As runners and walkers we often spend time alone outdoors. While this is awesome in so many ways, there can also be a few hazards.
Some are especially pertinent for women, although men can definitely face dangers when running outside too.
Obviously, when we think of “safety” we all think of the sensational news stories–kidnappings, random attacks and murders. The reason these horrible stories make the news is because they’re often rare (and yes, horrifying, so readers are often drawn in). In his book, the Gift of Fear, security expert Gavin de Becker points out that statistically we are MUCH more likely to be harmed by a partner or someone we know.
In fact, the rate of stranger attacks, according to this great post by Science Based Running are quite low. We’re much more likely to be injured in a car accident, for example. Of the thousands of reported kidnappings in the United States, only about 120 of them were stereotypical “kidnappings” (child abducted by a random stranger and not recovered within 3-4 days).
Anyway, of course none of us wants to think of those things, when all we really want to do is go out and safely get some exercise!
So, how can runners and walkers protect themselves from the big scary hazards as well as the other hazards (dogs, icy sidewalks, cars) we face everyday? Read our safety tips for running outdoors!
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Wear Light Colored Clothes
When you’re running, especially at night, always wear light colored clothes. As a lover of black clothing (hey, I lived in New York for five years), I have to say this one’s tough for me. So, I don’t always gravitate toward “bright and light” workout clothes.
There are plenty of runner’s clothing that contain a reflective stripe or some bright contrast that will show up at night. You can even use reflective tape, reflective bands, or reflective vests. Just be sure you wear it on your body (not just your shoes, which might not be noticed until it’s too late).
When all else fails, consider running with a headlamp if you’re out at dusk or dawn. I know it seems dorky, but as someone who was once hit by a Jeep in a crosswalk, I can tell you–getting hit by a car really sucks. Be a dork. It’s okay.
Go Music Free (or Use Headphones that Still Allow Hearing)
Sam can run without music or sound. I feel kind of crazy when I run in silence. I need a podcast, music or at least my running app. If you’re someone who needs to run with a soundtrack, look for headphones that still allow you to hear ambient sounds like these AfterShokz that fit outside of your ear, or these Jabra Elites that have an external mic. Runner’s World has a listing of their best headphones for runners.
The cheapo hack is to wear only one earbud, or listen to your music (quietly) through the speaker on your phone. While it’s motivating to go into your isolation “zone” with just music and the sounds of your feet hitting the pavement, it’s also dangerous. Save the sensory zone out for your indoor runs.
Stretch & Warm Up
Most injuries happen when you don’t properly warm up, especially if the weather is particularly cold or hot. Warming up allows your muscles to get flexible and loose, and helps you to move more easily during your runs. Muscle strength stabilizes and protects your joints, so keep your muscles strong and healthy.
If you have a constant muscle pull, or an area that seems particularly tight, you may want to use a foam roller to work out any kinks after your run. Incorporating stretching activities like yoga or pilates will also improve your flexibility and prevent muscle strain.
Wear Good Shoes
Running in old shoes is just waiting for injury to happen. Not only will good shoes protect your feet, your arches and your ankles (especially if you pronate or roll in, when you step), but they also keep you stable on slippery streets. Look for shoes with traction if you’re running in the fall, winter or spring (when sidewalks can contain hazards). Also watch for shoes that allow you to really “feel” the terrain, such as minimalist shoes that mimic barefoot running but offer protection. These can help you better navigate over bumpy roads and trails.
The other protection shoes offer is the ability to ward off dog attacks. As a dog lover I can’t imagine having to fight off a dog attack, but unfortunately it can be a hazard of running. Dog attacks require you to avoid eye contact, protect your face, yell and kick, hard.
Embrace the Indoor Run (When You Have to)
Most of us prefer outdoor runs to indoor runs. Indoor runs are boring, let’s face it. We all avoid the treadmill when we can. However, in the icy or even super hot conditions, don’t be afraid to take your run inside. If you’ve trained for rough weather conditions then go for it, but if you’re a newbie runner, trying to find footing in icy, wet pavement, or suffering heatstroke is a real hazard.
