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Runners are road warriors and tend to have a feeling of invincibility when running. But the road can present you with some safety challenges that can ruin a good run. Even worse, it can potentially ruin (or even end) your life. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in the frequency of brutal attacks against runners lately, most recently a horrifying attack that took place during the day in a popular Seattle park. The runner was attacked when she stopped briefly in a public restroom during a 10-mile Sunday training run. Thanks to a self-defense class she took 3 weeks earlier, she was able to effectively fight back, and even after almost losing consciousness from her assailant’s beating she finally got away. Bruised and with stitches, she survived. Other runners have not been so lucky.

So that this doesn’t happen to you, how do you stay safe when you are running? Before you head out the door, be prepared to keep yourself safe by taking some basic precautions:

  • Run with someone – human or canine, and let family or a friend know your route
    Run with a dog for safety
  • Do not wear earbuds or headphones – or if you must have music use only one earpiece so you can still hear what is going on around you, especially if your vision is impaired by darkness
  • Do wear clothing with reflective material in bright colors or accessories with LED lights if running at dawn or dusk, and avoid running at night – choose a shirt or hat with reflective elements or in bright colors, and if you must run at night bright LED light is best for visibility, so use a hat light, belt or band with LED.
  • Alter your running pattern or route – if you are running in familiar areas you probably consider the route itself to be generally safe, but varying it (time of day, direction) keeps you from tuning out, while running in unfamiliar terrain forces you to be alert to both the road and surroundings
  • Carry identification and money – including your name, emergency contact information, blood type and any medical information, either on an ID bracelet or tuck a note or business card in a visor or pocket hat, and carry a cell phone if possible
    Running gear to store your personal items
  • Consider getting training in self-defense – it saved one runner’s life, and at the very least carry a personal safety device (the kind that emits a loud siren or alarm), or mace or pepper spray where legal
    Learn self-defense

And while you are out, keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid unlit and deserted areas – this includes overgrown trails, and steer clear of parked cars and bushes, whether in familiar or unfamiliar areas
  • Run against traffic – the rule you learned in kindergarten still applies, and you will be able to react faster to a vehicle that you see approaching than one that is coming up behind you
  • Follow the same rules as if you were walking – look both ways before crossing a road, obey traffic signals, and don’t assume a driver is going to stop to let you go
  • Use discretion in acknowledging strangers – be observant, keep your distance and keep moving (this is not the time to worry about being polite), and ignore any kind of verbal harassment

In general, the more aware and alert you are – and the more confident you appear - the safer you will be. Most importantly, regardless of day, time, route or partner, trust your intuition. If someone or something makes you feel unsure about a situation, you are probably right. So, pay attention, follow these tips, and you will get home safely and excited for your next run!

A final word: if you want to take a self-defense class but aren’t sure where to go, check with your local police department for programs in your area.