Running Safely

Unfortunately in today’s day and age, I’m constantly seeing news articles or reading stories about runners being attacked while running. Or being catcalled and feeling unsafe. Or even runners being “run down” by cars on the road, hit by inattentive drivers. There are innumerable products on the market to help keep runners safe… tasers, pepper sprays, guns, whistles, lights, electronic devices that can call 911, phone apps, etc. You name it, there is some product out there touted to assist with runner safety.

I love that there is a huge push for runner safety in today’s society, but I hate that the trend is brought on by runners, specifically and mostly women, being attacked.  I am very lucky to be able to do 95% of my runs with a partner, either my wonderful husband or with friends, family, or a running group. Many people very close to me do not have the luxury of always having someone to run with. I worry about these people close to me and want them to be safe while also having the freedom to run when and where they want.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my past, I was trained the martial arts for over 10 years, and achieved my black belt and three degrees while I studied. In this training, I had a lot of experience practicing and training in self-defense and fighting. I have not practiced martial arts in many years, but many of the self-defense tactics are fresh in my mind, and I do think about them often, especially while running.  Most people do not have any self-defense training, let alone knowing anything about woman specific self-defense.

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In 2003, shortly after I tested for my Black Belt, a grueling 23 hour test.

With my self-defense training and a few tools, I generally feel very confident that I can run solo and stay safe. I also know that being overly confident can be just as detrimental as being naïve. I do have a few tools that I want to share with runners of all ages, for men and women, for anyone who might need a refresher on being safe while out and away from your home, car, school, work, or help.

Below you’ll find my 10 “rules for safety while running.” This list is definitely not all-inclusive, but below you’ll find my top 10 things I try to do when I run. These things can be implemented by anyone, at any time, and are not limited to only runners or only for women. Most of the items on this list are common sense, but it never hurts to have a refresher course in running safety.

  • Tell someone where you will be and when you will return. If I am running solo, I use an app called Road ID, which alerts up to 5 phone contacts of my choice that I am running. They can then “follow” me by GPS tracking. If I am stationary for more than 5 minutes (generally longer than just at a stop light or to grab a drink or use the restroom), it will alert those contacts. It is always a good idea to notify someone of where you are going and when you plan to be back, especially if you don’t want to run with your phone or use a GPS tracking app.  By letting someone know what general route you are running and when you plan to return, if you aren’t back within a reasonable time, they can trace your general route to try to find you
  • Vary your route. Don’t run the same ol’ neighborhood loop at precisely 6:30 every day. That is very easy to predict and therefore very easy for someone to notice and plan on if they want to attack you or break into your home or car while you’re out. If you’re a morning runner, vary your times if you can, or at the very least, run a different route each day. Don’t be predictable!
  • Be aware of your surroundings. This seems very obvious, but in the thick of a hard run, it is easy to put the blinders on and focus on one step at a time, or focus on getting to the next street sign. Be aware of where you are, and what is going on around you. If you see someone or something that doesn’t look quite right on your run, make a mental not of it. Don’t be afraid to turn around and go the other way if you don’t feel right about something. If I’m coming up on someone running or walking the other direction, and I feel uncomfortable (could be they have a dog that might lunge, or I don’t like that there’s a group of men walking toward me, or I’m running up on a young family with children), I’ll cross the street or announce my presence before I get there.
  • Carry something that helps you feel safe. Be aware that whatever you carry could be used against you if it’s in the wrong hands. Also be aware that just having this object or item with you does not automatically protect you just by having it in your possession! For example, I have pepper spray, but almost never run with it because I don’t feel comfortable using it. What if the wind carries it back to spray in my eyes? If I’m running solo, I carry my self-defense kitty keychain, otherwise affectionately known as “murder kitty.” This is a plastic keychain that is lightweight and looks fairly harmless, but if I place my fingers through the holes, I suddenly have two pointy ears that I can use to swipe and poke and cut with if needed.  Does this item make me feel safe? No. Does it help me feel safer than running without anything? Yes.  Being cognizant of my surroundings and letting loved ones know where I am helps me feel more safe than a keychain.
murder kitty

“Murder Kitty” self-defense keychain.

  • Run against traffic if you are on the road. In America, this means running on the left side of the road. This way you can see oncoming traffic and if they do not move over, you will have time to jump out of the way or move over yourself. If you are running WITH traffic, you won’t be able to see a vehicle coming up behind you. If you are on a busy road, use the sidewalk! I prefer to run on the road, because cracks on sidewalks hate me. But if I’m on a busy road or in an unfamiliar area, I stick to the sidewalks. Try to run with the mindset that you are invisible. If no drivers can see you, you will need to move out of the way if necessary.
  • Run without music, or if you do run with music, be absolutely sure you can hear everything around you. I love listening to music when I run, but I definitely want to hear traffic, people, dogs, or anything else happening around me. I exclusively wear my Aftershokz headphones that conduct sound through the bones in your head. I can hear everything around me while also hearing my music. If I don’t have these headphones with me, I will run with music playing aloud on my phone, or with no music at all. It is imperative that you can hear what’s around you, as well as see.
  • Run with your phone. If something happens to me, I want to make absolutely sure I have a way to call for help. This is also the best way to have family notified of where I am, with the Road ID app I mentioned earlier in this post.  I have a handy phone case that I can carry my phone in my hand without having to grip it the whole time. There are several pouches and arm bands and belts you can also use to carry your phone with you. The important thing it to have it in case you need to call for help.
  • Make sure you can be seen. Wear a light and a headlamp if it’s dark out. Wear reflective clothing. Put lights on your shoes or on your back or on your head. If you don’t have reflective clothing, go out and buy a reflective vest, they are less than $10 at Walmart.  If I’m running in the dark, with my headlamp, and a car is coming up in the opposite direction, I will flash my headlamp at them, so they can see me. I won’t take any second chances at being hit, even if I’m on the sidewalk. I want everyone and everything to know that I’m out running.

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  • Have ID on you and carry a couple dollars cash with you. Your phone is great to call for help if you need help, but what if you fall and crack your screen, or if your battery dies? I never take my Road ID off. It is a bracelet that has my name, date of birth, a couple contacts to call, and any other health information. If I have fallen, get hurt or sick, someone can see this information and know who to contact or what to do. If my phone dies and I’m unable to call for help, I keep a couple dollars with me. There are no payphones any more, but if you go into a convenience store, having a couple dollars to buy a water and ask to use their phone can be all it takes to call for help.
  • Don’t assume. Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume you are seen by drivers or bikers. Don’t assume you will be safe because you have a self-defense keychain, pepper spray, or personal safety alarm. Don’t assume you won’t fall or trip on a crack and need help (calling for help or being seen by passerbys). Don’t assume that dog won’t come up and jump you. Don’t assume the family you run up on won’t see you as a threat. Don’t assume you won’t see other drivers, pedestrians, or catcallers as a threat. Don’t assume you are safe because you are with a friend. Don’t assume you are safe because you took a self-defense class once. Don’t assume you will be attacked or harassed just because you are alone. But as prepared as you can be, just in case.

The world is a messy place, but it’s also a beautiful place. Running is a way to explore and be one with that beauty. There is no reason you can’t run alone, or with friends. But please, do so safely.  Safety depends on you as much as it depends on the strangers, friends, or acquaintances you might meet while running.

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Please let me know if any of these tips are helpful for you, or if you need more information. You can comment below or email me at mybravewings (at) gmail (dot) com and I will do my best to respond and give you any additional advice I have!