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Tips on Running Safety For Women

Running Pepper Sprayby Austin Bonds

I’ve come to the realization that running safety can be easily neglected in the middle of a great run. The weather feels fantastic, the feet are moving swiftly across the sidewalk, and the beat of a favorite song is pulsing through the ears. We run and we return home – it should be as simple as that. Sadly, this is not always the case.

As a resident of Georgia, I recently read about Tina Waddell, a runner who was brutally beaten on the Silver Comet Trail (which runs from Georgia to Alabama). As of this writing, the suspect has not been located; no motive is known either. This is sickening and saddening to me as a runner and as a human being. Being married to someone who sporadically runs, this post is for my wife and for all female runners and walkers.

The solution to avoid being attacked, or so it would seem, is to not run alone. Unfortunately, finding a running partner each time you step out the door is unlikely – and probably unrealistic for most. In fact, many runners prefer to exercise alone. The decision to go solo, be it made out of of necessity or choice, should not be hindered by fear though; it should instead be bolstered by a sense of awareness.

In light of today’s society where people simply feel less safe than days of yesteryear, along with the fact that summer will be ending in a matter of months and shorter daylight hours will be upon us, I’d like for this post to serve as both a reminder and an encouragement for running safety. Here are a few helpful thoughts to keep in mind when you prepare for the day’s run.

1. Avoid running alone when possible. Take your dog for extra company – provided he or she is large enough to protect you. Call a friend and see if she can join you. If you do run alone, make eye contact with everyone you pass.

2. Seek out group runs. Visit your local specialty running store and find out if they host a weekly group run; if not, ask them to consider starting one. Many cities have running organizations or clubs (e.g. the Atlanta Track Club) that you can join for an annual fee, though some are no charge. Group runs give strength to the truth that there’s safety in numbers.

3. Mix up the music with some meditation. Music is a great way to power through hard workouts or long runs, but avoid letting it become a distraction for what’s going on around you. Keep one earbud in if needed. Be open to leaving the music at home from time to time as well. As an alternative to tunes, listen to how your body is feeling that day and enjoy the scenery. Use this time to gather your thoughts and mentally prepare for the day.

4. Revise your routes. As creatures of habit, we like the familiar, and this is no less true for running. For the sake of running safety though, familiarity should be periodically discarded. In other words, keep changing your runs. Run a familiar route in reverse; go to a local park or school track (where others are present too); run on different days of the week. This approach will lower the likelihood of your paths being picked up by a less than honorable person who might do you harm.

5. Use your phone for more than status updates. Social media based apps are a great way to share the days accomplishment from a particular run (e.g. a new personal record for distance or time). Though this is a fun activity, be sure to check the app settings and the phone settings that can potentially display the exact location of your run for the world to see. Speaking of location, a recent Runner’s World article lists four apps that highlight safety by sending notifications to contacts of your choosing after periods of inactivity.

Needless to say these are but a handful of the many running safety tips I could share. Many, many more exist. In summary, I suppose that the best defense is a good offense. Run smart. Use your eyes to take in the surroundings. Turn the volume down. Let someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. Run in different spots. Run with your phone or with some pepper spray (you local run shop may carry this) – or both. Run with others. Download a running safety app.

Though I’ve written this post with female runners in mind, I believe that men should heed the importance of running safety too. Though they are less likely to be followed and attacked while out for a run, men can be equally vulnerable too. Hard runs and long runs lower the physical strength and tire out the mind for all runners – men and women alike. Stay sharp and stay aware. Here’s to returning home safe and sound.

What are some of the ways you stay safe during a run? What tips would you add to this list?

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About Austin Bonds

Austin Bonds is the creator of Run Lore, a blog for the "lesser known side of running." His musings can be found at runlore.weebly.com.

Comments

  1. I assume the follow-up piece will be “Tips for men to be less rape-y”!!

  2. As much as I appreciate that this is coming from someone who cares, as a female runner I get sick of posts like these that talk about how women can avoid being assaulted/cat called/raped or whatever the latest headline is. It changes the focus from the abhorrence of the criminal & crime committed to the victim & vaguely implies that she, or very rarely he, could have prevented it if only they’d acted a certain way. It also suggests that it’s ok to have to relinquish your civil liberties of being able to run where and when you like if you’re female (or maybe, a weak, tired male). Truly, I understand this written with love but I’d far prefer an outraged & impassioned article denouncing these crimes & defending my right to run free, in the dark, with my music loud & not a care in the world.

    • Naomi,

      Your point is well taken. Austin approached me about writing this due to an awful incident that happened near where he lives. He felt it was important, and it was as you said written from the heart.

      It’s a difficult subject to address because there are very real safety concerns (for both men and women). There are places that I won’t run at certain times of the day, and I wish it weren’t that way, but perhaps the gist of the article should have been more safety in general since this can apply to all runners. Thank you sharing for your perspective.

      Pete

  3. For anyone who had the same kind of reaction, this makes for hilarious reading :) link to mytightswontstayup.com

  4. Tips on Running Safety doesn’t suffice?

    Tired of headlines like this still existing.

