Brendon Prince: Runners and walkers beware

Railings at Goodrington

Railings at Goodrington - Credit: Archant

Brendon Prince, founder of the water safety charity Above Water. writes for the Torbay Weekly:

My daily fitness will normally be in or on water but there are times when it’s just impossible to get in the big blue stuff.

The weather, normally the wind or darkness, can make a session in the water unsafe. On these rare occasions I enjoy a run, usually to a beach or along the coast.

Ironically, the stats show us that I’m actually safer in the water than running!

An average of 100 runners and walkers drown every year in the UK, compared to approximately 40 swimmers. This statistic is even harder to understand when you hear from family and friends that these poor souls had no intention of getting in the water.

If they never planned to get in the water, how did they drown?

If you are anything like me, running along the coast path or beach is far more fulfilling than running along a road - but there are dangers.

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Slips, trips and falls, trying to rescue an animal or human in trouble, investigating an object or just wanting a better look, are all actions that have led to drowning.

As with all accidents, especially drowning, everything is ‘hunky-dory’… until it starts going wrong.

Before the first lockdown, I was teaching a group of teenagers how to paddle a rescue board. It was high tide at Goodrington North beach and we were tucked into the corner under the red cliffs.

As I was about to demonstrate to the group, we watched a runner slip on the promenade. He then toppled through the railings and splashed head first into the deep water.

This catastrophic moment of life or death happened in seconds and caught everybody by surprise.

The runner had gone from enjoying a beautiful coastal path run, to falling a few metres off a perfectly safe promenade into deep cold water.

Thankfully, the runner hadn’t banged his head on the way through the solid railings and still had the presence of mind to just float.

He didn’t panic and he didn’t try to get out straight away. Within 10 seconds, we paddled to him and he held our boards.

Embarrassed beyond belief but safe, he was very happy to have nine rescue boards all offering him a safe passage back to shore.

The runner was an athletic man, local to the area who regularly ran along this stretch of coastal path.

He couldn’t explain what had happened, all he knew was one second he slipped and the next he was in deep water!

Like any true accident, it almost seems impossible until you see it happen.

This is the very sad truth behind the 100 runners and walkers that drown each year. Accidents happen and they can happen to anyone.

For this reason, if you run or walk along any body of water make sure you know what to do if you fall in.

Don’t panic, stay calm, float on your back.

Fight the overwhelming desire to try and swim to get out immediately. Let your body acclimatise to the water temperature before trying to swim. Falling into cold water, especially if you are warm can led to cold water shock.

This shock can stop your arms and legs from working while gasping opened mouthed for air. A situation that can lead to drowning in seconds.

It normally takes up to a minute for your body to acclimatise - use this time floating on your back to plan your escape route. Call for help by waving an arm.

If you see someone in trouble:

• call to them for support, encouragement and ask if they can put their feet down

• throw something to them to help them float - all beaches in Torbay have rescue rings

• use something to reach out to them - lie down full length to reach and ensure you don’t fall in yourself

• don’t try and perform a rescue, only open water lifeguards with experience and training should perform a rescue

• call 999 coastguard if you’re at the coast or 999 fire service if you’re in fresh inland water.