It’s not a pleasant topic. No one likes to think about the myriad of hazards you may face on your run, but runners safety is certainly something we should all be aware of.
As a woman, I’ll admit, when I hear runners’ safety, the first thing that comes to mind is protecting myself against a physical attack (because that’s just the reality most women face with more than half reporting experiencing harassment during runs). BUT there are many other hazards we can face during our runs as well, many of which are more likely than an assault.
So, what are some of the dangers of running and how can we take basic runners’ safety precautions to ensure we return home safely after a run.
1. Run in the Light
Running at night or pre-dawn may feel faster, cooler and easier. There are a few safety tips you should follow, however if you choose to run in the dark.
- Stay in well-lit, familiar neighborhoods.
- Stay on a path you know.
- Wear a headlamp, even if you feel like a big dork.
- Run with a buddy or a dog.
- Carry ID, and your phone.
- Trust your instincts.
Otherwise, try to plan your outdoor runs when it’s light outside. This is a universal rule for men and women. While a 120 pound woman may feel more vulnerable than a 6 foot, 210 pound guy, darkness can still present many hazards. Animals are more likely to be out at night and startled in the dark. Drivers can’t see as well in the dark. You may also miss potholes and cracked sidewalks in the dark, you would normally notice in the daytime.
2. Wear Reflective or Light Clothing
Even if you’re running at dawn or dusk, it’s best practice to wear reflective clothing. Car headlights will catch the reflection, so they can avoid you. A runner wearing reflective clothing is a harder target for a human predator as well. After all, anything that draws attention to you makes you safer and more noticable. If you’re running alone, don’t be afraid to stand out–wear bright clothes, bright shoes and don’t try to blend in with your surroundings.
3. Always Run with Your Phone
Carry your phone when you run. It’s a good idea in case you are injured as well (not simply to call 911). Hobbling four miles back home in pain, is miserable and it’s far easier to call for help. Program your phone to include an I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) number, so anyone would know who to call should they find you incapacitated, or if they just find your phone.
If you carry your phone and use it to listen to music or a podcast while you run, be sure to use headphones that still allow ambient sound to get through. It’s tempting to turn up the music and drown out the rest of the world, but a snarling dog or honking car horn might be missed under the pounding in your ears. Save the loud music for your treadmill runs.
4. Tell Someone Where You Are Going or Buddy Up
Always tell someone else where you’ll be running and your ETA for your return. If you mix up your route regularly, give your contact person a general idea of where you’ll be headed, just in case. Run in familiar neighborhoods and down streets you know.
Even better, take a buddy with you. Runners are often an independent breed and many of us enjoy the solo time, but there’s definitely safety in numbers. Even taking a canine companion can keep you safer–and they’re quiet running buddies who love to keep up with your pace.
5. Stay Alert and Aware
If you tend to zone out when you run, try to be mindful of your surroundings. Look around you frequently. Check both ways when you cross the road, and never expect that a driver sees you or will stop. Play games with yourself to help you be aware of your surroundings. Look for unusual items along your route, play “eye spy” or an alphabet game (find something that begins with A, then B and so on). Notice cars that pass you.
These little observation games will help you stay alert and on top of your environment. Listen to noises and learn to pinpoint the unfamiliar. Not only will this make you safer, but it’s a good cognitive exercise to keep you sharper too. Bonus: these little mind games will also make the time pass faster!
6. Run with Confidence
Keep your head up. Run like you know where you’re going. Even if you feel like you’re ready to pass out or can’t make it another step, try to project confidence. Again, this is a mind trick that not only makes you less vulnerable to an attack, but will make your run feel easier and faster.
Repeat a mantra to yourself:
- I’ve got this.
- I can do this.
- This is so easy for me.
- I’m winning.
- I’m the best.
It may feel a little silly at first but it will help you feel more confident and on top of your running game. Runners who tap into the magic of mantras, do report feeling more confident and better about their performance. Fake it until you make it.
7. Shake it Off
Harassment is an unfortunate part of running and it’s not just experienced by women. Ask any man who’s tried to run along a rural road and been honked at or “buzzed” by a redneck in a big truck. While this jerkish behavior is disheartening and even scary, at some point you’ll do better by learning to just shake it off.
Always listen to your instincts and if someone looks threatening or is being truly creepy, then by all means, defend yourself, yell, kick, scream or call for help. Don’t shrink back because you’re afraid of being weird or impolite. If you don’t feel good about the vibe someone (or a street) is giving off, turn around and run the other way. Even if you think it will look weird or be embarrassing. Trust yourself. At the same time, learn to roll your eyes and shrug off the morons who whistle at you out their car window.
8. Know Your Limits
The biggest danger many of us face is ourselves. When we run, we keep pushing ourselves to go a little further, to play through the pain or to keep going even when we should stop. Now, some of us are looking for any excuse to stop and need to learn how to push through. But there are other times when we need to take a break.
It’s important to stretch and prepare before your run. Wear the right shoes and clothes. Plan a route you can handle. Push yourself, but not past your limitations. You’re far more likely to twist an ankle, get a stress fracture or strain a muscle than any other running hazards you may fear. Yet, most of us ignore this hazards, put on our headphones and keep going even when our body is screaming for a break. Hydrate, keep yourself cool, stretch and warm up before each run. When you need a rest day, take it!
9. Learn Defense
Now, truth be told, I’m not a person who likes to lean into fear. In reality, the likelihood of experiencing a physical assault on a run is very very slim. In fact, you’re probably more likely to face many of the other issues outlined here, but when a runner is attacked it makes top headlines. We hear about it and we think it’s the norm. It makes many of us feel fearful about running.
Use common sense and take proper precautions to protect yourself. If you’re still feeling unsafe, consider running on a track, opting for an indoor run, running with a buddy, or taking a self defense class. Some runners like to run with pepper spray or a knife. While this isn’t a bad idea, be prepared and know how to use these items before you’re ever faced with a situation where you’ll need to.
Running is a pretty safe sport over all. Many of us stick to familiar roads and neighborhoods, stay alert and run safely every day. If you enjoy running, don’t let fear stop you. Simply be smart, prepared and take proper runners’ safety precautions and you’ll be just fine!