International marathons and big running events are bringing together thousands and thousands of runners and spectators in the same place at the same time. Sure it is a big party and a time to be happy, but in the worst case scenario, the dynamics of a panicked crowd could pose a serious threat to your personal safety. As a matter of fact often, a terrified crowd can be more dangerous than the threat itself. Here are some safety tips if you find yourself in a dangerous situation together with other runners in a confined space:
The first and most important thing is to consciously make yourself aware of your surroundings and mentally notice alternate exits. No matter where you are, make sure you always know how to get out. If you can, try to leave the place from a different way than the one you came in.
Make yourself aware of the type of terrain you are standing on: in a moving crowd wet or uneven ground can be slippery or hazardous. Sweat shirts, sweat pants, T-shirts, space blankets, trash bags often discarded right before the start of the race, are also dangerous (as well as broken bottles, cans, and other debris). Also do not stand near or climb on benches, temporary scaffoldings, such as the award ceremony stage, the start/finish banner or time display structures, which could collapse under too much weight or pressure.
Be aware of the general atmosphere of the event, as panic situations can often be easily anticipated. When in danger, few seconds can make all the difference, giving you the possibility of taking advantage of your escaping route.
Panicked crowds move fast and release an incredible amount of energy, usually compared to the energy generated by a running train: once a crowd gets moving it is very hard to stop, and the flow of people could litterally sweep you off your feet. So, if you find yourself in the middle of a moving crowd do not fight against the pressure, stand still or sit down, because you could easily get trampled. Instead, move in the same direction of the crowd, take advantage of any space that may open up to move sideways to the crowd movement where the flow is weaker.
If you fall, get up quickly. If you can’t get up because you are injured, get someone to pull you back up: this is a situation when having a running friend looking out for you can make a real difference. Because the noise level in a crowd could be too loud for shouting to be effective, use gestures to communicate to each other. Grab your friend's hand or shoulder to remain together. Alternatively, decide on a gathering point where you will meet and account for each other, should you get separated.
If you fall and cannot get up, keep moving by crawling in the same direction of the crowd, or if that is not possible, then cover your head with your arms and curl up into the fetal position (do not lay on your stomach or back, as this dangerously exposes your lungs).
The worst scenario is to be pushed by the crowd against an immovable object. Try to stay away from walls, fences or barricades, as the crowd pressure can build up rapidly. On the other hand, if you are at the back of a crowd that seems jammed, do not push it, as it could pose a threat to someone else safety.
Always make sure the laces or your running shoes are tied so you do not trip and fall. If you lose your shoes in a crowd crush or stampede, do not stop or backtrack to get them. The same is valid for all personal belongings (money, cellular phone, bib, timing chip): if they fall, just abandon them and keep moving in the same direction of the crowd. As a proactive safety precaution, consider not going running with items like bracelets, necklaces, fannypacks or other belt accessories which can easily become tangled.