Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How To Stay Safe on the Run: Self-Defense

How many times have you been on a run and was spooked by a creeper?

It's happened to me a few times over the years. Once, I was out for a long run in the local forest preserve. It was an early morning and I approached a guy with a hoodie pulled over his head. I couldn't see his face, but something didn't feel right and I did a quick 180 and sped back out of the preserve. Another time, I was running at the retention pond and passed a creepy looking guy. I finished my loop and headed towards home-until I ran face to face into the creepy guy. He grabbed my shoulder but I shook it off and ran towards the local school.

I was lucky.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to be able to attend a session of Girls Fight Back and a self-defense session presented by FIRE, a local women's self-defense training system.  The free program was sponsored by our local high school district. While the program was geared towards young women, I was curious and I thought it could be useful for me personally since I do run alone the majority of the time.


I walked into the gym of the local high school along with a bunch of moms and their daughters and friends. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a large turnout, considering the ice storm we were having. Clearly, self-defense is a topic that is very important to a lot of women.


The first part of the program was a presentation by Girls Fight Back speaker Brie Swartz. She started the session with a video sharing the story of Shannon McNamara. In 2001, Shannon McNamara was raped and killed while attending Eastern Illinois University. In direct response to this, Erin Weed, one of Shannon's sorority sisters, developed the Girls Fight Back program. The philosophy of Girls Fight Back is to empower young women and teach safety and self-defense. The "sisterhood of traveling badasses", as they call themselves, present their program to young women and men at schools and colleges across the country. The program continues to grow and they've expanded their curriculum to include a gender-neutral program as well as safety for women on spring break.

Brie shared a story from her childhood about a creeper who offered her and her sister candy. Knowing something wasn't right, Brie and her sister ran home. The creeper ended up murdering a 12 year old in a nearby town. The important thing about this, she said, is that she learned to trust her intuition. Intuition is what I call my gut instinct. Some people call it their "spidey sense". Whatever you call it, learn to trust it. Intuition is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. If something doesn't feel right, trust that feeling and walk away.
"Instead of saying 'I knew it!', say 'I know it!'" ~ Girls Fight Back
Intuition is important but we also need to be aware--aware of what's around us but also self-awareness. Tune into your body language--keep your head up. That means no texting and walking, no looking down at your phone. Headphones completely eliminate one of your senses, right? You wouldn't run with your eyes closed, would you? Use eye contact to let the person know that you see them but don't linger. Breathe.

Don't judge a person by their appearance. Brie gave the example of a deer who encounters a human. The deer doesn't stop to think about the human. The deer just runs away. Don't make assumptions about who or what could cause violence. The old adage, "don't judge a book by its cover" applies. If it doesn't feel right, move on.
"The best fight is the one never fought. " ~Girls Fight Back
Brie shared some basic self-defense strategies. I thought we'd go right to the physical moves, but she first talked about verbal strategies, such as deflection and empathy.

Then she got into the nitty-gritty, sharing what she called the Double Boundary. She used an example of someone trying to follow you into a building when your arms are full of packages.
  • Drop everything
  • Turn and face the person
  • Both hands up at shoulder height
  • Loudly state: "NO! Back up! I don't want any problems here!"
If that doesn't work, think to yourself: where is he vulnerable AND where am I strong? The hot spots discussion was funny. Using a male volunteer, she placed garage sale stickers on so-called vulnerable areas. The eyes, the nose, the neck, the solar plexus, the groin, the abdomen, the backs of the knees, the achilles, the arch of the foot, and the kidneys were all identified as potential hot spots.

Believe: I am worth fighting for. 

It was time to learn the Bad Ass Ballet aka Terminator Tango It's a 3 step move, using force:
  • Palm strike to the nose
  • Knee to groin or face
  • Flex elbows up, step back, knee to groin or elbows to back
#badassballet

A couple notes about technique:

  • palm strike is with your fingers curled and the base of your palm angled up towards your target
  • to properly make a fist, curl all your fingers in and cover them with your thumb
  • your stance should be firm with one leg forward. Don't lock your knees. Keep them soft.

Brie also demonstrated what to do if you're attacked from behind or pushed to the ground.  She addressed the use of devices, such as pepper spray but cautioned that you need to know how to use them or they could be used against you. I've heard that advice from cops as well. The best defensive device, in Brie's opinion, is your keys. But don't hold them Wolverine style in your fingers. She recommends placing them in your fist and go for the attacker's hot spots. She also recommended the use of your phone, holding it securely in your fist.

