Staying on the Safe Side

Posted by Filed Under: Women's Running

Where I live, there’s little reason to use a treadmill during the winter. Mornings, afternoons and evenings are usually dry and cool but never bitter cold. You have numerous choices, all within an easy walk or drive: trails, tracks, urban parks, foothills and desert, bay and ocean fronts. You can even hike up a snow-capped mountain in the morning and then run on the sunny, warm beach during that afternoon’s low tide. Mine is a runner’s Mecca, that’s for sure.

These days, though, treadmills are increasingly popular in my little patch of paradise. A rapist is terrorizing female runners and walkers, having attacked in broad daylight along a wooded section of a heavily used lake path.

Safety is a constant theme of Complete Running articles, and I hesitate to bring it up yet again. But the recent incidents in my neighborhood prompted me to make some much needed changes in my own running routine, and it may be time for others to consider the same.

Break up your routine. Don’t just run different routes on different days, run at different times. Right after the rape attempt was reported, I stuck to running a half-mile loop in my immediate neighborhood, until I realized this made my actions even more predictable. So I’m rearranging my mornings to run later in the day once or twice a week, just to break up the pattern.

Carry a cell phone. I live in a big city, but my ZIP code is distinguished by open space, usually either a park or undeveloped canyons, in every subdivision. I’ve noticed in the past two weeks that many of the regulars exercising in the morning like me now run or walk with cell phones in hand. I used to carry mine in a pocket or my bra; now I make sure everyone sees I have it at the ready.

Wear a whistle. A friend recently gave me this “sound advice”: to wear a whistle on a necklace in case I do need to make some noise. I used to carry a personal alarm, but mainly to ward off territorial dogs. A whistle is a cheap alternative. I’m ambivalent about pepper spray or mace (where legal) since I remember a runner killed when she used mace on an attacker, who told authorities the spray enhanced his rage. I’m also not sure any weapon wouldn’t end up working against me. I’m terribly clumsy when calm, let alone under siege.

Consider self-defense classes. This was the first piece of advice police offered residents after the jogger attack—which happened during lunchtime, by the way. Some readers of my running blog have suggested similar actions, including martial arts classes. Knowledge is power, and just knowing how someone should handle an assault can go a long way.

Keep an ear out. I know a lot of people prefer to run with music. It’s a comfort thing as much as a way to perhaps enhance runs. We’ve debated the safety aspects of MP3 players before. For those that need their tunes, keep the volume low and wear only one ear plug. You still get the same effect—the distraction or familiarity factor—while having a greater chance of hearing footsteps approaching from behind or strange noises nearby. Plus, you just look more alert to people, including a would-be attacker, than someone wearing both earplugs.

Find a man’s best friend. I used to train with someone, but our work schedules started to conflict and our family lives kept interfering with planned meet-ups. That training partner, like me, lives near the now-dangerous lake and can only run in evenings now. She told me she’s going to ask her neighbors if she can take their dog with her on those runs. Great idea, for her and the pet.

So, what am I forgetting? I know there are more useful tips besides those we’ve covered before. Please share.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Jessica on December 19th at 9:54 am

    Great tips Anne! I’ve though about taking a self defense class for better “protection” while running. However, these days I rarely run alone. It’s a great thing to be part of a running group and have people who can run just about any day of the week.

  2. Soozan on December 19th at 12:25 pm

    You need a donkey.