Running is a relatively safe sport. But it doesn’t mean that you’re completely out of harm’s way when logging the miles. In fact, outdoor settings pose inherent dangers to runners.
This is the case whether you run in a stadium, a park, a remote trail, a quiet neighborhood, or inside urban areas. There are dangers lurking literally around every corner and intersection.
I don’t want to sound paranoid, but it’s a fact of life. What matters most is what you can do about it right now.
Would you like to learn how to make outdoor running much safer? Then you’ve come to the right place.
In today’s post, I’m addressing several topics associated with staying safe while running. I’m also outlining a simple list of standard outdoor running safety tips. If you abide by them, running can be a great way to get and stay in shape while staying as safe as possible.
Have situational awareness
This is the cardinal rule of safety.
If you follow this rule, you’ll drastically reduce the risks of getting yourself in trouble, be it an attack, a car accident, or tripping over an obstacle.
I call this the “360° Awareness Circle” skill, and here’s how to practice it:
Begin by being aware of your surroundings. Make it a rule to always know what’s going on around you. Look straight ahead of you, and keep checking your sides every now and then.
Avoid quiet alleys, dark parks, unpopulated areas, overgrown trails, deserted streets, and the sort. Instead, stick to busier streets, staying on the left side of the road—preferably under a streetlight— the entire time.
Keep Your Ears Open
Research shows that running with music can improve training performance and consistency. But the downside is that it cuts you off from your environment.
You won’t be able to hear oncoming cars, cyclists, or, God forbid, the footsteps of a malicious person sneaking up behind you.
Research conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore showed that incident involving pedestrians wearing headphones had increased 300 percent in less than six years, with over 70 percent of the incidents resulting in fatalities
In case you LOVE your music (just like I do), then at least, be sure to run with one earbud in or with the volume low enough to be able to hear what’s going on around you.
Running solo? At least leave a word about the route you’re running and roughly how long you’ll be gone.
Tell your roommate, partner, or friends where you will be running, and the approximate time they should expect you to be back. Once you’re back home, be sure to touch base and let them know that you are safe and sound.
Avoid Running Alone
Two runners, or more, are harder to control than a solo strider, so you’re less likely to get attacked.
Also, by running with a partner, you’ll have an extra set of ears and eyes to for anything strange and/or out of place.
If you can’t get anyone to run with you, then join a running club (make new friends), or get a dog to run with. A dog—a big one—makes you a less appealing target; plus, dogs can often sense danger before we can.
Carry your personal identification with you, such as a driver’s license or an ID card. Put it in your pocket or handbag, use an ID bracelet, or wear an ID tag on your running shoes.
Also, write your name, address, a list of emergency contacts, blood type, and any other medical information on the inside of your running shoes.
In other words, don’t be a John, or Jane, Doe.
Have Cash on
Along with ID tag, have some cash or a credit card in your pocket or shoe.
You may need to get something tasty to eat, coffee, or cab fare to get you home because the weather has taken the wrong turn, you got lost, or you just sprained your ankle and can’t step on it without feeling excoriating pain.
Vary your Routes
This tip might make you feel like a CIA secret agent conducting a clandestine operation in a hostile country, but it’s something you should consider doing.
And here’s why. Sticking to a rigid running routine creates a sort of predictable pattern for creepers and stalkers to track you.
Alter your running routine by running a few different routes and at different times throughout the week to keep it random. If that can’t be done, then feel free to run your typical running route backward.
Be Traffic Smart
Roughly 80,000 pedestrians get injured each year by cars in the U.S., and the risks of being struck increase 10-fold after dark, according to the Center for Diseases Control.
The number of fatalities is also huge. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 4800 pedestrians sustained fatal injuries in traffic crashes in the U.S. in 2015.
But how do these numbers relate to running? Actually, runners are also pedestrians—may be pedestrians on steroids.
Here’s how to stay safe on the road.
Run Against Traffic
By facing traffic, you’ll have a clear view of oncoming cars in case you need to perform any last-minute evasive maneuver. The only exception is when you’re about to reach a blind corner where visibility is poor.
If you cannot see around it, neither is the driver coming the other way. Cross to the right side of the road, and stay as far to the right as possible.
Do not assume that a driver is paying attention to the road. Instead, imagine that every driver is busy texting, talking on the phone, listening to the radio, or just lost in thoughts. Run defensively.
Cross The Right Way
Do not cross a road in between parked cars, at the front or back of buses and large vehicles, or the middle of a block, especially on high-speed roads. Instead, cross at areas specified for pedestrian crossings. These are typically found at road intersections.
Don’t Trust Drivers
At intersections, keep an eye for turning vehicles before you step out of the curb. In some cities, a vehicle may turn right on a red traffic light at most intersections—that’s something I had to learn the hard way during my last stay in Jakarta.
Don’t Try to Outpace a Vehicle
Even if you’re an elite sprinter, you’re no match for the size and speed of a vehicle. If you and a motored vehicle are both approaching an intersection, stop, and let the vehicle pass first.
Run in Well-lit and Populated Areas
Running down dark paths is asking for trouble. This is especially the case if you are trail running junkie. In fact, trails are not recommended for night running. Poor visibility, ankle sprains, uneven surfaces, wild animals; you know the risks.
As a rule of thumb, stick to well-lit and busier venues, preferably areas that are lit by streetlamps. This is the safest bet. For some of you, this option might sound boring, but I’d rather be a bored runner, than end up in the emergency room, or worse, the morgue.
