Saturday, November 15, 2014

Feeling safe on the run

Today one of my friends forwarded an article from the Chicago Tribune. The headline read: Woman attacked while jogging. I read the story and was shocked to learn that the incident happened last night, at 5 pm, at the very retention pond where I do a great deal of my training. As a matter of fact, I ran there last weekend:
Part of my long run at the retention pond
and was planning on another run there tomorrow. This isn't the first time that someone has been attacked there. Last fall, there were 2 separate incidents. All 3 victims were female "joggers" and the police think that the attacker is the same man. Luckily for the victims, in all 3 incidents, they were able to get away. Police gave the usual advice: be aware of your surroundings, don't run with headphones in, don't run alone, and don't run after dark. 

I've had a few incidents while running over the years. One was at this park, a few years ago. I was running on a weekday morning, in the winter, and the path was pretty empty of people. I like to run there in the winter because the park district plows the path, and I don't have to run in the streets. There are heated bathrooms there too. But on that day, I saw a weird looking guy walking on the path. I didn't pay too much attention to him, did my laps, and headed towards home. As I ran through the nearby neighborhood, I passed the guy again, and he grabbed my shoulder. I shook him off and screamed at him to get away from him. I ran away to a nearby school, and they called the police for me. The police asked me for a description of him, and the one thing I remembered about the guy is that he had really big teeth. Meanwhile, the policeman scolded me about wearing headphones while I ran, and offered to drive me home. He made me sit in the backseat of his police car, which was really weird. Have you ever been in a police car? It was my first time, and the seat is hard plastic, really uncomfortable. He dropped me off at home, and gave me his card, telling me to call him if I remembered anything else. A few hours later he called me to tell me that they found the guy. Guess my description of the big teeth helped. Turns out it was a developmentally disabled resident of a nearby group home who wandered off and was lost. The policeman really downplayed the incident at that point. I was a little upset about that. How do they know he wasn't violent? I was even more upset when my kids came home with a "stranger danger" letter from school describing the incident. The letter portrayed me, the "jogger" as irresponsible and unaware of my surroundings because I was wearing headphones. Was that necessary?

Apparently it is a big deal. Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) lists as their #1 safety tip: Don't wear headphones. I do tend to zone out into my music. To be aware is to be safe. 

And yes, this picture is a rerun from a previous blog post.
I also had people ask me if I carry mace. Let me ask you: do you think you would be able to react fast enough to pull out your mace and spray it if someone grabbed you? Would you feel comfortable carrying it the entire time you run? What if it is windy and you sprayed it at your attacker but the wind blew it back in your face? So no, I don't carry mace. And I've read a few threads on FB about carrying a gun on the run. That is not for me and I don't want to go there. If you choose to do that, I won't judge you. But I feel the same about that as I do about the mace. If you are packing heat, you better be prepared to use it. Because the perpetrator could use it on you. If you talk to any police about this, that is what they will tell you as well.

Comes in pink for women joggers
Carrying a whistle or something that makes a loud noise would be a good idea. Just don't wear the whistle around your neck.

I do recommend learning some self defense moves. I took a self defense class years ago and was amazed at how effective they were when I practiced them on my 200 pound spouse. I think I need a refresher course. Runners World posted a video last spring and it looks pretty helpful: 



Another safety tip is carrying your phone, which I do. Did you know that even if your phone has a locked screen, your ICE (in case of emergency info) can be accessed via your home screen? You have to set it up. Here are the links, step by step for the iPhone and the Android operating systems.

Even if you run with your phone, carry ID. Road ID makes a variety of wearable ID tags. Writing this post reminds me that I need to order one. I like the one that I put on my shoe.

There are also a couple of apps you can use on the run to help keep you safe. Road ID, an app that I have installed on my phone, has some pretty nifty features. It has "ecrumbs" which allows your loved one to track your route so they know where you are; a stationary alert, which will alert your loved one if you are standing still for more than 5 minutes; and a lock screen feature similar to what I described above. I haven't been using this app, but I plan on it now. Other apps, which I am less familiar with include Kitestring, which sends you a text message at a designated time. If you don't respond, the app calls your contact to alert them. bSafe turns your phone into an alarm and calls 911 if you are able to activate a button. The app also has a nifty feature called "Fake Call", which really wouldn't help you much on the run, but if you are on a date and need a rescue call, you can set that up. There really is an app for everything! ReactMobile is similar to bSafe without the Fake Call feature. These apps are available on both iPhone and Android platforms.

Even if you use these apps, tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. On the weekends, I tell my husband where I'm running. If I'm not back within the time frame I tell him, he calls me.

