Women’s Safety: Running Free in a Scary World

Is safe and free possible? Image courtesy of redriverrunners.wordpress.com.

Title IX led the way for women (and women runners) to those places once off limits. And with that freedom came power. Yet, in such a big, BIG world, one can still feel powerless. Especially on the roads. Alone. At night. Heck, even during the day. The stories are a plenty, sadly. As a runner, and especially a woman runner, one must recognize that as soon as your feet leave the door, you are at risk. Even in the nicest of neighborhoods. Part of being a responsible runner is recognizing the risks you take when and where you run.

I’ll admit that most of the time, I rarely think twice about safety when I am running during the day, in a “safe” hood, with others, and lots of cars and people around. Afterall, I am in line with guidelines provided on many of websites for women’s running safety. Follow them and you’ll be fine, right? Well, most likely yes. But what about the days I want to be stubborn or adventurist and run alone, late at night on country roads, with an iPod? Ok, I don’t have an iPod. And if I did, even I wouldn’t run with it at night. However, I have been known to occasionally test the waters and run free at 11pm, alone, on country roads. In fact, I lived to blog about it:

“Instead of thinking about the bad in humanity, I assumed the good and ran as free as I could that night. I jumped at the sound of crickets when I turned onto a street with a marsh. And I swore I heard voices in the tall grass to my right. Those trees sure were talking that night, too; their branches creaking like the sound of an old rocking chair. But by the time I made it back to the town square and its street lights, I found myself longing for more of that nighttime serenity.”

A little bit scary. And a little bit rock 'n roll. Image courtesy of kiasorento.proboards.com.

It’s a catch-22 for sure. My boyfriend James and I have a friend that once said if we all assumed the good in humanity, maybe the world would be a better place. I’m sure it would. And there’s nothing wrong with having that mind-set. But if you are going to have that mind-set and test the waters per se, you must be ready for battle if it shall arrive. Most nights that I do run (and I usually do my runs at night) I am with James.  This increases our chances of safety at a time when the safety meter significantly dips. However, I’m on guard for most of the run. Maybe it’s due to my naturally heightened senses or extended stays in flight or fight mode due to anxiety. Whatever it is, it’s probably a good thing. Yet, I still know that I am not immune to anyone (or anything) when I decide to step out for that run.

Learning some basic self-defense techniques can go a long way. Image courtesy of tsnra.wordpress.com.

Some may say that the media tends to sensationalize these stories of attacks and rapes. If this is true, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to share such stories as a way to remind us to be on guard. However, I do think the media tends to pick and choose certain stories to continue to stereotype certain types of neighborhoods. I live near and often work in the projects. Yes, it took some time to get comfortable going into those high rises and one always has to be on guard. But the inhabitants are people, too! And now, it’s second nature going to work. Granted, I can say this having not had been a victim of crime. Yet, my point is, don’t discriminate where you are on guard. In fact, a great book supplied by my agency at the beginning of employment provides some excellent self-defense tips for traveling to different homes and neighborhoods. The tips provided can be applied to running.

Trust your instincts. Not the stereotypes. Image courtesy of runningonipsum.com.

At the same time, you don’t want be so on guard that it causes you to constantly be in a state of panic. But wait, how is that possible to ensure safety? I don’t think it will ever be possible to find that perfect balance, essentially because it’s best to always be at least a little bit on guard, male or female. Black or white. Young or old. Runner or non-runner. Is recognizing the risk before embarking on the task at hand enough guard? Maybe. I hope to never know otherwise.

What about you? Do you follow standard runner safety or do you test the waters in an effort to run truly free?


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I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. It’s such a tough one to judge. Sometimes I find myself getting mad that as a female, I even have to think about it. That said, I have found that over the years, I’ve become more and more complacent about where I run alone–a false sense of security? I don’t know. The one place I never go alone is trail running.

  2. I pretty much feel the same as Miss Zippy. I get annoyed that I’m supposed to change where I want to run because of stuff like this and honestly I usually don’t. What’s perhaps most irrational about me as I fear running places where I might encounter a mean dog off a leash than bad people. I generally don’t run in isolated areas alone although I do run trails alone, but they’re super familiar to me and usually other people are around and I know how to book it through the woods to the nearest roads. One time a guy followed me on to a more isolated stretch of trail and started to talk to me and TOTALLY gave me the creeps. I wasn’t sure what to do. The quickest way to the road was to run past him so without any warning I just turned around and BOOKED it past him. Straight past him and it seemed to totally shock him!

    The other thing I wanted to mention was that most of the high profile murders of female runners took place during the day–Central Park jogger and Chelsea King come to mind.

    I’m definitely interested to hear if anyone has actually encountered a whacko on the run and what they did to get out of the situation!

  3. I never run with my iPod or any other music when I’m outside. My husband is a security agent and his number-one tip for women is to ditch the music. It distracts you from your surroundings and it’s a clear signal to muggers that you have something worth stealing. He totally supports running at night, though, with a headlamp, and he advises me to run a different route every time, even if it’s just slightly different, to make sure no one can track my daily movements. Obviously one attack is too many, but the number of women attacked is much lower than the number of women who run safely so it’s pure chance and most of us are lucky. Make yourself a difficult target by staying aware.

    The rules for running safely in India are different than the US. Women aren’t supposed to make eye contact. It’s my own fault for getting harassed if I wear shorts rather than leggings that cover my knees. It’s very frustrating.

    1. With all the precautions I take to guard against traffic and people, I was bit by a dog today for the first time ever. I’ve had a rabies vaccination but I have to get two booster shots now. Stay safe out there ladies!

  4. This is so timely. A woman was just robbed and strangled not too far from my city last week while on a run. She was running with her sister, but had felt dehydrated and needed to stop; the sister ran ahead to get the car. So tragic.

    This has spurred a lot of conversations in my running group. If I do run alone, I usually take my (big) dog. I am guilty of sometimes wearing my iPod, but I do make it a point to greet every person I see to show that I am aware of my surroundings. I am also planning on taking a self defense class in the near future.

  5. A women was recently killed in lexington, KY where I grew up, during the day running back to her car away from her running partner. It’s crazy out there. I always run with my dog when I am running alone. I recommend all female runners get themselves a 4 legged friend to run with!

  6. Like others have said, it always makes me really angry that I even have to worry about this when guys don’t! It’s also frustrating because many of the suggestions for safety just seem impractical to me (always run with a group- tough with my work schedule and plus I psychologically need a couple solo runs a week! get a dog- well my boyfriend already has a dog that will be living with me again soon, and good luck trying to find a rental that will let you have two big dogs!) I am probably a lot less safe than I should be in terms of running by myself, but the bike path I run on usually has a ton of people on it and so do the woods I run in, plus I never wear an iPod in the woods. Even so, I can’t wait for the bf and his dog to live in the same town as me again so I have reliable running buddies 🙂

  7. For me, 9 out of 10 runs I am with my training partner and her dog. We usually run around the area we live or in the Cleveland Metroparks during the day. We have been on some early runs ( 4:30 am on a weekday) where we have seen a suspicious male with a hoodie on. We rapidly picked up the pace, but other than that, we have had no reason to feel unsafe. When I used to run by myself, I always carried pepper spray.

  8. I carry pepper spray now because of a guy on a bike who followed me, mid day, while with a large group of running men. Thankfully the guys scared him off when I needed to split and go to my office. I will never run that route solo now even with pepper spray. It also makes me angry that I even have to consider safety when I want to head out for a run.