It's officially Summer! We can celebrate with longer days and more sunlight to go out there and do what we love to do... including running. I don't want to get all doom-and-gloom on y'all and take away the joy of summer... but I have seen an increase in news stories and personal stories on social media involving attacks of one kind or another. Some involve loose dogs, others might be traffic related or worse, of a predatory nature. Some common denominators to all the stories is that the runner was 1. Alone. 2. A woman and 3. In an area where there wasn't a lot of people around. It might be a friendly looking neighborhood, but are people out mowing lawns or visible?
I'm no expert, but it seems like maybe I ought to just throw out a quick list of a few things I've thought of to help keep each other safe. Please feel free to add your own two cents too in the comments below. I don't want to cause fear or make people feel like they can't go outside to run... I just think there are a few tips to keep the sport fun and keep you safe.
Always tell someone where you are going.
Tell your spouse, room mate, or call a friend and tell them your route you are planning to take and be sure to communicate when to expect to hear from you after the run. There are also lots of GPS specific apps available so that a loved one knows exactly where you are during your run.
- ReactMobile enables you to report suspicious incidents or send your current GPS coordinates to pre-selected contacts with the push of a button if you’re approached.
- StaySafe allows you to enter your expected running path and timing, and if you don’t check back within the allocated time, your pre-set emergency contacts will receive your GPS coordinates—even if your phone is switched off.
- bSafe turns your phone into the ultimate safety device. One touch of a button sounds a siren, records a video, alerts authorities, and informs selected contacts of your GPS location.
- MyPanic is a free app that lets you trigger a piercing alarm and flash bright colors to grab the attention of other people who may be nearby.
- Guardly sends emergency alerts to your selected safety network, who will be informed of your real-time location and whether you’ve called 911.
If possible, run with a dog, a group or at least one other person.
I'm not ready to commit to the demands of dog ownership, nor do I think my cats would appreciate a new housemate... but I know a few people who might loan me their dog! There may be a local running group in your community to join for runs and you might meet some new friends. Check with your local running store for free group runs. If you can't find a running group or free running club, start one! :-) That might be easier said than done in some cases, but I love my MRTT group and glad I started a chapter in my area. My running partner has gotten wicked fast, but I bet she'd put up with me on a couple runs now and then. Running with someone else challenges me to be better at my sport and we are all a bit safer.
Running with someone doubles your chances of survival in an attack situation. Two people are harder to control for one person. A dog is a great deterrent for someone with criminal intentions.
Stay on well travelled and well lit roads. Don’t take short cuts through woods, poorly lit areas, avoid running at night... etc.
Some of this might seem like common sense, but we've all been in a situation where we knowingly did what we shouldn't have and then regretted it. That's part of being human. I got really sick once licking the cookie batter spoon. But some things aren't worth the risk. Stay in well lit areas so that traffic can see you. If you run at night, wear bright colors with lots of reflective strips. While driving in my neighborhood one night, a runner decided to cross in front of our moving car. He/She misjudged our speed and how much time they had to cross. Unfortunately they were wearing all black and I didn't even know someone had jumped in front of our car! Fortunately their shoes had a reflective swoosh and I screamed "Shoes!" And my husband with ninja reflexes understood what I was thinking: "Oh my god! A Runner! Please don't hit them!" and slowed the car as we watched the shoes pitter-patter on their merry way.
Ditch the headphones.
When I first came across this advice, I was unhappy. I feel like i need music at times to drown out that voice that tells me "You can't do this. Your knee hurts. You're too slow. Go home." But the more I look into it, the more this advice seems to be well founded.
If you can't let go of the ipod, keep only one ear bud in and switch up which ear it's in during your run.
A distracted runner is an unsafe runner. Be alert to your surroundings in an audio sense. Can you hear cyclists requesting right of way around you? Could you hear someone else's foot steps approaching you? Are you able to hear traffic?
Face oncoming traffic.
Don't assume drivers out there are not distracted. Despite my local driving with cellphone laws, I see drivers chatting on the phone all the time. They may also be late, distracted by the radio, etc. Don't assume they see you and will give you the right away. Make eye contact with them and wave a "thank you" or a friendly head nod to them. Chances are this will cheer them up a bit and encourage them to share the road with another runner in the future.