Many community centers offer indoor tracks for free or a small fee. You can also walk at local malls (many offer indoor walking programs). If you don’t have a treadmill don’t feel like you’re destined to spend the winter on the couch. Find an indoor spot where you can get your run or walk in without worry!
Run with Your Phone
Some runners HATE running with their phones. I get it. It can be great to unplug and get away from everything for awhile. However, if you’re running alone, running with your phone is your best safety. Call for help right away in a scary or unsafe situation.
Look for running clothing that offers zippered pouches or other spots you can stash your phone. You can run with an armband, a small fanny pack, or a zippered waist belt like FlipBelt which is super low-key and undetectable, but will prevent you from holding your phone in your hand your entire run.
Program your phone with an ICE number (In Case of Emergency). In a situation where you are incapacitated, someone can check your phone for ICE and will know who to contact.
Run with ID
Many people lock their phones or have passcodes on their phones. Unfortunately, in an emergency this renders the phone useless for a helper to get to your contacts. Even if you run with your phone, consider running with an ID bracelet or tag on your shoe.
Road ID makes some cool bracelets where you can even include a mantra or motivating statement, along with plenty of contact number information. You can also make your own, simply by writing your contact info inside your shirt or shoe with a sharpie (just check it regularly to make sure it’s still legible.
On the off chance something does happen and you can’t share your contact information with emergency responders, having some form of ID is smart.
Use the Buddy System
You don’t have to run or walk with a buddy, but give someone a heads up as to where you’re going to be. It’s also a smart idea to familiarize your family or a friend with your typical running route. Tell your running “buddy” when you plan to be back and how long you plan to run. That way, if you run into a problem or don’t return on time, they’ll know exactly where to find you.
Of course, running with a friend is also a great way to prevent many running hazards. You’ll have someone to look out for you, you’re safer in numbers and hey, it’s motivating to workout with a partner. Find a friend who runs at your pace and fitness level. If you need extra motivation, find someone who’s just a LITTLE faster than you are, to spur you on.
You can find Meetup running groups or even put a shout out on your social media to find a running buddy. At 5am, knowing someone’s counting on you to get out of bed, makes all the difference in the world.
Hydrate & Eat a Snack
Another hazard of running? Low blood sugar, the shakes or “bonking.” Now, most newbie runners don’t need to worry about carb loading or even about having water and hydration on your run (unless it’s very hot 2-3 miles without water is fine). BUT if you’re running in the heat, have blood sugar that crashes fast or just need an energy boost, eating a small snack and drinking before your run is important.
Water is perfectly fine for hydration for short runs. You can drink Smart Water that’s fortified with electrolytes if you want an extra boost. Some caffeinated iced tea or coffee can give you a boost, but also may dehydrate you before a longer run (caffeine is a diuretic).
For a snack, try a banana with almond butter or just a handful of almonds, to give you sustaining energy. Hummus with a few carrots is also a great way to boost your energy with a little protein to hold you during your run.
Dress in Layers
Dress in layers–wear a tank with a running top over it, and a jacket over that. Shed a layer or tie the shirt around the waist when getting overheated. In the cold, layers will protect you from getting chilly.
Protect your fingers and toes as well, in cold weather, by wearing gloves and thicker socks. Look for shoes that are water resistant or all-terrain so you don’t freeze your toes or get frostbite. Keep in mind that much of your heat escapes through your head. With this in mind, covering up with a hat will keep you toasty while you run.
In the summer, dressing in layers will allow you to strip down as you go and prevent overheating. Look for sweat-wicking clothes that keep your skin dry. We suggest shirts with built in sunscreen (although you should always wear plenty of SPF). Also include sunglasses and a visor to avoid burn. You can also find compression clothing which helps with muscle protection while you run.
Avoid weather, animals, slips and strains, as well as cars and even nefarious humans by taking a few precautions. Run and walk safely. Always be aware of your surroundings–run with confidence and poise.
Trust your gut instincts too. If a situation doesn’t “feel right” pick a different route or road. Sometimes our internal alarm bells go off before we’re even fully aware of the “why.” Stay alert and stay safe!
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