Sarah Crouch

Written by Sarah Crouch


4 Essential Safety Tips for Female Runners

Last summer I went for a run with a group of about six women, all of whom were professional runners. We were laughing and talking about various things, until the conversation took a serious turn. One of the women told a story about how four men in a car tailed her for over a mile, whispering amongst themselves before she finally sprinted down a trail and hid until they passed.

One at a time, we all began to share stories about incidents we’d had while running that were close calls and scary moments. Every single one of us had something to share.

When I was in high school, I went for a run at a very popular local park. It was an overcast day, so there weren’t many people around, which is why I noticed a man wearing a yellow and blue striped polo shirt sitting on a bench about 100 feet from the bathroom. I thought nothing of it as I ducked into the women’s bathroom for a quick pit stop.

A few moments later, I heard footsteps and through the slit in the door of my stall, I saw yellow and blue stripes walk into the bathroom. The man had followed me in. Before I had time to panic, I yanked up my shorts, threw open the stall and flew past him, out the door. The “what if’s” of this situation still haunt me:

What if he had chosen to stand in front of my stall, instead of by the sink?

What if he’d had a gun?

What if I hadn’t been fast enough and he’d caught ahold of me?

Safety is paramount

I’ve heard it a million times, mostly from my mother: “Never run alone, it’s a scary world out there for a woman, always carry pepper spray with you.”

On one hand, I resent this advice, because I feel that it takes feminism back 50 years, telling me I can’t go running by myself without a big strong protector (or a tiny painful protector in a can), and I want to be free to listen to the sound of my feet hitting a dark city street or feel the wind in my hair as I cruise alone down a secluded wooded path.  On the other hand, I want to live to enjoy running at a nice old age.

How do we find that balance as women? How do we keep the wonderful independence that we’ve found in running but stay safe at the same time? Ladies, I’m not asking you to be frail and helpless, I’m asking you to be sensible. These are some guidelines I’ve adopted as a runner and I highly recommend for you:

Running with pepper spray

I don’t care if you can run a five-minute mile, you won’t be able to outrun your neighbor’s Chihuahua, let alone a ferocious mountain lion. Humans are not built to outrun predators; we are built to outsmart them, hence, the invention of pepper spray.

I’m not suggesting that every time you lace up for a run you need to tuck that can in your pocket. Heaven knows you probably won’t need it during your run at the high school track (though you may want to use it to fend sophomore and junior boys away from your daughter), but any time that you are planning to run alone in a secluded area that might contain wildlife, lone individuals or hiding places, take it along.

Running with an easy personal safety device

If you’re faced with the unfortunate situation of being attacked or the threat of attack, having a safety device could be the key to staying safe.

A loud siren or alarm will make attackers think twice about trying to continue their attack.

My favorite device is the Run Angel.

It’s a small device you wear on your wrist, about the size of a small watch (so it doesn’t feel awkward or bulky), that not only emits a loud, emergency alarm when triggered, but can send direct notifications back to anyone you choose.

Avoid running with music players

I love running with music, I find it to be the best training partner; it never complains that my pace is too fast or too slow, it is upbeat when I need it to be and shuts up when I want it to. This being said, there are certain times and places when you need all of your senses to be alert in order to stay safe.

These are some situations in which you absolutely should not be listening to music on the run:

  • Alone, at night. When your vision is impaired by darkness, you need your ears to tell you what is in front of you and behind you.
  • On a street or bike path, especially a street with a limited shoulder. If you can’t hear bikers or other runners coming up on you from behind, the results can be disastrous.
  • Near a golf course or any type of sporting event. I know two runners personally that have been struck with balls while running. One lost the sight in his right eye because of a stray golf ball and the other wound up with a bruise the size of a grapefruit on her thigh because of a foul baseball. If a ball is headed your way, chances are that several people will be yelling in an attempt to warn you, and you need to be able to hear them.
  • Any time that cars, dogs, or attackers may be a threat.

Be careful running at night

Night time is my favorite time to run, I feel so light and fast and free in the dark, but, like the ocean, there needs to be a healthy fear of night running. Here are some ways to make sure your night runs are as safe as possible.

