Realistic Safety Tips for Female Runners

Realistic Safety Tips for Female Runners

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

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. 

Realistic Safety Tips for Female Runners

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. 

Mile Markers: Week in Running and Hiking for July 18-24

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?

 

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24 Responses

    1. Thank you, Lisa. You should look into a self-defense class! Most martial arts studios offer them and you can take a long day class or a several week seminar. I’m probably signing up for one soon!

    1. A whistle is a good idea!! Something to make noise if possible. I’ve considering getting a personal alarm and just loading up my shorts pockets with ALL the safety gear.

  1. Thanks for sharing this! Dan actually sent me the article about the attack in Queens and another in Massachusetts as well. I’ll have to forward this to him so he won’t be afraid about me running!

    1. I’m glad you found it useful Gretchen – you should send it to your husband. We can’t hide inside because of these horrific tragedies. The necessary safety precautions are important – especially running without headphones, on a safe route, and with a self-defense item – but if we stopped doing things because of tragedies we would never get on an airplane, travel abroad, see a movie in a theater, go to a mall, attend church, hike, cycle, or run.

  2. Ugh. These stories. I think about them a lot, more so now that I’m running early in the morning when no one is around. It’s a rock and a hard place – I don’t want to be the next victim, but I also know that I can’t let fear dictate my life, otherwise the bad guys win and nothing ever changes. This time of year is especially iffy – it’s summer in the city, so crime rates skyrocket. But I think city running also works in my favor – safety in numbers, especially if I run in the evening when businesses are open, traffic is heavy and people are out and about. I actually often feel safer running in the city for this reason. It’s also my dumb luck that there is a police station among one of my routes (the one that feels least safe in the AM). It’s a sobering reminder that while I do a lot of these things you mention there is still so much more I could and should do. Great post!

    1. I agree – it is a rock and a hard place, but we can’t let evil people dictate the way of the world. Otherwise, we might as well never travel to France, get on an airplane, or go to a college campus – because there have been attacks at those places more than once and there’s always a risk afterward. Crime is more prevalent in the summer – heat makes people crazy. That is good that you’re by a police station!

  3. There are so many disturbed people living in the world these days but it’s not right to spend every day living in fear because of the what-ifs. Thanks for sharing these safety tips, I’ll be sharing it with others for sure.

    1. There are – and the sad thing is, there always have been and there will be – but that doesn’t mean we need to shape our lives around the possibility of them. Thank you for sharing – spread the word and stay safe out there!

  4. you know how I feel about this! while the news this week was scary, I can’t let it stop me from running outside. I do need to get the mace for sure even though yes, I run in a safe area. I can never be too safe. I think I saw a possum last week and that totally scared me lol.

    1. You can’t – there’s a lot of things in the world to be afraid of but we can’t let that fear consume and limit us. Get mace – they last for a couple years and are well worth the $20 and couple of ounces.
      Also possums are so scary creatures to encounter – I honestly worry about animals attacking me more than people! Except one time I saw a dying one and it made me so incredibly sad.

  5. Oooooh, Laura. Fantastic post!! Nicely done. Okay so, I’ve never really been afraid of people, but I’ve really struggled with a fear of farm dogs and I used to carry pepper spray with me on my long runs. But then I noticed that having the pepper spray in my hands was actually keeping my anxiety levels up too high, so I ditched it, and just stayed away from really remote farm areas unless I was with a group of people. As for people, I’ve had only a couple close encounters over the span of the 20 years that I’ve been a runner. One of them was very, VERY scary, and the only reason that I didn’t get assaulted was because I had my phone and dialed 911 right there while the guy was standing in front of me. He ended up being wanted for repeated sexual assault in the area. ALWAYS CARRY A PHONE.

    1. Thank you, Suzy! I found that watching a bunch of videos on how to use pepper spray made me less anxious about carrying it – I even “practiced” (without actually firing it). And yes, always carry a phone!!!

  6. My family definitely worries about this (and depending on the situation, so do I), so I really appreciate this. When I left home to go to college in an area with admittedly much higher crime, my police officer uncle gave me a bunch of options (whistle, knife, pepper spray, etc.) and made sure I knew how to use them most effectively. I do really want to find a good self defense class, too!

    1. That’s great how your uncle taught you how to use those options – all of them are excellent self-defense tools! Most martial arts studios offer self-defense classes – and if they don’t list them, you can call and inquire, since many also offer private lessons.

    1. Thank you, Jesica. I’m devastated for these women also – I’ve been keeping them and their families in my prayers, and it’s my hope that blogs like ours can provide some information that may save others in the future.

  7. These are all such great suggestions! Of course I agree that we are not going to stay indoors because something “might” happen. With that mindset, no one would go anywhere at anytime. I use as much caution as possible and, even started carrying my mace in broad daylight. Sad but, when your husband begs you too, you kinda have to give in. I also always switch up my routes and tell someone where I’m going. I usually remind my husband that my watch has a trackable GPS too!!
    Really great comprehensive list Laura. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I agree so much – we wouldn’t travel, go to the movies, attend school, go to a mall, anything if we lived in fear of what might happen. It is sad how we have to carry mace in broad daylight.
      That’s so cool that your watch has trackable GPS – is it the Fenix that has that? I tried Road ID App once for a trackable GPS and Ryan called me in a panic because the app glitched and said I hadn’t moved in several minutes, so I stopped using that. I read that Strava added a feature called a Beacon or tracking, but it’s only for subscribers. I will have to look for trackable GPS on a watch as I shop around for a new one, thank you Allie!

  8. Laura, this comprehensive list of tips should give women runners great peach of mind, and I love the “reasonable” tone of the post. My wife and I have a travel blog and we wrote a post on “Tips for Running While You Travel.” We mentioned your informative post and provided a link to your blog. Thanks. James & Terri @ Gallivance.net

  9. This is definitely a more reasonable set of tips than most…any list that includes “don’t run alone”, and as you know there are many, was obviously written by someone who had a cranial-rectal inversion! (Who always has a running partner available who runs the same pace and has the same schedule? Nobody I have ever met, that’s for sure.) I’m still not a fan of “always carry your phone”, partly because phones now are so big and awkward in a pocket and partly because running is my time to get AWAY from other people’s demands for my attention not take them with me. That said, if I am on a long trail run I’ll stick it in my vest pack…in airplane mode.

    1. Thank you! I do wonder who has the luxury of schedule to always run with someone else and am quite peeved when I see that suggested (especially by male runners/male coaches).

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