost control of my bike. I landed head first over the front of the bike and my helmet bounced along the road as my life flashed before my eyes. Fortunately, I was with my teammates, who scraped me up and got the medical attention I needed. But it could have happened when I was alone.

Exercise at any level is not without risk. In 2013, nearly 1,500 people suffered exercise-related injuries, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). In 2014, NEISS found the number of emergency room visits identified as being caused by exercise equipment was 62,700. These incidents involved weights, pools, bikes, balls, sport-specific equipment (such as tennis rackets) and even trampolines. There was no distinction made for whether these injuries occurred when the victim was alone or with others.

In the wake of Goldberg’s death, I, like many, asked myself if I should avoid exercising by myself. If so, it would severely impact my training. We all have to weigh the risks for ourselves, but when I do train alone, I always take these prudent safety measures:

* I wear my Road ID bracelet, which has a phone number to reach my emergency contact and obtain important medical information such as my drug allergies.

* I tell someone when and where I am going and when I am expected back.

* I have my phone with me.

* I shun headphones, even on a treadmill. I want to be aware of my feet, my heart and surroundings at all times.

* I never push it too hard for fear of injury and losing control.

I have amazing coaches, and our mantra is “safety first.” One of them is professional triathlete and CNN Fit Nation Athletic Director and Head Coach, April Gellatly. She advises that before undertaking any exercise you should have an understanding of your own health and be aware of your family health history. “If something happens and you’re training alone, you are putting yourself at risk,” she said.

As a woman, Gellatly said, she is always aware of the environment and surroundings, especially if she is running in a new city. That holds true when biking on the open road, too. “Be aware and do everything you can to keep yourself safe,” Gellatly insists. And never swim alone in open water, she warns. “It’s too big of a risk.”

Being motivated to get up early and having a buddy to meet is the best option. But for me, losing the opportunity to work up a sweat and feel positive about life even if no one can join me is not an option.

Yes, people sometimes get hurt exercising, but there are countless studies proving the benefits outweigh the risks. You will live longer, feel better, sleep more soundly, and becomephysiologically healthier.

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.

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