Facing oncoming traffic allows you to be easily seen and make any split decisions that may be needed if you have to respond to the traffic.
Carry some essentials with you (besides hydration and fuel).
Always have identification with you. Carry your driver's license and insurance card in your pocket in case of an injury and have an I.D. tag on your shoe laces or as a bracelet with an emergency contact phone number listed.
Carry your cell phone with you on all runs. You might need to make an emergency call for yourself or someone else. I ran past a house on fire once and was the first to report it. Another feature besides a handy phone call, is if your phone is on, your phone company can track you by your phone's GPS feature.
Carry a little cash with you. If you twist your ankle or some small injury that will limit your mobility, a little bus fare or cab cash will go a long way to recovery. You may need to stop and buy more water/fuel or some first aid supplies.
It might also be a good idea to carry pepper spray/mace. Check if it is legal in your state. It is effective up to 8-12ft away (depending on aim) and usually one burst will stop someone (or a dog ready to bite). 3/4oz. canister has approximately 10 bursts in it.
BE WARNED that it could end up being used against you or the wind working against you and a gust of the stuff getting in your eyes. A self defense class instructor told me to buy some on a long weekend and spray myself directly in the face Friday night and take the rest of the weekend to recover. this sounds crazy, but if you know what to expect when it get's you, you'll be more apt to keep a clear head and get out of the situation that called for the spray in the first place. Also, buy more than one canister so you can take the practice can (after squirting yourself) and test out using it during a run and right after. this is because physical endurance pulls blood from the brain and effects our ability to think and aim.
If someone looks shady to you, cross the street or go the other way. (Or if you are paranoid like me, if they smile too wide and greet your hello a little too enthusiastically.)
In all seriousness, listen to your gut. If someone doesn't seem right to you, don't push it off as you being too quick to label an innocent person. Your gut instinct is there to protect you, let it. I might be a bit jumpy at times and watch the guy who smiled really big as I said "Hello." But with statistics of sexual assault always on the rise, I'd rather be a bit jumpy and see the mofo coming than be taken by surprise. I'm going to put up a fight!
If you are being heckled or threatened by someone, keep running! Don't stop to tell them off or flip them off, keep your distance and continue to an area with lots of traffic or other people around. Don't appear vulnerable. Hold your head high and stay strong. If they try to stop you, be forceful. Tell them to back off and keep moving! Since you now run with your cell phone, call the police.
When someone stops to ask me for directions, I always stay at least 8 feet from the stopped car.
Vary your routes. Don’t be predictable.
This does a couple things. Besides mixing it up for stalkers or weird ex boyfriends, it keeps things fresh for your mind. If you get comfortable in a routine, your mind becomes dull and you aren't fully in your senses and aware of your surroundings. This can make things pretty hazardous when dealing with cars, other runners, cyclists or perhaps the random loose dog.
Perpetrators also look specifically for people who aren't 100% aware of their surroundings. Don't be distracted. Know where you are going. Don't look confused or lost- that can make you a target.
Consider taking a self defense class. You never know when you might need these skills.
It's a good idea to refresh that college self defense class you took back in your freshman year. Taking a self defense class every 5 years helps you stay fresh with the moves and key info. Check with your local community college or police department for classes and workshops.
One tip I specifically remember from my last class is to avoid wearing a pony tail. It's an easy thing to grab and pull.
If attacked, do everything in your power to not be taken to another location.
If you’re approached, establish the impression that you’ll be a terrible victim: loud, fearless, and willing to fight, Be verbally and physically assertive—look the person straight in the eye and speak loudly, saying, “Stop right there,” “You’re too close,” or “Leave me alone.” An attacker is likely looking for someone who will be easy to overpower, not someone who’s willing to get physical.
Bottom line: Trust your gut. If something/someone doesn't feel right, it probably isn’t.
If you get that prickly feeling that makes you feel uncomfortable about something, someone or a location. Don't ignore it. We were born with the flight or flight response for a reason. Our survival. Run the other direction.
What are your helpful hints to staying safe?