RRCA recommends varying your route. I had a running stalker once, a neighborhood dad who used to wait for me at the end of his driveway and jump in on my run. He told me he always knew when I was coming by. That really creeped me out, and I put an end to our runs together in no time. But I learned a valuable lesson, too. When I run my neighborhood 6 mile loop, I now usually reverse the route on alternating run days. I don't usually run at the same time most days, because I have to plan my runs around my work schedule. I also run to different places-the retention pond, the bike path, and that forest preserve. Just to mix it up. And to discourage any other would be stalkers.

RRCA suggests running with a partner or a dog. I could have had a partner (see the paragraph above) but I like to run alone. Running with a dog would be nice, but my cocker spaniel is 11 years old. She also likes to pull on the leash. I don't think she's the right partner for me.

My dog does this!
Then there are the common sense safety tips: avoid running in desolate or dark places. Ignore verbal harassments. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Trust your instinct. Memorize details of cars and people that seem off to you. Don't stop to give directions to people in cars if you are alone. People ask me for directions all the time, which I don't quite understand. But think twice about doing this.

Bottom line: Be safe. Use common sense. Don't let anyone take your running away from you.






19 comments :

  1. GREAT post with some awesome tips. I run with only one ear bud in if I am going to be running solo...and I always tell my family where I am going.

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    1. I was annoyed on my run today because one of my ear buds wasn't working, and my music wasn't in stereo. I don't know if I could do the one ear bud thing....

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  2. Very scary but an excellent reminder for all of us. I run with pepper spray but know I don't think fast enough to use it because I should have used it on a dog and just didn't. My sis and I argued about this the other day. I told her I feel safer because I mostly go from one gated neighborhood to the next instead of running in forest preserves. She insisted they are equally dangerous. I know stuff can happen anywhere but I do think secluded areas are more risky. I have at least a dozen different routes so there's no regularity whatsoever to where I run.

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    1. I used to carry pepper spray until one of my friends, who's a cop, talked to me about it. Since then I don't. I have to say the only thing I do that isn't safe is listen to music. But I'm usually hypervigilant--there are just too many weirdos out there...

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  3. This is scary. I know I've gotten too comfortable in my neighborhood each morning in the dark. You never know who is lurking.

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    1. I think it is a really good reminder for all of us.

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  4. Great post! Always breaks my heart to hear stories of women being attacked doing what they love.The best deterrent is to run in a group or with a buddy. Safety in numbers!

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    1. So true! I wish I had a buddy to run with. On the other hand, I do like my alone time. It's tough!

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  5. This was extremely well written. I'm sorry that they took a whole "blame the victim" approach with you when that happened.

    When I run outside and not in a road race, I run with my phone and play music over my phone's speaker. I figure I would rather briefly annoy people that I may pass than not be able to hear what's going on. I zone out too much if I have in headphones. I've also convinced my dad at times to come bike behind me when I want to run on a path through sketchy areas in town. I may be a little paranoid, but I love running too much for it to be ruined by someone else.

    Again, this was really, really well written!

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    1. Oh gosh, thanks! I agree with you about the zoning out thing...I love running with music. It motivates me, it pushes me, and it helps me escape into the run. I sure hate the idea of anyone ruining running for me!

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  6. I had a road ID and I lost it somewhere...thanks for the reminder that I need to order a new one. When i run alone I do wear headphones, but I never wear both of them. I always keep the one closest to the road out of my ear and keep the volume pretty low. I always tell my husband when I'm going running even if it's for a 3 mile run around the neighborhood.

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    1. I just can't do the one headphone thing...I did run with mine in, but low volume today.

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  7. Such great reminders! I will have to add the ICE details to my phone. I didn't know I could do that. I was followed by a group of guys once and it scared me so much. Now I don't run that route anymore. Yikes!

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    1. Yep, I've had my share of scary encounters on the run. It's always good to stay alert!

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  8. Isn't it awful that we have to worry about so much when we just want to get a workout in! I remember when I first started running, I got nervous because I felt like a car kept following me. Turned out it was the newspaper guy (rookie mistake). Now I'm very aware of the cars that drive around each morning. But it's still scary. Thank you for sharing. And I can't beleive your kids got a stranger danger notice because of your incident. That's kind of wild.

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    1. After all the years running in my neighborhood, I've gotten really familiar with everyone's patterns. As a matter of fact, knowing about the newspaper guy was very helpful after I found a cyclist in the road this summer, a hit and run victim. The description of the vehicle matched that of the newspaper guy.

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  9. Wendy, these are great tips; thank you for sharing both your own experiences and things you have learned along the way. I do try to vary my routine and I rarely run the same route two days in a row; I also use the RoadID app, and I really like it. I'm always afraid I'm going to forget to stop it, though, and then everyone will get phone calls at 5:30am - ha! Thanks for helping us stay aware and thank you for linking up again this week!

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    1. I need to use that RoadID app...I've gotten way too complacent. Its always good to have a reminder about safety!

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  10. All 3 victims were female "joggers" and the police think that the attacker is the same man. Luckily for the victims, in all 3 incidents, they were ... joggersgirls.blogspot.com

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