How to Stay Safe When Running Alone
I have been running in large cities, sprawling suburbs, country roads, and remote trails for years and I never stop thinking about safety. Some of it becomes second nature, but I always remind myself to keep aware of my surroundings before I run. Regardless of gender or age, you can improve your safety when running by keeping these tips in mind when pounding the pavement or dirt.
Plan Your Route with Safety in Mind
Before heading out, plan your running route and let someone know where you’ll be running and when you expect to return. Share your location with a trusted friend or family member using a running app or GPS tracking device. If no one is around when you leave, text them or leave a note.
Run in Well-Lit Areas
Whenever possible, choose well-lit routes, especially if you’re running during early morning or evening hours. Avoid dark, isolated areas. This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes your route will take you through areas like this without you realizing it ahead of time. If it’s dark or you are in a deserted area, stay alert. Normally, it’s great to slip into “the zone” when running, but if there is any chance that your route puts you in an unsafe situation even for a minute, be sure to keep your wits about you.
Vary Your Routes and Times
Don’t establish a predictable pattern. Change your running routes and times to reduce the likelihood of someone targeting you. Consider varying the times you go for runs, incorporating early morning, daytime, and evening runs when possible. Before running new routes, assess the level of safety by checking for adequate lighting, traffic, and accessibility to help if needed.
Run with a Buddy for Fun and Safety
Running with a friend or in a group is not only fun and motivating, it can enhance your safety. Consider joining a local running club or group for scheduled runs. Local running stores are a great resource for tracking down small groups of runners just like you who’d love to buddy up.
Carry a Phone
Carry a fully charged phone with you, but try not to rely solely on it for safety. It’s essential to have it as a backup communication tool. Any help you can summon with your phone is more than a few minutes away. If you feel threatened, you need to take action that immediately puts you into a safer position. Also, don’t fall into the “I’m safe as long as I’m talking to my friend on the phone” trap. Just as you can’t fully pay attention to driving when you’re chatting on the phone, you can’t stay fully aware of your surroundings when running and gabbing. It may feel comforting, but in reality you are far less safe.
Trust Your Instincts
If something feels off or makes you uncomfortable during your run, trust your instincts and take action. This might mean altering your route, seeking help, or if the situation is not immediately threatening but you still feel unsafe, calling someone you trust to come get you.
Consider taking self-defense classes to learn basic techniques that can help you protect yourself if needed. Sometimes small tactics that you can learn quickly and easily will make a huge difference.
Carry Personal Safety Devices
Carrying personal safety devices while running can provide an additional layer of security. Mostly we are talking about personal alarms, pepper spray, whistles, and tactical flashlights. Anything potentially lethal may put you at risk of having it used against you. When it comes to using a personal safety device in a potentially dangerous situation, it’s better to stay well within your ability level. A quick search online will uncover options you have probably never heard of, but here are quick descriptions that cover most options:
- Personal alarms emit loud sounds to startle potential attackers and attract attention.
- Pepper spray is a non-lethal tool that can temporarily incapacitate an attacker, but it’s essential to learn how to use it properly and be aware of legal regulations.
- Whistles are simple yet effective for drawing attention to yourself in emergencies, but if there is no one around to help, they are useless. It’s good to carry a loud whistle with you when you run but don’t think of it as a first line of defense.
- Tactical flashlights have blindingly bright and tightly focused beams (usually adjustable). Typically, they are also sized and shaped to hold in your fist for use in self defense. Obviously, the flashlight beam will only work for self defense at night or if you run in sewers or underground lairs of evil overlords. In the best situation, the light is only a momentary defense. It can give you a second or two to pull out pepper spray or flee in an unpredictable direction. If the tactical flashlight is shaped to work as a physical protection measure, be sure you know how to employ it before you have to.
Proper training in using these devices is crucial to ensure you can use them confidently and accurately when needed. Always consider the legal implications and local regulations regarding their possession and use. Regularly check to make sure your devices are properly working and you remember how to use them effectively. Batteries in tactical flashlights can run down quickly so check often. While personal safety devices are valuable, they should complement other safety measures, such as route planning, awareness of surroundings, and trusting your instincts, to ensure a safe running experience.
Dress for Visibility
Staying visible means more people know you are there which improves your personal safety in just about every way possible. Always choose clothing and accessories that enhance your visibility, especially in low-light conditions or areas with traffic. Opt for bright and reflective clothing in neon or fluorescent colors, and consider gear with reflective elements like stripes. High-visibility accessories like vests, arm bands, or ankle bands can be worn over your regular attire. LED lights and wearable safety gear, such as headlamps, further increase visibility. Light-colored clothing is generally more visible, and you can add reflective tape to your gear or choose footwear with reflective elements. Don’t forget to stay visible from all angles, consider the weather, and use headlamps or handheld lights for running in darkness or on trails.
Know Safe Havens
Familiarize yourself with locations where you can seek help if necessary, such as businesses, gas stations, or public buildings. If become concerned for your safety and you are in a residential area, seek out the most well-lit houses with tell-tale signs of a family.
Listen to Music Responsibly
If you enjoy listening to music while running, use only one earbud or consider using bone-conduction headphones that allow you to hear your surroundings. If you couldn’t hear that bicycle or that person running at a faster pace coming up to pass from behind, take it as a giant flashing sign that you are not as safe as you could be. You wouldn’t run blindfolded would you, then why run intentionally deaf?
Carry ID and Emergency Contacts
Program emergency contacts into your phone, or use apps that allow you to send SOS messages or alerts with your location to trusted contacts, but again, don’t think that calling someone will get you out of immediate danger. Act first, contact second. It’s also a good idea to keep some kind of non-device-based ID or contact info on you as well. Some people carry something like a business card with “in emergency contact: ###-###-####” in a small pocket. An old driver’s license with an emergency contact number written on the back of it in permanent marker is good too. I punched a hole in the top corner of mine and keep it tied to the string on my running shorts. I put tape over the emergency number I wrote on the back to keep it from rubbing off. So far it’s lasted over two years like that.
When in Trouble, Never Give In
This is one that people don’t think about because it’s just too frightening. If someone has a weapon or threatens you with violence if you don’t enter into a vehicle or follow them to an isolated area, you may be tempted to comply in the mistaken assumption that you are saving your life. Victims tell themselves that it’s better to be alive and reason their way out of a bad situation later. Dead wrong! It’s horrible to think about, but know that if you comply, you are as good as dead. Resist with everything you have from the first moment. Put arms, legs, and feet in the way of doors to stop them from closing. Scream incessantly. Twist and squirm violently. Kick, punch, scratch, and bite like your life depends on it because it does. You may have only one chance to get away and live. Act like it.
Most of the time and in most places you will choose to run in, you will be perfectly safe. Humans have a tendency to imagine threats where there aren’t any. However, trust your instincts, keep your wits about you at all times, and be ready to act quickly. It’s better to be wrong about a situation but be safe than to fall prey to someone with ill motives. Stay safe and enjoy all the health benefits that running can bring.