One measure you can take to reduce the risk of accidents to be as visible as possible. This is especially the case when you run in the dark—whether it’s early in the morning or late at night. One way to improve your visibility is to use the right clothing and accessories. Here’s what to look for.
The Right Clothing
Choose clothing designed for the night-conscious runner. These almost always have a sort of reflective bit in them, typically plenty of neon, light-reflecting properties.
Reflectors Around your Joints
Strap on a few reflectors around your joints, mainly your shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles. This not only makes you stand out but also tells the driver which direction you’re heading.
This helps cut through the darkness just like a hot knife through butter, helping you pick the safest route while putting an end to visibility issues—the main source of trouble during night time running.
Deal with Dogs The Right Way
I’m not a big fan of dogs, and my heart jumps a beat whenever I hear a dog barking when I’m running. Guard dogs are the worst—even chained.
In case you encounter any vicious dog while running, stop running on the spot. Don’t try to run away. This will only set off the dog, and as you know, most dogs will be able to outrun a runner anytime.
Avoid eye contact—you’ll be considered a threat when you stare at a dog, and don’t make any sudden movements. Next, in a calm and commanding voice, say, “Sit,” “Stop,” or “Go home,” while slowly backing away.
Don’t Stand Out
Diamonds are a woman’s best friend, as the saying goes, but not during your runs as they attract nothing but attention—the wrong type of attention.
Don’t be a show-off. Leave your fancy rings, earrings, watch, whatever, back at home. Be as boring as possible.
If you have to carry money, then make it just a few bucks—enough for transport, a bottle of water, or a light snack. You don’t know who is lurking in the shadows waiting for their next victim.
The best way to deal with verbal harassment is to ignore it and keep on moving. It takes two to have an argument, so don’t be one of them.
These types of qualms usually lead to no good and can be prevented by just making the right decision. When you choose the higher road, you’re leaving the other person with no choice but to retreat and stop.
If push comes to shove and there’s no way avoid a physical altercation, then, at very least, know a few self-defense moves to ward off an attacker and stay safe.
Here are five surprisingly simple yet very effective self-defense moves.
Move 1 – Shout And Push
The first self-defense move is to be a loud victim.
Bad guys don’t want an audience. They’re not looking to cause a scene. They’re instead hunting for easy prey.
Whenever somebody approaches you in a way that makes you feel unsafe or uneasy, or it’s clear that escape is not an option, instead of asking ‘what you want?’ Shout ‘Stay Back,’ ‘Don’t get near me’ or ‘Don’t touch me.’
Yelling these phrases can help grab attention and gather witnesses who can interfere, call 911, or assist with any police report that’s being filed.
Move 2 – Kick the Groin
If the situation escalates, then the first area you should attack is the groin. This is a well-known weak point, not just for men, but for women too, so if you have the opportunity, use it.
Thanks to the nerve endings in the groin area, a good kick will paralyze the attacker, and that will give you enough space and time to escape to safety.
Using the force of your entire body, kick hard or bring your knee sharply into the groin of the assailant. Make sure the hit is straightforward, sharp, and as strong as possible.
You can also smash your knee into their nose once the attacker is doubled up. Sounds brutal for, but that’s what’s going to get you to safety as quickly as possible.
Move 3 – Open Hand Strike
This simple technique is more effective to prevent hurting yourself as in breaking your wrist, hand, etc. The move also targets one of the most vulnerable areas around a person’s head—the nose.
Again, proper execution is key. The open hand strike is best delivered when you’re roughly arm-distance away from your attacker.
To complete it, you’ll want to strike your opponent with an open palm, pushing up on the nose with the bottom of your dominant hand, and driving from the ground with your feet.
Move 4 – Knee Strike
Although the knee is a less sensitive area than the ones mentioned above, this joint is vulnerable from every angle and easily kicked without risking getting your foot grabbed.
Hitting the knees will give you the opportunity to escape or open up to more attacks. It might also stop the attacker from running after you.
Kick soccer style with the instep of your foot, using your entire body weight. Remember, large forces are needed to fracture the knee joint and cause serious damage. Don’t hold back.
Move 5 – Elbow Strike
The signature move of Muay Thai, the elbow strike, is a powerful strike to add to your self-defense arsenal.
The elbows are some of the hard parts of your body that not only can cause real damage but also stand up to impact well. That’s why it’s often used to inflict serious damage. Put it to your advantage.
When executed the right way, elbow strikes can be painful enough to ward off any offender. You can hit the assailant in the ribs, groin, sternum, or the face using the front of the forearm and upper and full body force.
Safety Apps For Runners
As long as you are taking your Smart Phone with you, take advantage of the following apps to help you stay safe when running outdoors.
A personal GPS tracker app that allows you to enter your intended running route and the time you expect to be back home. If you don’t touch base within the due time, this app notifies your pre-set emergency contact by e-mail or text message, providing your exact GPS location.
A free app that sets off a sharp alarm and flashes vivid colors to seize the attention of other people who might be nearby. It’s like a siren on demand.
With one touch of a button, this app triggers off a siren, starts recording video, notifies authorities and contacts your pre-set emergency contact, providing them with your exact GPS location.
Follow your Instinct
We’re born with a set of instincts—the by-products of million years of evolution—and most of the time, these primitive drivers know what’s best for us.
So, if a given street or path is giving you the heebie-jeebies, run in the other direction. These include high-speed zones, busy intersections, narrow roads, unlit roads, etc. Do not second guess your own intuition.
Don’t hesitate about alerting the authorities. Call the police in case you notice anything suspicious, whether it’ s person, a car, a situation, you name it. You might end up saving someone else by doing so.
In other words, if you see something, say something.