  • Headlamps. Yes, I know they look dorky, but they also let cars and other pedestrians know where you are. Also, light reflective colors are a must.
  • Stick to roads you know. I say roads because trails are not advisable for night running due to their uneven surfaces and the potential for ankle rolling. By staying close to home on roads you know, preferably neighborhoods, you are surrounded by homes filled with people that can come to your aid if need be. Also, the last thing you want at night is to be lost on an unfamiliar road with no way home.
  • Cell Phones. I always keep my phone with me at night. There are even times that I’ve approached a sketchy looking group of teenagers and pretended to talk on my phone while running so they would think I was in communication with another person and not “alone.”
  • Additionally, never leave the house without telling at least one person where you will be running, day or night.

Change up your daily routine

If you run several days per week, it is easy to slip into a routine, running the same routes at the same time on the same days. This is dangerous because it gives anyone who might be seeking out a victim a way to know where you’re going to be alone on a given day.  Here are some ways to avoid this:

  • If you run a counter-clockwise loop around your neighborhood, start switching the direction that you run every few days or so.
  • Try running an hour earlier or later than you normally do and alternate starting times from day to day.
  • Look online for new routes or trails that you can run close to home.
  • Additionally, carrying ID with you and taking a self-defense class doesn’t hurt (well…. doesn’t hurt you).

Essentially, I want you to realize that strong, independent women runners are also safe runners. Enjoy every step, just do it safely!

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10 Responses on “4 Essential Safety Tips for Female Runners

  1. I too, have had a scary experience while running. Unfortunately, it happens, so I stay very aware of my surroundings. One other thing that my husband and I do, is use Runkeeper Elite. It allows you to broadcast your run live, while it’s in progress. You choose who you want to see it, but my husband is able to see where I’m at and he can tell if I stop along the way. I also run in the bike lane facing oncoming traffic. Of course, I move off the road for bikes, but by being in the bike lane, I’m away from the bushes where someone could hide. I do listen to music, but try to keep it quiet so I can hear what’s happening around me. It is pretty freaky to have someone run up unexpectedly, from behind.

  2. Road ID also has a (free) app that broadcasts “I’m going for a run – follow me here!” to designated contacts, and also sends an ALERT if you stop moving on your run for more than 5 minutes before you’ve ended the run. It also allows your Road ID info to be saved as your screensaver – Name, Who to Contact ICE, and allergies, blood type, etc, for first responders.

    Find a running group – lots of even small cities have them.

  3. I read once about the pepper spray being used against you by the predator, so with that said be careful with the pepper spray. I have decided to not invest in it.
    I have run at night and I live out in the country where house get skippy and have freaked myself out, So I would sprint through the areas that had no house to get to the area where house where….. I don’t run with music so my ears hurt my the end of my run trying to listen as carefully as I can. I don’t run in the dark very often and I tend to be the type of woman who says “oh i have training no one will get me” ha ha ha I know famous last words. I am safe and always tell my husband where am running and how long I expect to be out. He before we had kids would ride around looking for me but know can’t do that. I love and hate running in the dark. Love because it is so peaceful and hate because I tend to freak myself out with all the “what if’s”.

    • I’ve never heard of the pepper spray that you are carrying being used against you, but that may be something to look into.
      I grew up running at night on a dark country street too, and I’m glad to hear that you take safety measures before starting out at night.

  4. I am forced to run in the dark, either early morning or night because of work constraints.
    I listen to music and the road is dimly lit. I always have a dog. When one gets old (14-15 years) I get another one. Labs are good. The black ones look ferocious and scary but a Doberman is better.

  5. I run in the late evening (like 8 or 9) which is light in the summer but dark in winter. I take my dog with me (I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t protect me much but a dog is normally a deterrent to predators) and I am very aware of my surroundings when out. I’m also good at self-defense

  6. I carry a gun and I know how to use it. Pepper spray can fail, blow back in your face, you can miss your target, and if he’s close enough for the pepper spray to be effective, he’s too close and it may well be too late. Nothing says “I mean business” like a woman who knows how to use it carrying a gun.

  7. A lot of thought and planning goes into my runs now to keep myself safe. I don’t want to stop wearing headphones altogether because this would impact the quality of my run. I think there are other ways to stay alert (pausing the music, turning the volume down) while still listening to music. I also think it is super important to let at least one person (friend, family member, etc) know where you are running if you are running alone. This article also provides some good safety tips for runners: Stay safe and happy running.

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