How to be a safer runner

Never let fear stop you from doing what you love

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I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response I received from my last running post: How to become a morning runner thanks to everyone for reading it! I decided to do a follow up post on an area of running that’s important to me — personal safety.

There’s nothing more liberating for me than running, outdoors, alone. It’s my “me” time, my way to de-stress and let go of built up tension. You could say I treat it as a form of meditation — the ideal time to process thoughts in my head and clear out negativity. But I’ve been reading a lot of press recently highlighting the fact that lone runners (female in particular) are being seen as easy and vulnerable targets for harassment, this got me thinking about safety and how many of us runners, both women and men, could be putting ourselves at an unnecessary risk without even realising.

“ Fear should never stop us from doing something we love”

One news article in America you might have come across is Kelly Herron’s story. In February 20017, the 36 year old runner was attacked mid-run in Seattle’s Golden Gardens Park while stopping for a quick bathroom break. Kelly bravely fought off her attacker using techniques she had learnt from a recent self-defence class, something that she later said was a credit to her survival. You can read her full story here on Runners World.

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A recent survey called Running While Female showed that a staggering 43% of women have encountered some form of harassment while running. I decided to write this post to help empower other runners to stay safe, and to share our safety advice. Here are some of my top tips for staying safe:

1. Always be aware of your surroundings

It’s easy to get “caught up” in the moment while running, but this is when we are at our most vulnerable — stay alert and be vigilant of what is going on around you. Don’t take shortcuts through areas that are unfamiliar. Try to avoid running in quiet desolate areas and instead choose places that are busy with other people or runners.

2. Avoid running after dark

Run only during daylight hours, and if a busy schedule means this isn’t possible, try to stick to well lit roads or paths. We shouldn’t be afraid of the places that we run but after dark we should be more cautious.

3. Tell somebody where you are going

I admit I don’t do this, but it’s a good idea if somebody knows where you are running. It only takes a few minutes to send a quick text message to a friend, flatmate or family member with details of your route.

4. Run with other people

This is obviously safer than running by yourself, but we don’t all have running buddies or groups, plus many of us prefer to run alone. I run with a group once a week, though I prefer running on my own the rest of the time. Another solution is to arrange to meet a running buddy half way, or if you have a pet dog take them running with you!

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5. Alternate your running routes

Don’t be predictable by always taking the same route. In case somebody is watching you, alternate the roads or paths you take but make sure you know where you are going.

6. Know your route

If you become lost or appear to be confused and unaware of your surroundings, it can turn you into a vulnerable target. If I’m running a new route I always check it a few times on Google maps before leaving so it becomes familiar in my head.

7. Carry your phone with you

You never know when you might need it. Most running clothes have specially adapted pockets, or you could try using an armband.

8. Leave the headphones at home

If like me you can’t go out running without music, keep the volume low, or use only one earbud. Otherwise you could become unaware of what is going on around you, distractions like this that can make us more exposed.

9. Think about what you are wearing

If you have to run when it’s dark, wear reflective clothing. Better still wear a flashlight, on my dark early morning run today I spotted a runner with lights attached to their running top, great idea! If you have long hair try to avoid wearing it as a ponytail that can be easy for an attacker to grab from behind, try tying it up in a tight bun instead.

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10. Use your intuition

If a person, group of people or situation doesn’t seem right, change your route, direction or cross the street to avoid it. I always trust my gut instinct to tell me when I feel like something just isn’t right. Better to be safe than sorry.

11. Take a self-defence class

If you can’t find a class near to you there’s many videos online demonstrating some basic techniques, I watched this one recently: How To Stay Safe On The Run. Whilst the likelihood of an attack is low, it’s better to be prepared and know how to defend yourself if the unthinkable happens.

Final word

What struck me most about Kelly Herron’s story were two things; her determination to not let her attacker ruin what she loves doing — running, and the importance she placed on the self-defence class that helped her fight off her attacker. Fear should never stop us from doing something we love, by using a bit of common sense and learning some vital self-defence techniques, we can all learn to protect ourselves.

My point here is that we shouldn’t feel afraid of running alone. I make it my priority to run solo, it’s my “me” time, and as a runner I like these solitary moments. A few simple but significant skills can teach us all to defend ourselves and become more confident and safety-conscious runners.

How else do you stay safe while out running? I’d really like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Davina lives on the Mediterranean island of Malta where she works as a designer. Originally from the UK she has also lived in Barcelona which she describes as an architectural gem.

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