I remember sitting at my desk on April 15, 2013 when my phone started ringing and multiple text messages started popping up. "Are you okay?!" I had no idea why people were asking, but I soon found out: the Boston Marathon bombing.
I was two weeks out from the Nashville Marathon, and all my loved ones knew was that I was training for a marathon, but not sure of which one. (Bless them for thinking I'm that fast...) Of course this moment is memorable for all of us, especially for runners, but for me, it stands out for an important reason: It was the first time I realized that runners weren't safe.
One thing that I love about running is that it is pure. It is (for the most part) a solo activity. Just you and the road. There's no impact to others. No hitting, blocking, punching, concussions. So when something like the traumatic event in Boston, or the abduction of Molly Tibbets on her run in Iowa, I am rocked. Something so pure and individual attacked by evil. (I can't even type this without the tears stinging my eyes.)
Attacks on runners have become much more frequent. In the past couple of years, I too have been noticeably (and scarily) followed by unwanted spectators in their creepy conversion vans. The most recent was last week, so I wanted to share my top tips for keeping us safe on the run.
- Tell someone when and where you are going. Never embark on a run without telling someone. You can even share your location with a spouse or friend through apps like Glympse or RunSafe .
- Don't share your location. (I know, sounds like I'm confused after that first tip, but stay with me.) Look at the privacy settings in your running apps (Strava, Garmin, etc.). Turn off the location, the tracking, the location, the public settings, etc. People are smart, and the wrong person could find you on your run. Closely coupled with this, be very careful about sharing your running summaries on social media, especially if your profiles are public. You are essentially advertising where you run and when.
- Run with a friend or a dog. If you've got a dog that likes to run, this is a huge deterrent since a stranger doesn't know if they bark or bite. Also, there is safety and protection in numbers. If someone sees a runner with a friend or group, they will likely pass that up for a solo runner with no support.
- Run in visible areas that you know very well. Your route should be in a non-remote, frequently traveled area that has lighting along the way. In addition, do not try a new route on your own. If you look confused or unsure, that is evident to those that are watching, and you won't know where to run (literally) if you encounter a scary situation.
- Stay aware. If you're good to run without music, do it! If you need your music or podcast, there are still some options: Run with the volume down. Run with only one earbud in, so one ear is open. Invest in some safety headphones. I am a huge advocate for Aftershokz, because they have bone conduction technology so runners can be open to what is going on around them while listening to their music. They have more than paid for themselves.
- Learn self defense. A lot of community centers and churches offer free classes, so just do a quick Google to find one in your area.
- Run facing traffic, even on sidewalks. (This is kind of a soapbox item for me, but I'll show restraint.) This is actually a traffic law, so we can keep it legal. But moreover, if you have your back to traffic rather than facing it, you can't see who is approaching. Face oncoming traffic so you can see who and what are coming your way.
- Take your phone and keep it handy. I know it's ideal to take as little gear as possible, but this is a non-negotiable. If you are ever in an emergency situation of any kind, you will want your phone. I actually even have mine pre-dialed to 911 when I'm out on a run so that a couple of quick clicks will get me on the phone with the police really quick.
- Change up your routine if at all possible. Vary the time of day that you go, vary the route that you take, vary anything that could make you trackable or predictable.
- Trust your gut! If something feels wrong, it probably is. No run is worth risking your safety. Call the police immediately if something happens to you or someone else, or if you notice anyone or anything out of the ordinary. It is important to report incidents immediately. Practice memorizing license tags or identifying characteristics of strangers so that you can recall them if needed. (I do this and it actually keeps me entertained while I run.)
I hope you found these tips helpful. Stay safe out there friends!