Running Scared: 5 tips to keep you safe

February 20th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Health

Running SafetyMonday morning I was out for a short recovery run after 16 miles on Sunday and around mile 2.7 a homeless man started yelling at me. I was on a part of road where I had to go straight or turn back (no side streets to take) and he was about 150 feet in front of me. His words were extremely threatening and aggressive, and the following thought process happened:

Can I outrun him?

When I turn by him my house is on that road and I don’t want him to see where I live, where else should I go? What is open at 7:30 a.m.?

If he starts to run toward me do I try to run away, or do I have something on me to fight him off with?

I ended up turning onto my street, and he came down my way a little bit and was still yelling (which I appreciated since it let me know where he was without turning around and looking!) I ran off onto a side street and immediately called the police’s non-emergency line. Thankfully nothing more serious happened, but it certainly got me thinking about how safe I am when I go out for runs.

Last October I wrote an article on running safety tips after one of the women in my marathon training group was hit by a car on her run. This incident on my run Monday has inspired me to re-share some of those tips, and add a few new ones.

1. Run against traffic. It amazes me how many people I see running with traffic. The rule of the road is run against it, and it helps you keep an eye on oncoming cars better.

2. Don’t use headphones. I know this wont be a popular opinion, but I really don’t give a shit about being popular. Running without headphones allows me to hear cars coming around a corner before I see them, and I can hear if someone is coming up behind me. These are two pretty important things you need to be able to do to stay safe while running.

3. Carry your phone and some form of ID. I take my phone on every single run. When I first got my garmin I thought it would be nice not having my iPhone on my arm anymore (since I used to use RunKeeper) but I don’t feel safe without having my phone on me. I’ve tripped and banged myself up pretty badly, and almost had to call someone to come get me. It’s also handy if you have some creeper harassing you so you can call the police (btw – find out your local police departments non-emergency line and put it in your phone NOW.)

4. Know the names of the streets you often run on. When I called the police and they asked me where the man was my mind went completely blank. I rattled off what I thought were the two streets that intersected where it happened but they called me back a minute later to say those streets don’t intersect! If you are injured, or need emergency assistance for any reason, you likely won’t be thinking clearly and you need to know where to tell people to find you.

5. Vary up your route and the time you run. I’ve had people in the neighborhood comment on how they always see me on certain days/times, and I know they don’t mean anything by it, but some people may see my pattern of behavior as an opportunity. Don’t let them get that opportunity.

Finally – if you run at night always wear a light, if you really feel unsafe consider running with pepper spray, and if something doesn’t feel right listen to your gut!

Have any other safety tips to add?
Have you ever had anything happen to you on a run?

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12 Responses

  • Katie H. says:

    How scary! I run with my phone, too, for the same reasons. Last year, there was a lady who was assaulted, thrown into a car, and forced at gunpoint to withdraw money from an ATM out on the running trail where I do almost all of my long runs. It really shook me up. Since then, I’ve stuck to well-lit roads if I’m running before dawn, and make sure I tell my husband or my mom exactly where I’m planning to go on my run each day.

  • Caroline says:

    When I run I only run with one headphone in, and it’s turned down enough that I can still hear someone walking or running up behind me. To me, this is a win win- listening to a podcast and being able to hear everything around me! I don’t post my routes anywhere online at all- i think that’s just dangerous. Glad things stayed safe for you on your run!

  • Oh man, so glad you’re ok. I like the idea of knowing street names. I am SOOOO with you on no headphones, not even the single earbud. It’s still a distraction. I always carry mace with me and actually practice putting my finger on the button and pulling it out. And when I was almost attacked by a dog, I had that mace out ready to spray immediately. I’ve had a few very scary incidents happen so I try to be hyper aware when I’m out for a run.

    • Erica House says:

      I honestly think I’m more worried about something happening with dogs on my run than people. I’m SUCH an animal lover it would take a dog/cat having to actually maul me first before I’d hurt it. By then I’m sure it would be to late and I’ll die of rabies on the side of the road.

  • How scary!! I’m so glad you are ok! These are great tips. I never run with headphones in b/c I’m afraid of that happening!

  • Cassandra says:

    I’m so glad the crazy homeless guy didn’t end up being an awful situation for you. Thanks for the tips & safety reminders. In addition to or as an alternative to pepper spray, I would encourage a little panic alarm or a kubotan. I was (accidentally!) pepper sprayed once and it taught me a lot about how quickly that stuff spreads…even back to the person who sprays it. You also have to consider the time it takes to pull it out, pull off the cap, and aim it at someone. I don’t personally have ninja-fast reflexes, so for me, pepper spray provides a false sense of security. I would also add on to your list to trust your instincts! So, so important.

    • Erica House says:

      Yes, pepper spray can be very unpredictable. I do have a panic alarm but I wonder if the person wouldn’t just try to rip it off of me. I wish stun guns weren’t so heavy, but even those would take some maneuvering to get out and use quickly enough. There’s just no easy solutions!

  • Leslie says:

    When I used to run longer distances often out in the boonies, a guy with a carseat in the back(!) slowed and started following yelling catcalls. No sidestreets but traffic picked up & he eventually drove off. Prompted me to take martial arts training and most important take away from that has been always be aware of surroundings and people: better to avoid trouble than deal with it. Glad you didn’t have to deal directly with that guy. Male runners are astonished when I share experience and tell them background fear is there all the time for female runners; detracts from bliss of trail running, something I never do alone anymore.

    • Erica House says:

      I’ve definitely been searching around Pensacola for some self defense courses. I think that learning how to react in those types of situations would be far more valuable/practical than trying to lug around an arsenal of self-defense tools!

  • Great tips – Sorry to hear you were chased! :O