No matter the time of year, sometimes we find ourselves running in the dark. Sometimes we run in the early summer mornings to beat the heat. And during the colder months, it is dark by the time our workdays are over and we can lace up our running shoes. Although running makes me feel invincible, I know I’m not. Here’s how I take care of myself. And I hope you can use a few of these to your advantage as well.
Reassess your use of headphones. I know this isn’t going to be popular. And I would have balked big time when I was just starting out. But you may not want to run with headphones. Not only do they prevent you from hearing traffic and/or potential assailants, they also create the perception that you are distracted. And, a lot of times when I listen to music, I am. If you have to have something going on to distract you from the discomfort of running, the best scenario would be to wear only one earbud (that’s what I usually do). I make sure that I have the ear closest to the street clear of distractions. Also keep the volume at a level that you could hold a conversation to make sure you hear traffic and other runners.
Run with a buddy. I know this isn’t always possible, but take advantage of a running partner or group of runners if you can. I know we’ve heard it a million times, but there is safety in numbers. Even if you run different paces, having someone else that you know within your line of vision can be helpful if you are put in a confrontation or have a medical emergency.
Run in well-lit areas. I know well-lit areas aren’t always our favorites. One of my favorite areas isn’t well lit. Even though it isn’t a problem in the summer, I don’t run there alone in the winter. Because I don’t know what I’ll come up on. Man or beast. There is a lot of construction. A lot of partially-built houses. It just makes me nervous alone in the dark. The well-lit neighborhood is much hillier, but it is where I stick to when it is dark.
Avoid routine. Don’t run the same route on a schedule. If you run the same route at the same time on the same days, assailants would know when to expect you. They could research when to attack and where to hide. I really try to vary my routes, not just for boredom but to prevent any sort of predictability. Even within the same neighborhood, I’ll run a different route of side streets and zig zag through courtyards with no streets. Just to make myself difficult to follow. (And I really like the courtyards too.)
Carry a cell phone. You never know what will happen on a run. You may need to make contact with someone else for your own safety or someone else’s. A few winters ago, I came upon a man laying in aI wasn’t carrying a cell phone. I ended up chasing down another runner and holding her dog while she ran a little way home to get her cell phone and then call 911. I have had a cell phone on every run since. Also having the option to call someone at the first sign of perceived danger can be invaluable.
Tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. I have to admit, I have a hard time with this one. I tend to be a “run where my gut tells me to run” kinda girl. When I leave to run, my husband always knows the general area I’ll be running in (we have several neighborhood options) and how long I expect to be gone. He always waits until I am home to shower. If I run at work, I let someone know. Just a simple, “I’m going to go run around campus! I’ll be back in an hour!” Just so someone knows my general location in case I don’t make it back. Not that someone should worry if you were 15 minutes late, but if you don’t come home for several hours, someone needs to notice.
Carry a whistle or pepper spray. I carry a whistle on my keys at all times, and they are part of what I carry with me when I run. It is loud and shrill and someone would hear it. I don’t have any experience with pepper spray, but think it is probably a good idea.
Don’t approach a stopped car. If a driver stops you to ask you directions (that is so frustrating for me!) KEEP RUNNING. You can address them if you want, but don’t stop and go towards the car. Point. Shrug. Give directions in a loud voice while moving.
Trust your gut. If your intuition tells you to turn around and run the other way, do it. Don’t be stubborn. Cut a run short if you have to. Trust your gut. I had a really scary experience a few years ago. It was an odd warm February day. It was not dark. I ran a short 2-mile out and back through a well-populated neighborhood. I noticed a little black 2-door hatchback car just sitting on the side of the street. The only reason I noticed it was because I remembered that my cousin used to have a car like it. A few minutes later, I saw it again. And it made me uneasy. Even though I planned on doing another loop to double the distance I’d already ran, I decided to go on home. As I made my final turn to head back to my house, I saw the car a third time. And, honestly, I didn’t get scared, I got confident and a little angry. I didn’t want the driver to know where I lived, so I refused to go in my house. I picked a nice green grassy spot a few doors down and just sat there. It was a nice warm day and at any point I had a dozen people in my vision. I know I should have called the police, but I didn’t. I sat there and watched the car drive around the block, park, drive around the block, park, repeat for at least 20 minutes. I just sat there, in the grass, giving dirty looks, until my husband got back from his run. When I saw my husband running up, I explained the situation and wanted to confront the car. And it was gone. We made several loops on foot looking for the car, but it was gone. I still think about that sometimes. I’ll be out running and think of what I would do if I saw that car again. I would call the police first thing. I look for safety. And I try really hard to be smart.
Be as alert in the daytime as you are in the dark. Stay vigilant. Day or night. Attackers have an advantage in darkness, but that isn’t the only time they strike.
Please don’t let these tips freak you out or keep you inside. Use them to be proactive and protect yourself. Just like we are all trained to be defensive drivers, we should be defensive runners as well. And just like I know what to do in a skid but hope I never have to use that knowledge, I want to have a similar skill set for running. We don’t need to be paranoid, but we need to be prepared.
Stay safe out there, friends. If you have any other tips for personal safety (or a story to remind us why personal safety is so important), throw them in the comments.