Springtime means warmer temps and longer days- which means longer outdoor workouts, bike rides, and of course, outside runs. It’s a great time to hit the track, the trails, or the roads, and see how the legs feel unencumbered by layers of warm-weather clothing. However, with solo outdoor running - or any activity done outdoors- there are safety concerns. Yes, we risk dehydration, injury, getting lost and a host of other possible maladies. However what I’m referring to are threats to our safety that come from others.
Whether we run in an urban or a rural setting, we can be lulled into a false sense of security- either because there are supposedly lots of other people around who can help if we have a problem, or because we are isolated and feel like the fact that we are alone means no one else would be there either. Either way, we lulled into feeling ‘safe’, even if we aren’t. However there are precautions we can take to help maximize your safety and minimize yourself as a target. Here's 6 suggestions to help keep us safe on outdoor run:
1) Do not wear headphones of any kind. While this can be an unpopular opinion, there are a few safety reasons for this (and even more non-safety ones). First and foremost it advertises to others that you cannot hear them, or that you are less likely to hear them. This is essentially advertising to be would be wrongdoers that you are a more vulnerable
target than someone without earphones. Secondly, it does reduce your ability to hear cyclists, hikers, those on horseback, or the aforementioned creeper. coming up beside you or behind you. Even with one headphone your hearing is still diminished, and furthermore, you are distracted.
2) If you have long hair, avoid wearing your hair in a ponytail. Again, a very unpopular opinion however, it makes an easy “handle” for somebody to grab and control your head. Consider wearing a headband, running hat, or visor that keeps hair out of your face. My twin brother, who has had long hair since we were in college, wears a man bun. My wife wears a running hat, and several of my female clients wear headbands.
3) If not running with someone, always tell a friend or loved one where you are headed, what route you’re going to take, and approximate how long you plan to be running. If you have a smart watch, most likely, you can set a function that will allow people to track you, and in some cases alert others if you fall or are stopped for longer than a short amount of time.
4) Wear reflective or light-colored clothing. Not only is it cooler on warm days, but it makes use more visible to cars, bikes, and other traffic. Yes, even in the daytime. There are plenty of times I’ve been riding my bike in the bright sunlight then everything goes pitch black as I ride through a tunnel or underpass, and the only reason I don’t hit a runner is because I see his/her white running hat bobbing up and down in the darkness. The same holds true for running in areas of high sun and shade. The sun is so bright that the contrasting shade “hides” runners, walkers, and cyclists front the view of motorists. Keep yourself safe by wearing light-colored clothing. (This is more of a general safety tip, but I think it's a good reminder)
5) If you feel the need, carry something to assist you if you find yourself in a confrontation. I’m not necessarily advocating running armed, but having some pepper spray, a whistle, your phone on emergency mode, or even your keys in hand works in a situation when you need to defend yourself. I remember a time I did this for protection- not from muggers, but from mountain lions. I was doing a trail run up above Lake Tahoe, and at the halfway mark looked down and saw the ground literally covered in mountain lion tracks. I grabbed two rocks and ran with them in my hands as fast as I could back down the trail to my car. I’m not confident those rocks would do much against a mountain lion, but I’m fairly certain they’d do some damage against a mugger.
6) Most importantly, listen to that little voice inside your head (another reason not to run distracted by music). Several years ago I read the NY Times bestseller, “The Gift of Fear”, by Gavin de Becker, a world-renown security expert whose book details stories of how that ‘little voice’ in our head- our ‘fear response’ has evolved over millions of years to keep us safe. And yet we have been taught by society to ignore it when it comes to keeping us safe. If we are in a situation (on a run or otherwise) and your gut says, "maybe I should take another route”, or “ the guy stopped ahead on the trail is giving me a weird vibe”, then listen! So many times we rationalize that little voice or gut feeling by saying, “I shouldn’t be judgmental”, or “I’m sure it’s fine”. And that’s the opposite of what we should do. We should get out of the situation. Turn and run the other way, or if confrontation is unavoidable, do as Gavin de Becker says- stare down the person and say something - “CAN I HELP YOU?”, or “IS THERE SOMETHING YOU NEED?” This way, the person is very aware that they may have ill intent, and most likely will back down or find someone else to harass. And if we are wrong, oh well- he or she will think we are rude, but everyone is safe.
Statistically, running, working out, or walking outside are very safe. However, we should all take precautions to remain as safe as possible. So, as the weather warms and the daylight increases, enjoy those long runs! Just do so as safely as possible.