I’ll be honest, I've always been a bit of a lone runner. It’s my freedom, my “me” time. As much as I enjoy running in a group with friends from time to time, running alone is my way to de-stress. The time I have alone while running is the perfect time to process all the thoughts in my head. However, running alone also brings its challenges, like personal safety.
I first wrote this post a few years ago after coming across a number of stories in the press about women's safety while out running alone. However, with the recent pandemic surrounding COVID-19, and the social distancing restrictions this has unexpectedly brought, I've chosen to update and re-post it due to its relevance.
Those of us who are used to exercising with friends or with a running club, have found that we've been given no choice but to run alone during these times. Adding to that the fact that many gyms have been closed, where the safety of an indoor treadmill may have once been your norm, many have now been forced out of their comfort zones with no choice but to run outdoors, an incredibly daunting task for some.
Although I am lucky to live in a relatively safe place where running alone is not seen as unsafe, I realise that not everybody has that luxury. And that no matter where we live, we should always be aware of our surroundings, and take our safety seriously.
A survey back in 2017 called Running While Female showed that a staggering 43% of women have encountered some form of harassment while running. That’s a shockingly large number. And it made me wonder about my own safety and what all of us can do to be safer runners.
“ Fear should never stop us from doing something we love”
One news article in America that I came across a while ago really stuck with me, it's the reason I wrote this post in the first place, as it really got me thinking. In February 2017, Kelly Herron, a 36 year old runner, was attacked mid-run in Seattle’s Golden Gardens Park, after stopping for a quick bathroom break in the public toilets. Kelly very bravely fought off her attacker using techniques she had learnt from self-defense classes, something that she later said was a credit to her survival. You can read her full story here: Runners World.
This story seriously highlighted the fact that lone runners (particularly female), are being seen as easy and vulnerable targets for harassment. Many of us (women and even men), could be putting ourselves at unnecessary risk without realising the consequences.
How to stay safe while running
With recent events throughout 2020 surrounding the COVID-19 virus, many runners who are used to running with friends, have found themselves having to train alone. Not only can this be de-motivating, it could be seen as a safety risk. With a little extra thought before our next run, there’s a few things we can all do to be safer runners.
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 unfamiliar areas. Try to avoid running in quiet, desolate or dimly lit areas. Choose places that are busy with other people or other runners such as local parks.
Avoid running after dark
Run only during daylight hours if possible, and if a busy schedule means you can’t, try to stick to well lit roads or paths. We shouldn’t be afraid of the places that we run, but after dark we must be more cautious. Wear reflective clothes and a head torch. If you must run along a section of road without a path after dark, run against the flow of the traffic so you can see what's coming towards you.
Tell somebody where you are going
It’s a good idea if somebody knows where and when 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 run.
Run with other people
Obviously it is always safer to run with others. Normally I would advise people to check out local park runs, running groups or clubs in their area. But with the recent restrictions surrounding COVID-19 and social distancing, it's not been possible or appropriate at this given time. However, if it is an option where you live, by running in smaller groups of 2 or 3 it is easier to keep a respectable distance from each other. If like me you prefer running alone, you could always arrange to meet a running buddy half-way along your route.
Alternate your running routes
Don’t be predictable by always taking the same route. Alternate the roads or paths you take, but make sure to plan ahead and know where you are going. If you're using a running app such Strava, be aware that unless you have restricted your privacy settings, anyone can view your running route on the app or website, so be cautious and mindful of this.
Know the route you are taking
I don't always plan my exact routes ahead, but it's good to have a rough idea of where you'll be running. If you become lost or appear to be confused and unaware of your surroundings, it can make you look like a vulnerable target. If I’m running a new route, I study it on Google maps so it becomes familiar in my head and I know what’s in the area if I happen to become lost or find myself in danger.
Carry your phone with you
You never know when you might need it. Most running clothes have specially adapted pockets, or try using a running armband. Amazon have a really good selection of running armbands and at very reasonable prices.
Don’t run with headphones
I have to admit, I do often go out running with music. And I know many runners who use music as their motivation, I know there will be some of you who just can't run without it. If you have to wear headphones, think about the volume of your music. If it's too high it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and become unaware of your surroundings and what's going on around you.
Think about what you are wearing
If you have to run when it’s dark, wear reflective clothing or a flashlight. When I'm running early morning before the sun is up, I use these flashing armbands from Amazon which fasten with velcro, and I try to stick to well lit paths. If you have long hair try to avoid wearing it as a ponytail. This can be easy for an attacker to grab from behind, consider tying it up in a bun instead.
Use your intuition
If you come across a person, group of people or situation that doesn’t seem right, change your route, direction or cross the street to avoid it. Always trust your gut instinct to tell you when something just isn’t right. Better to be safe than sorry.
"Always trust your gut instinct to tell you when something isn't right."
Take some self-defense classes
If you can’t find a class near to you, there’s many videos you can find online demonstrating some self-defense techniques. I watched this one recently: How To Stay Safe On The Run. Whilst we always like to think that it will never happen to us, and the likelihood of an attack is low, it’s so much better to be prepared and know that you have some knowledge of how to defend yourself if needed.
There were two things that struck me most about Kelly Herron’s story. Her determination to not let her attacker ruin what she loves doing — running. And the importance she placed on the self-defense class that helped her fight off her attacker.
Fear should never stop us from doing something we love. A little bit of extra thought and planning can help us become more safety-conscious runners. By using common sense and even learning a few self-defense techniques, we can all learn to protect ourselves and feel safer while running alone.
Did you enjoy reading this? Please check out my other posts, I'm mostly posting content around vegan food and fitness. You might also find my free vegan ebook guides useful, as well as my yummy vegan recipes. Enjoy!