UPDATED Sept. 7, 2022: Editor’s note: This article has been updated with safety information following the murder of mother runner Liza Fletcher.
I mostly run alone. I prefer to mostly run alone. In a house with two young kids who never seem to stop talking or needing things, I relish the time to be by myself. But is it safe to run alone? Especially run alone in the dark? Not really. That’s why I’m sharing running safety tips.
I meant to share these running safety tips a while ago but forgot. Then, earlier this week, I got attacked by an owl (no joke) and it made me realize that there are a lot of potential risks to running alone (especially in the morning) including risks of being attacked by a human or animal.
Related: How to Become a Morning Runner
Many runners, in fact, a majority of them, have been attacked verbally or physically while on the run. I remember when I was younger, I was running downtown near my apartment when some drunk guys still on the prowl from their night of drinking chased after me and grabbed my bottom. Thankfully, they were harmless…and stupid..harmless and stupid.
But many female runners know what it’s like to see someone sketchy, have their stomachs sink, and change routes.
I want to help us female runners feel safe when running.
So, here we go. In this article I’m going to cover:
- Key running safety tips for runners
- Top personal safety items for runners, and
- Top self-defense moves for runners
How do I protect myself when running?
The best way to protect yourself when running is to be run in daylight, in safe well-lit areas, with other people, stay alert, and carry a personal safety item such as mace, an alarm, and/or self-defense item.
Should runners carry pepper spray?
Absolutely, runners should carry pepper spray to protect themselves—but only if you know how to use it. The last thing you want to do in a moment when an attack is probable is fumble with the pepper spray or accidentally use it on yourself.
Read the directions, youtube How-To videos, and practice so that you know what to do quickly should you need to use pepper spray while running.
How do runners stay safe in the dark?
Runners stay safe in the dark by increasing visibility and being aware of their surroundings. So, run in lit areas, wear a running safety vest with lights or a headlamp, and be alert by not wearing earbuds or headphones and scanning the area you’re running in.
Since my owl attack last week, I have been extra vigilant of what’s around me and above me. I realized before I would totally zone out listening to my music and often by half asleep while running.
Okay, now for the good stuff. Below are key running safety tips.
Related: How to Not Hate Running
12 Safety Tips for Runners
1. Avoid running in the dark alone.
If you can run when it’s light outside or run with other people, do it. Being in daylight or with other people will make you less of a target to an attacker or an animal.
2. Run in well-lit areas with high traffic.
If you must run alone in the dark, aim to run in areas that are well-lit and trafficked by other people such as runners, walkers, and bikers. This will also lower your risk of an attack.
3. Be alert.
If you’re running alone in the dark or in a secluded area, don’t run with headphones. I had one headphone in when the owl got me from behind. I never heard it or saw it coming because I was too busy jamming out to The Biebs. Also, don’t be distracted by texting and running.
Be aware of your surroundings. Scan the areas around and above you.
4. Make eye contact.
When you see other people, make eye contact and even say hi. Make sure they know you see them and look assertive. Studies shoe that attackers prey on people who look vulnerable. So stand tall and proud. (This is good for your running form anyway.).
Related: How to Fix Running Form
5. Run with your phone.
Run with your phone and keep it easily accessible so that you can call for help should you need to. I love the sports bras that have front pockets (though they are tough to find, I am wondering if I should just make some?). However, if you hold it, keep it in your nondominant hand so you can use your dominant hand should you need to.
You can also set up tracking on your phone via your Garmin or app like Strava. Get more instructions here.
6. Change routes.
If you see someone who makes you uncomfortable or are running in an area that seems shady, trust your gut and change your route. Don’t be shy about crossing the street or turning around. Your personal safety is more important than possibly hurting someone’s feelings.
7. Be strong.
If you’ve needed extra motivation to work on your strength training, then consider this it. Working on your upper body strength will not only help you maintain good running form, it will also help you defend yourself should you be attacked. Bodyweight moves such as push-ups, pull-ups, and tricep dips a couple of times a week will help!
8. Stay private.
Don’t share your running routes regularly on social media or apps like Strava. Check your Strava privacy accounts to make sure only followers can see your runs. (Note: Strava does not retroactively make runs private so you need to go into “edit past activities” to change them. You can also hide maps or hide your start/end points).
Also, mix up your routes and running times in case someone wants to target you. DO share your running plans with loved ones in case you are gone longer than you should and they need to come find you (if you don’t answer your phone).
