Since living near Rice University for the past year and a half, I’m always amazed at being practically the only person who runs through campus instead of around. There’s a very popular running trail around campus that approximates a 5K, but it adjoins busy streets (even busier during rush hour). Most people who jog around campus have GPS-enabled smartphones and can use apps to run off-trail while monitoring distance and pacing, so the known distance of the trail is not a good reason to run along it. This might not have been the case when I was in medical school at Baylor College of Medicine (near Rice University) in the late 2000s; running around campus might have been justifiable then, if only to keep track of pace, but I didn’t run along the streets then, either.
When I visit other cities, I see the same phenomenon: people running along busy streets, especially during rush hour (both in the morning and in the afternoon). What are these people thinking, if they are thinking at all? Perhaps they hope that their jogging session adds more of a health benefit than the intense exposure to air pollution takes away.
Here are a few of the major reasons to avoid running along busy streets:
1. Air pollution dilutes exponentially with greater distance from the source.
2. The scenery away from a busy street is usually nicer than the scenery along a busy street (especially the case if you run through a college campus instead of around).
3. Exposure to air pollution can cause bronchospasm, pulmonary damage, and other adverse effects, including a likely increased risk of lung cancer.
4. It’s usually a quieter and less stressful experience to run away from a busy street than along a busy street.
Why do people run around Rice instead of through? Do they not want to stray from the beaten path, so to speak? Do they wishfully hope that the air pollution will not affect them? Do they run along the designated running trail because everyone else does so? If so, then does this sort of pack behavior say anything more about them in general?