Some days I feel like all I hear about are runners and walkers being injured or dying while doing their favorite sport. Some things are accidental (being hit by a car or bike), some are personal (heart attacks, etc.) and some are flat out awful, unprovoked cases of attack.
Because of the recent attacks we’ve seen in the news, April, Patty, and I thought this would be a good time to discuss how to stay safe on the run. I’m sure many of the tips you’ll see will be similar, but we all live in different environments and run under different circumstances, so hopefully everyone will come away from this round up with advice that they can use. And it makes me sadder than I can say that posts like this are even necessary.
Since I have the luxury of being able to choose not to run on trails or in the dark alone, I’m not going to give any tips on that. I don’t have experience with it and I can’t make suggestions, but I’m sure that there will be plenty of posts that can. Instead, I’m going to write about a topic I am familiar with: staying safe while running in an urban environment.
First, a few obvious things:
- Dress to be seen
- Tell someone where you are going
- ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry your phone. ALWAYS.
1. Be aware of your surroundings – yes, this tip is important for everyone, but it’s particularly important when running in a busy city. Dangers can come from all directions: cars, bikes, uneven sidewalks, crowded sidewalks, tourists, bike messengers … I’ve even seen instances when stuff has been dropped from balconies above. I never run with music because often noises allow me to react before I see what I’m reacting to.
2. Know that cars will win – It doesn’t matter that the law may be on your side. If a driver decides to run a light, make an illegal turn, turn right without looking left, and any number of other crazy things that urban drivers do, if you haven’t anticipated their move, you are the one who loses. In all my years of running in the DC area, I have felt uncomfortable about my surroundings and the people in them less than a handful of times, but I have a car related scare about once a week. Thankfully, I expect drivers to do the stupid thing, so most of the time when I would have been hit if I’d expected the driver to follow the law, I was already making choices to prevent getting hit.
3. Know the area – 99% of the time, I feel completely safe on my runs. I know my area well and it’s generally a safe area. And if I’m running in DC by myself, I’m in areas where I’m more likely to trip over a tourist than be attacked. But I also know exactly where the busy roads are and where people congregate. And, yes, I have been followed before and made the choice to run straight to a busy road rather than back down a quieter road in the neighborhood. Knowing in advance what my options are allows me to stay relaxed on my runs. I also know the most likely places for cars to do stupid things and take that into account when planning my runs.
4. Respect your instincts – If something doesn’t feel right to you, respond to that. Change your route, go to a busier area and call for a ride, call the cops if you are truly worried. It’s ok to overreact a bit. I’d much rather look a bit crazy if I change my route or pick up my speed because I thought the pizza guy was following me, than to find out that it wasn’t the pizza guy.
5. Be unpredictable – There is no rhyme or reason to the time of day I run or where I go when I head out on a run. Some of this is the nature of my life – my kids and job influence when I have time, the weather and my training plan influence my route of choice that day. But some of it is that I don’t like the idea of anyone being able to anticipate exactly when and where I might be running by myself on any given day.
What do you think is the most important safety tip you’d give for runners in YOUR circumstances?