I’m writing this in a heat of anger on a Sunday morning. After reading multiple posts from people not feeling safe on the run, I’m even more pissed off at this than I normally am.
From being followed by cars, attacked by dogs, and being whistled at---it all needs to STOP. We can advocate until we are blue in the face but at the end of the day until REAL change happens, we need to take the power into our own hands a protect ourselves. While I have written HERE about general running safety, I feel it’s important to also give pointed/specific situations and ideas to help you get out safely.
While I am not a professional defense or a safety expert, I am a woman that unfortunately has had to be aware of safety from a young age and have always been painfully aware that by just being a woman I am a target. I am also insanely paranoid about my surroundings to keep me as safe as can be and feel like even if 1 thing from this post can benefit other people it is completely worth it. This problem exists for so many groups, not just women. It’s up to us to help ourselves and others HOWEVER we can.
A car passes you, then turns around, passes again, slows, etc.
I am always aware of passing cars, I make eye contact and make it known I see them and have noted them. A lot of attackers like to find people who are not being aware. Not ALWAYS the case but if you show that you are paying attention you may not be deemed as easy of a target. As soon as you feel threatened already start planning an escape route, think FAST! Is there somewhere you can stop like a store and go in? Is there a guard gated community nearby? A quick cut through that gets you to a more populated area? KNOW WHERE YOU ARE RUNNING so that you can have an exit strategy. Also, if there is time to note the car color, driver, license plate, or something of that nature DO IT. It sucks to not be able to zone out but so many of us don’t have that luxury. Notice things as you are running BEFORE you feel threatened and you’ll be ahead of the game if heaven forbid you do need to remember something in an emergency.
You see a dog coming at you off a leash/unattended/ with a distracted owner.
My best advice is move over and get distance between you and the dog. If the dogs alone I also have a tendency to stop running and put MAJOR distance between us. My pet loving nature wants to say hi and make sure the dog isn’t lost but unfortunately if I’m by myself I don’t have that luxury to assume that the dog is friendly or safe. If the dog is with the owner and off a leash, I tend to use the same logic. Distance in these situations is your friend and often times I find if I walk past at the distance the dogs don’t seem as threatened as if I’m running. Also, if a dog does come up to you try to not scream, make loud noises or make large movements. They often can take this as you are playing or may be defensive. If the dog just approaches calmly try to stay calm yourself, they can sense emotions/feelings. Dogs are animals after all and even though we see them in a domesticated space, remember at the end of the day they are animals with animals’ sense.
You don’t feel safe near roads so you decide to run in unpopulated areas, empty streets, anywhere away from people:
While this can often sound like a good alternative it often can be more dangerous. While yes you won’t have as many cars pass, people around, or dogs around…. this also means that if an emergency arises there will be no one or nothing to help you. People around is both a blessing and a curse. More people may feel riskier but chances are SOMEONE will help you in an emergency. If you are in a deserted or an unoccupied area it would just, be you and your attacker/threat. Try to find a middle ground, not insanely busy where it puts you in danger of getting hit by a car but not so desolate that if something happens it’s ALL on you.
Someone starts running beside you, comes up behind you fast or seems to be following you:
First, STAY CALM. This can be extremely scary and can throw anyone off. This again is the argument to KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS. Someone starts running beside you and making small talk: If you start feeling uncomfortable start slowing your pace, try to end the conversation, if you have headphones in fake a phone call coming in and say “Hey, yea I’m at ________ (enter current location), I’m just coming up to your street.” No matter if it’s true or not give the illusion you aren’t alone, unattended or without back up. In most cases the person may be harmless but if it feels off then be proactive. If you find someone coming up behind you fast, move over enough to where you have time to react/get away if they were to try to grab you or run into you, make eye contact and take control of the physical distance so you have that edge above. If it seems someone is following you then try to go to a populated area, store, coffee shop, down a friend’s street if they live nearby, etc. Don’t box yourself in to a dead-end street, into an unoccupied area, or even go home. The last thing you want to do is leave yourself trapped OR lead someone right to where you live. WHEN IN DOUBT USE YOUR PHONE TO CALL 911
Someone starts making rude, vulgar, racist or sexist comments:
Again, I always make eye contact and let them know they are seen and heard. In this situation I do not engage or say anything. I keep running (faster than I was before) and remove myself from this situation. While I am all for standing up for myself and standing up against this type of deplorable behavior in a situation where I am alone, I do not want to put my personal safety at risk. Most of the time these people WANT you to say something, they want to get under your skin and they want to make you uncomfortable. I view continuing on my way as disengaging the situation and allowing it to not escalate. Plus, the faster you get away, probably the better. Now if they are in a car and doing this, you probably won’t be able to just ignore and get away unless they say their words and then drive away. If this is happening and they are in the car, try to get away, slow down and call 911 or someone SUPER CLOSE to you geographical wise to come get you. Also, like I’ve said multiple times keep DISTANCE. Distance in this situation is your friend, the further away you can get the better.