9. Know your wilderness skills.
It’s not uncommon for runners to have encounters with wildlife. Do your homework on what creatures are native to the area you are running in.
Here is a quick cheat sheet on what to do if you are at risk for an animal attack.
- Owl: flail your arms, jump around, and make loud noises.
- Geese: Back away slowly and quietly. If it flies at you, continue to face it and move 90 degrees away to change the direction of flight.
- Hawk: Face the hawk, make loud noises, and wave your arms.
- Dog: Use a firm voice and back away. I wrote more about dog attacks here.
- Coyote: If it sees you, make eye contact. Yell. Wave your arms. Clap your hands. If it doesn’t go away, throw something at it and leave calmly.
- Snake: Give it a wide berth and slowly back away.
- Moose: Run away, hide, or climb a tree. Moose attacks are more common than bear attacks and they are especially aggressive in the spring.
- Wolf: Make yourself as big as possible. Do not make eye contact. Back away slowly.
- Bear: If it doesn’t see you, back away slowly or sideways slowly. Do not run. If the bear follows you, hold your ground and make yourself look as big as possible. They typically lose interest quickly. Some may bluff charge. Try to remain calm and talk to it. If you have bear spray, use it if it approaches you and yell loudly.
- Mountain lion: Back away slowly. Do not run. Stay facing the puma.
- Raccoon: Run away! If you come into contact with it, get yourself checked for rabies.
- Skunk: Stop running and back slowly away.
- Alligator: Run as fast as you can in a straight line (not zig zag)
- Cow: If a cow charges you, throw your arms up in the arm and shout loudly.
- Fox: No threat.
- Deer: No threat.
(By the way, my kids had a lot of input on what animals to write about. Not included: a shark, a snapping turtle, and a hippopotamus, which according to my daughter, are very dangerous…)
10. Call the police.
If you feel threatened or have been attacked, call the police immediately. You should never feel ashamed of being attacked or reporting someone suspicious. It is important for your safety as well as the safety of others.
11. Carry personal safety items.
Consider carrying personal safety items such as pepper spray or mace, a lipstick taser, a sharp object, or an alarm. I recommend some personal safety items below.
12. Learn self-defense.
Many local gyms, police stations, universities, and YMCAs offer self-defense classes. Take one so that you know what to do should you be attacked while running. Below is an easy self-defense move should someone approach you while running.
3 Self-defense Moves for Runners
There are simple self-defense moves you can easily learn to help you get away from an attacker.
Here are some key simple self-defense moves for runners.
Eye Strike to Groin Kick
- With your fingers apart and arm at a 45-degree angle, strike your assailant in the face. Your fingers will slide into an eye and both eyes will close.
- Now that they cannot see, with your toes pointing down, kick them in the groin. Your foot will slide up the A-frame of your assailant’s leg so you can kick anywhere and end up at the groin.
- Now run!
(Watch an eye strike to groin kick demo here.)
- If you have a sharp object with you like a key, hold the object in your hand in a fist.
- Then, like you’re using a hammer, thrust your hand down onto your attacker in the face, throat, or ear.
(Watch a demo hammer punch here).
- Stand in a staggered stance with your dominant arm straight, elbow locked.
- With all your strength, swing your arm at the ear of your attacker with your palm flat.
- This will hit near their temple, upsetting their equilibrium and hurting their eardrum.
(Watch a demo of the ear slap here.)
10 Best Personal Safety Items for Runners
Runners can run with running safety gear for added security. Be sure to practice using your safety running item before heading out on the road so that you are comfortable with it.
Here are some of the best personal safety items for runners:
- Mace or pepper spray
- Lipstick taser
- Defender Ring: stylish rings with sharp points for you to punch your attacker and collect DNA.
- Tigerlady Tiger Claw: retractable cat claws you run in your fists to scratch an attacker and collect DNA.
- Birdie alarm: a colorful alarm with 130db siren and flashing strobe light to deter an attacker or a whistle.
- Go Guarded: Go Guarded offers several personal safety items including rings, alarms, and weapons.
- Running safety lights: Noxgear lighted running safety vest and a headlamp to increase visibility.
- Run angel: a wearable that emits an alarm and sends emergency alert notifications to your safety contacts.
- Air tag: Apple’s answer to losing your stuff, an Air Tag can help people track you should your attacker throw or destroy your phone.
- Aftershokz and Noxgear wearable speaker: these items allow you to listen to your music or podcasts while also being able to hear your surroundings.
If you want guidance with your training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
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