  5. I agree with Naomi. Thanks but I don’t need a man to wag a finger in my face and tell me how dangerous it is to leave my house. How about an article for men, asking them to stop it with the street harassment?

    On that note, this is awesome:
    link to youtube.com

  6. If you are worried about it, get concealed carry permit and a hand gun and then just shot the A-hole if they mess with you-that is if you live in a state where you can. Otherwise, do what you want, but understand there are evil people out there looking for unprepared and niave people to do their evil to. Hiding your head in the sand will not stop reality from happening, and evil people don’t care about our “rights”.

  7. I have some thoughts on this over at my little blog, but this is a tough problem to address. On the one hand, it’s pretty clear that there are creeps, and that women should be aware of the dangers that such creeps pose (even if they are relatively rare.) On the other hand, it’s not at all practical for me (and others, I suspect) to run only if I have a running partner, or to adopt a dog to train to run with, or to run only at certain times of day, or to live near beautiful mountain trails and never go on them, etc. So it ends up being advice that while clearly well-intentioned (and to be clear, I mean nothing against Austin here!), sends a message: stay indoors.

    I wish I knew of an easy fix.

    I

    • Agreed. Unless it’s part of a group run, I almost always run alone. But I avoid running in the dark, on dimly lit streets. I make eye contact with everyone that passes me, both so they remember ME (“I saw her run past me back at that intersection”) and so I remember THEM. I also always–without fail–wave at any cops in police cars.

      • I avoid running in the dark, but it has little to do with fear of being attacked, and everything to do with fear of falling on my face, which I’ve managed to do in the past in broad daylight! I’d hate to have to limp home in the dark.

  8. Why is it a list like this doesn’t include the single most important piece of advice to women–or ANY runner–DON’T WEAR EARBUDS WHILE RUNNING. It’s fine if you’re on the treadmill (bop away to your energetic tunes) but when you’re running outdoors, be it sidewalk or trail, leave the earbuds at home. You want to be able to hear everything, not just in the background. How many times do I yell, “Passing on your left” from 10 yards back, 5 yards back, then as I’m passing–and the person has NO CLUE I’m there because they’re focused on their music or radio. Many of them are startled when I run past. If I’m a person with evil intent, it would be very easy to jump on someone from behind if they can’t sense that I’m there. That’s why I never wear my earbuds when I run outside. Never. I enjoy the sounds of the outdoors and the environment… and I want to be able to hear strangers walking, leaves rustling, dogs barking in the background, etc. and be AWARE of my surroundings.

  9. I’m surprised on hearing only a small comment about pepper spray. I run with one attached to the inside of my shorts with no complaints of it bouncing around or being a neusance. Doesn’t having an offense like this seem logically the quickest way to defend a solo runner (quicker than unlocking a smartphone a dialing a contact, all while potentially struggling)? I don’t mean to be graphic; I just want to encourage runners carrying pepper spray.

  10. I think we can differentiate between theory, where no woman should every have to bear the onus of her victimhood should she “fail” to follow certain advice required because men are rape-y (i.e. by saying make sure you do this and do that in order to avoid victimhood, you tacitly, if accidentally, imply that their victimhood could be their fault since they now have this handy list), and what is useful on the ground, where attackers of women (and men) aren’t all equal consumers of articles on sexual politics and the problems with being rape-y. In other words, while, yes, from the top down (intellectually) we need to change the way we think about and respond to victimhood in a way that absolves any victim of any responsibility for her (or his) victimhood, from the bottom up we ought not outright ignore the possible efficacy of methods for avoiding being victimized, since the cooperation of perpetrators with our paradigm shift isn’t at all automatic. Or maybe I actually don’t know anything, since I’m a white male who’s never once been made uncomfortable in all of the thousands of miles I’ve run.

  11. I am frustrated with the advice I hear over and over: be aware, make eye contact, blah blah blah. If you are running alone in a remote area and someone wants to do you harm making eye contact isn’t going to help you one bit. We (both sexes) should be prepared to defend ourselves from human and the 4-legged antagonists. When I run alone I carry pepper spray for the occasional farm dog that decides to charge me, and a small .38 for the more frightening but thankfully less common human element. I carry legally, I’m a good shot, and I’m not some wacko gun-rights activist. I’m just a girl who loves to run and prefers to not get stuffed into the trunk of a car to spend the rest of my days in some pervert’s basement.

    • Amen Darcy! If more women would learn to shoot and carry as you do, the crime stats against women would go down to about 0%. And that is what we are talking about-most of all rapists and serial killers are men. That is just a fact, and women are their targets. Good for you that you are a woman that really cares about herself enough to be prepared, and not paranoid or afraid! :)

  12. I also think a vague knowledge in self defense (more the confidence to protect yourself) plays a part. Whether this be in the form of pepper spray or other weapon to carry or a couple of classes in eye gouging (and the eyes-nose-throat-groin-foot combo) and running away fast, it will make one less likely to look like a target, and that in turn, makes one less likely to be a target.

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