Even taking all the precautions you still feel vulnerable:
· Bring your phone: I get it, we like to unplug and not have the extra weight of carrying it but just find a way to do it. There are a ton of different pouches, belts, vest, etc. that can be use to carry your phone---find one that you can live with and get comfortable. This literally cold be your life line.
· Buddy system!!! I know COVID has made this hard and if you are the lone runner in your life, it can be especially hard. Try to find someone who will ride their bike next to you while you run (shout out to my husband for doing this!), find a local running group (RRCA has a great resource for this), or you could even bribe your friend to run with you if you promise after run food, beers, or indulgence of their choice 😆
· Bring some sort of self-defense: I know some runners who have their conceal and carry who do pack on their run but for those of us that don’t have that option or don’t feel comfortable with that there are plenty other options. Pepper spray, stabbing ring, wearable sirens and keychains. I also had a fellow RRCA suggest bear spray since it shoots from further away so you don't have to get as close. I also am a fan of an old fashion whistle! Nothing fancy but I have this on my stroller when I’m running or walking and have taught my daughter in an emergency to blow it. It may not be high tech but it will make heads turn if I need it!
· Use an app that allows loved ones to track your location like ROADID. You can pick who you want to see your progress and will send an alert if you are stationery.
· If you have a Garmin, it most likely is equipped with the Emergency Assistance feature. Garmin has a written out a how to use this feature linked HERE. Take advantage of it and learn to use it!
· Learn some basic self defense moves in case you are attacked. You don’t need to be a black belt in order to get away. Don't be afraid to take a self dense class or when in doubt take a note from Miss Congeniality and SING (VIDEO HERE)
What we can do for others:
· If you see something, help!!! This doesn’t mean you have to start throwing punches but call 911, if you have a safety device, use it even if you aren’t the one being targeted. Blow your whistle, set off a silent alert, just something. I totally understand where others may not feel safe to get physically involved but find a way to help even if it’s discrete. That one thing could help!!
· Pass along tips, gear, and articles to others you know. They don’t have to be a runner in order to benefit from these tips. The more we talk about these dangers the more we can help stop them.
· Create running groups in your community to help others not run alone and not be as vulnerable to outside factors.
· Teach kids and teens safety from a young age! Teach them to be impowered.
General Safety Tips
While we all love running on the road because it’s smoother, use the sidewalk! Don’t make it easier for cars to follow you, hit you or get right next to you.
That being said if you must run in the road (say there is a dog/person giving you weird vibes on the sidewalk) remember to run AGAINST traffic (where legal). You want to be able to SEE cars coming toward you, not sneaking up behind.
Where bright colors so you are visible—-the only threat isn’t from people looking to cause harm, there is also the threat of people being oblivious and not seeing you. Stand out, don’t blend.
Do not post your routes or runs on social media with all the details. While we all love a good workout selfie, don’t give away exactly when you run and where. It makes it easier for someone to track your habits.
I know that we all hate to think about this stuff and never want to be the victim but if we don’t think about it, prepare for the worst and take care of ourselves we are already making it easy for people with ill intentions.
Arm yourself with knowledge (and something else for good measure!)