If you’ve read the news lately, you’ve probably learned about the tragic events involving two women who went out for a run and never made it home.
And while hearing about their attacks is definitely frightening, it doesn’t mean you should give up your outdoor running routine. (Keep in mind, too, that these incidents aren’t common, despite these recent reports.) Following a few best practices will help ensure your well-being and keep you protected from potential assailants.
First and foremost: Know your surroundings, says Jennifer Cassetta, Sabre ambassador and self-defense expert who created the Stilettos and Self Defense DVDs. “The most important thing is situational awareness,” says Cassetta. “That’s a broad term, but it means you assess the situation before acting.”
Here’s how to create a safer scenario for yourself.
7 Running Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life
1. Go the Crowded Route
Don’t run in secluded areas where you’re the only one around — especially on days when you can’t find a buddy to join you, says Cassetta. (It’s best to always run with someone, but we get it — sometimes that’s not possible.) It can be life-saving to go the extra mile and stay on a path with other people around, rather than taking a shortcut through dark, empty streets or isolated areas in a park. If you often hoof it alone, consider joining a running club or signing up for community workouts. Nike, Jack Rabbit and Black Girls Run organize large group runs for all levels. Have a pup? Bringing a dog with you will help deter attackers, too.
2. Let Friends Track Your Run
Always tell your roommate, a friend, your mom or sister (anyone you’re close to!) that you’re heading out for a run and when they should expect you home. Even better, download an app that lets your loved ones follow you on your route. MapMyRun has a live-tracking feature you can easily turn on and off. Strava also just added a safety function, called Beacon, that sends a text to your chosen contacts with a link for live tracking so friends can see if you go off course. One place you shouldn’t share your info, though: social media. Feel free to post about your running success, but avoid showing specific routes.
3. Tune Into All Your Senses
…Not your actual tunes. Of course it’s nice to have a distraction when you’re running, which is why many people listen to music or podcasts. But to truly be aware of your surroundings, it’s best to hit the pavement sans headphones, says Cassetta. (Can’t clock miles without ‘em? Turn the volume down or just wear one earpiece.) It’s also vital that you can see everything around you. Cassetta suggests avoiding hoodies — they block your peripheral vision — and too-dark sunglasses.
4. Look Confident
Even if you’re a little scared on the road, it’s a good idea to fake feeling secure. “It makes you look less vulnerable,” says Cassetta. That means running with a strong posture (plus, good form = better run) and making eye contact with people you pass, instead of keeping your head down. This will also let potential attackers know you could identify them, if necessary.
5. Bring Back-Up
To make you feel even safer, carry some pepper spray, Cassetta suggests. Just make sure it’s within reach, so you don’t have to go into your fanny pack if you do need to spray someone in the face. An armband like the Sabre Runner Personal Alarm will also provide protection, as it creates a loud sound, audible up to 300 meters.
6. Picture Different Outcomes
It’s tough to be prepared for a surprise attack, but Cassetta recommends visualizing how you would handle the situation if someone does grab you. You can practice it at home, making your reaction more of a natural reflex. Also, don’t stop running if someone asks you a question, even if he’s just asking for the time. “That’s usually how an attacker will approach their victim at first,” says Cassetta.
7. Practice Self-Defense
Taking a self-defense class is always a good idea, but if you can’t get to one, know this: The three most effective targets for stopping an assault are the eyes, throat and groin. Besides yelling and flailing if someone touches you, try kneeing the groin, punching the throat or sticking your fingers in his eyes. You shouldn’t be afraid to fight back — but we hope you never have to.