Recently, it made the news that a young woman was brutally assaulted and murdered while running in Queens, New York. Tragedies like that are horrific and shake many of us female runners to our very core. What if that happened where I live?
I abhor the general advice that tells female runners to not run outside alone for safety. This advice perpetuates two mindsets I personally despise: (1) that I am a weak woman who requires a defender, and (2) that all men are out to rape me, which is sexist against men and assumes the worst in the other gender.
Both of those mindsets are BS: we are women, while not as strong as men because we don’t have testosterone, aren’t inherently weak, and most men are not out with the goal to attack a woman.
Plus, how realistic is it actually to tell a runner just to not run outside by herself?
Granted, I live in an area with incredibly low murder and rape rates – the scariest thing that has ever happened on a run here was when a possum jumped out of a small bush at me (updated: a rooster chased me and that was terrifying). I’m grateful that we live in a safe area, but I still practice safety on my runs because unfortunately an attack can happen anywhere.
Ultimately, staying safe on a run doesn’t come down to always running inside (unless you live in a truly dangerous area); rather, try these realistic safety tips for female runners to be prepared for what will hopefully never happen on a run.
Realistic Safety Tips for Female Runners
Ditch the headphones.
Music or podcasts may be entertaining, but they reduce your awareness of your surroundings. Many types of headphones, especially wireless ones, are noise-blocking. You get distracted by your music and podcast, which means you are distracted from what is around. Additionally, headphones indicate a lack of awareness to others – meaning a potential attacker may see you as more of an easy target than another runner who isn’t plugged in.
Running without headphones is especially important if you are running in the dark when your field of vision is comprised. Unplugging will let you hear the slightest rustle of the bushes – which will likely just be a possum, but it’s better to be safe and aware than sorry.
Have an assertive presence.
Run tall, swing your arms strong, and gaze ahead of you. Assess your surroundings every few yards and look forward with a firm, assertive gaze. Don’t hunch over, look like you’re lost, or appear to be day-dreaming. Statistics indicate that attackers will target those who look insecure and vulnerable – which makes sense when you think about it.
Carry something on you that you can use to fight back.
I am not one to advocate violence unless it is in the situation of self-defense. If someone is attacking you, it is the morally just and necessary action to take – for your safety and the safety of others – to fight back.
Runner’s mace straps onto your hand or your SPIbelt/Flipbelt. A pocket knife discreetly slips into the pockets of many shorts. Companies even make claw-like contraptions for female runners wear on their hands. Whatever you choose, carry something with you on a run to be able to protect yourself from an attacker or a vicious animal.
While some people argue that these items can be used against you, I would rather take that risk than be caught defenseless. That said, you must be confident in your ability to use a self-defense weapon. Don’t rely on the excuse that you don’t know how to use mace or a pocket knife- teach yourself how to use it.
Build upper body strength.
A stronger upper body means you will have a better chance at fighting back against an attacker. Strong arms can throw effective punches and jabs and resist against an attacker if the worst were to happen on a run.
I roll my eyes every time I hear women say they don’t want to lift because they’re worried about looking bulky. Besides the fact that women do not have enough testosterone to get bulky without manipulating their diet and weight lifting to the extreme, I’d rather be more muscular and capable of defending myself than be skinny and fragile.
That’s not to mention that lifting heavy weights makes you a better runner and is good for your overall health and well-being. Try one of these upper body workouts for runners or, when in doubt, stick to simple bodyweight push ups and pull ups.
Take a self-defense class.
Being physically and mentally able to fight back increases your chances of escaping an assault. Learn how to fight back by enrolling in a self-defense class or learning some basic self-defense moves. Learning self-defense will enable you to practice those moves in the worst case scenario and give you the confidence you need on a run.
Let someone know when and where you are running.
Text your significant other or close friend (ideally someone who lives nearby) to tell them when you are starting your run, where you are running, and for how long you anticipate running. Once you finish, text them to let them know you are done.
Don’t share your routes on social media.
Mark that privacy setting on Strava or Runkeeper to keep your exact route private and don’t geo-tag your running photos on Instagram or Facebook. You never know what type of creepers are out there on the internet; what’s even worse, many assault cases occur from someone a person knows, so even sharing your route with friends (whether real or virtual) can be risky.
Mix up your routes.
I have at least three different running routes I alternate amongst during a training week. Not only is the variety of terrain good for my muscles and the different scenery good for my brain, but that way no creeper can know that I run by a certain place every weekday morning.
If you have no option but to run the same route, then try to run it in a different direction or at a slightly different time of day (even just 10 minutes earlier or later) to remove predictability from your routine.
Use Common Sense
If it’s late at night and you live in an area with violent crime rates, then don’t go running on an empty road with dark allies. Heavily wooded areas and marshes can be dangerous also at night since there is cover in which an attack can hide.
If you live in a wealthy neighborhood, don’t let this make you think you are completely safe – a person can commit a violent crime regardless of their class. This is not to scare you, but thinking you are completely immune is not a good mindset. No matter where you live, you should be aware of your surroundings when you run and able to defend yourself – even if the worst is unlikely to happen.
Carry your phone with you.
Having your phone on you allows you to call 911 immediately if an attack happens, and camera phones also equip you with the ability to identify your attacker. If something happens, you can call 911 and snap a photo of the attacker. If someone follows you in a car, take a photo of their license plate so you can report their behavior.
Don’t let fear rule your life
Don’t let stories of violent crimes keep you from going out there. You should always exercise prudence – don’t run at night alone in a dangerous neighborhood – but don’t stop participating in a healthy and enjoyable activity because of fear. You don’t stop traveling because of terrorist attacks or stop seeing movies in theaters because of horrific shootings.
By allowing a few assholes in the world to dictate how you live your life, you’re letting them win.
(To anyone suffering from PTSD or struggling after an assault on a run: I am not saying that to be insensitive to you. You have my deepest sympathy for anything you may have encountered.)
If something happens to you:
Report it to the police immediately. An assault is not your fault – do not let anyone convince you so. Do not keep it a secret because you are ashamed or fearful. Assault is a crime and must be treated as such.
What would you add to this list?
How do you stay safe as a female runner?