Last summer I went for a run with a group of about six women, all of whom were professional runners. We were laughing and talking about various things, until the conversation took a serious turn. One of the women told a story about how four men in a car tailed her for over a mile, whispering amongst themselves before she finally sprinted down a trail and hid until they passed.
One at a time, we all began to share stories about incidents we’d had while running that were close calls and scary moments. Every single one of us had something to share.
When I was in high school, I went for a run at a very popular local park. It was an overcast day, so there weren’t many people around, which is why I noticed a man wearing a yellow and blue striped polo shirt sitting on a bench about 100 feet from the bathroom. I thought nothing of it as I ducked into the women’s bathroom for a quick pit stop.
A few moments later, I heard footsteps and through the slit in the door of my stall, I saw yellow and blue stripes walk into the bathroom. The man had followed me in. Before I had time to panic, I yanked up my shorts, threw open the stall and flew past him, out the door. The “what if’s” of this situation still haunt me:
What if he had chosen to stand in front of my stall, instead of by the sink?
What if he’d had a gun?
What if I hadn’t been fast enough and he’d caught ahold of me?
Safety is paramount
I’ve heard it a million times, mostly from my mother: “Never run alone, it’s a scary world out there for a woman, always carry pepper spray with you.”
On one hand, I resent this advice, because I feel that it takes feminism back 50 years, telling me I can’t go running by myself without a big strong protector (or a tiny painful protector in a can), and I want to be free to listen to the sound of my feet hitting a dark city street or feel the wind in my hair as I cruise alone down a secluded wooded path. On the other hand, I want to live to enjoy running at a nice old age.
How do we find that balance as women? How do we keep the wonderful independence that we’ve found in running but stay safe at the same time? Ladies, I’m not asking you to be frail and helpless, I’m asking you to be sensible. These are some guidelines I’ve adopted as a runner and I highly recommend for you:
Running with pepper spray
I don’t care if you can run a five-minute mile, you won’t be able to outrun your neighbor’s Chihuahua, let alone a ferocious mountain lion. Humans are not built to outrun predators; we are built to outsmart them, hence, the invention of pepper spray.
I’m not suggesting that every time you lace up for a run you need to tuck that can in your pocket. Heaven knows you probably won’t need it during your run at the high school track (though you may want to use it to fend sophomore and junior boys away from your daughter), but any time that you are planning to run alone in a secluded area that might contain wildlife, lone individuals or hiding places, take it along.
Avoid running with music players
I love running with music, I find it to be the best training partner; it never complains that my pace is too fast or too slow, it is upbeat when I need it to be and shuts up when I want it to. This being said, there are certain times and places when you need all of your senses to be alert in order to stay safe.
These are some situations in which you absolutely should not be listening to music on the run:
Alone, at night. When your vision is impaired by darkness, you need your ears to tell you what is in front of you and behind you.
On a street or bike path, especially a street with a limited shoulder. If you can’t hear bikers or other runners coming up on you from behind, the results can be disastrous.
Near a golf course or any type of sporting event. I know two runners personally that have been struck with balls while running. One lost the sight in his right eye because of a stray golf ball and the other wound up with a bruise the size of a grapefruit on her thigh because of a foul baseball. If a ball is headed your way, chances are that several people will be yelling in an attempt to warn you, and you need to be able to hear them.
Any time that cars, dogs, or attackers may be a threat.
Be careful running at night
Night time is my favorite time to run, I feel so light and fast and free in the dark, but, like the ocean, there needs to be a healthy fear of night running. Here are some ways to make sure your night runs are as safe as possible.
Headlamps. Yes, I know they look dorky, but they also let cars and other pedestrians know where you are. Also, light reflective colors are a must.
Stick to roads you know. I say roads because trails are not advisable for night running due to their uneven surfaces and the potential for ankle rolling. By staying close to home on roads you know, preferably neighborhoods, you are surrounded by homes filled with people that can come to your aid if need be. Also, the last thing you want at night is to be lost on an unfamiliar road with no way home.
Cell Phones. I always keep my phone with me at night. There are even times that I’ve approached a sketchy looking group of teenagers and pretended to talk on my phone while running so they would think I was in communication with another person and not “alone.”
Additionally, never leave the house without telling at least one person where you will be running, day or night.
Change up your daily routine
If you run several days per week, it is easy to slip into a routine, running the same routes at the same time on the same days. This is dangerous because it gives anyone who might be seeking out a victim a way to know where you’re going to be alone on a given day. Here are some ways to avoid this:
If you run a counter-clockwise loop around your neighborhood, start switching the direction that you run every few days or so.
Try running an hour earlier or later than you normally do and alternate starting times from day to day.
Look online for new routes or trails that you can run close to home.
Additionally, carrying ID with you and taking a self-defense class doesn’t hurt (well…. doesn’t hurt you).
Essentially, I want you to realize that strong, independent women runners are also safe runners. Enjoy every step, just do it safely!