After Brie finished her Girls Fight Back discussion, there was an hour-long demonstration and practice of basic self-defense techniques presented by a local martial arts gym. With such a large group, there wasn't a lot of individual attention, but we lined up and practiced open palm and punching techniques on a bag. It was fun, it was hard, and it was effective. The leaders performed a demonstration of self-defense from the floor as well as if you had a gun to your head. 


It was a sobering, yet empowering afternoon. There was so much to absorb and the self-defense demonstration only left me wanting more. I will definitely look for more opportunities to hone my skills. For younger women who are attending college or find themselves in situations where their safety could be compromised, I highly recommend attending a Girls Fight Back seminar. Brie also covered topics that would be pertinent to this group, such as bullying and being an active bystander. I didn't include those here because this post is geared more towards safety for runners.

To avoid being a victim, we need to be confident and strong. Arm yourself with knowledge and skills.  Trust your gut. Choose Awareness. Oh, and BE LOUD! No means NO!

One last thing. Don't call for help. Don't yell rape. Yell FIRE! Did you know people are more likely to respond to cries of FIRE than anything else?
"Be the CEO of your own personal safety. " ~Girls Fight Back.
Brie advocates for victims to share their stories. Do you have a story to share? Have you used any self-defense techniques to save yourself from an attack? Have you ever attended self-defense training? 

I'm linking up with Tuesdays on the Run, hosted by Marcia, Erika, and Patti, as well as Running Coaches' Corner, hosted by Debbie, Rachel, and Lora and Wild Workout Wednesday hosted by Annemarie and Nicole.









59 comments :

  1. Great program! I should get my daughters to this. I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do many moons ago but it has some in handy. I had to break a guy's elbow once...

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    1. Seriously? I need to hear that story!

      Yes, if you can find one of these presentations, you should get your daughters to it. It was excellent!

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  2. How empowering! I agree, the "gut knows." We all have a gut instinct for a reason, and it's usually 100% spot-on. If I see a suspicious looking person, I try to make eye contact...not just to get a good look at their details, but to show THEM that I've seen them as well. Often times, the eye contact is enough to make them look away.

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    1. I forgot to mention eye contact! Yes, she said eye contact is important to show that you've seen them, but don't linger.

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  3. Yes, I do know that yelling fire is more likely to bring help, and yes, I've attended self defense courses. In fact, there were just a few attacks in our area, and I do run alone 95% of the time. I used to use the Road ID app so my husband knew where & when I was running, but it doesn't seem to work with my newer phone. :(

    The biggest problem is that you need to do these types of course all the time -- the last one I did was more than a decade ago.

    Still, I don't run with music. Sometimes I think I should go back to it, but I'm probably much safer not running with anything distracting me.

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    1. I don't agree with you that you need to do these types of courses all the time. I took a self-defense class 25 years ago and I still remember some of the techniques. Of course, taking them frequently would make you proficient!

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  4. I took a self-defense class with my fellow Renegades several years ago, and we used to practice during our long runs, but we haven't done that in a long time and your post is a great reminder that we have to get back to it. Much like that instinct muscle, practicing something you don't normally do, like get away from someone who's grabbed you, it important. This class sounds excellent.

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    1. I was just so impressed with the course content and the instructor's delivery was spot-on.

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  5. I think everyone should learn self-defense techniques. I wrote a blog post last June about an issue I had that I thankfully escaped from unscathed. Thanks to my police report (and my Garmin data showing the exact spot where I broke a 7 minute mile!) they caught the guy the very next day (doing the exact same thing). I think the most important point is to trust your instincts. We are taught to be polite. Hell no! Politeness will get you killed. Great post.

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    1. You are so lucky!! In the class, Brie talked about that exact thing--that we are taught to be polite, but if you feel threatened it's time to let that go.

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  6. I have never took a self defense class but I think it would be neat to do. This would be great since I do not even take my phone on runs. I know so bad!

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    1. I always take my phone with me. You just never know if you're going to need it.

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  7. I carry bear spray on trail runs, and while it's ostensibly for wild animals I know I'm more likely to need to use it on a human. The thing I'm most scared of, though, is mountain lion attacks. While they're rare, the terrifying thing is that you almost never see/hear them before they attack, so you can't defend yourself. I don't go on trails where there have been recent mountain lion sightings.

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    1. I have no advice for warding off mountain lions except to avoid areas where you might find them!

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  8. I try to be very careful when I'm out running, and most of the time, I stick to my neighborhood. When I started running, I was mostly concerned about the wild animals I might run in to. In Texas we had coyotes, and here on trails, we have mountain lions.

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    1. Wildlife--at least the non-human type--is not an issue here in the 'burbs. Maybe one of you trail runners out there could cover that topic?

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  9. This is such an important post! I'm with you on that "gut instinct"--it's rarely wrong. I need to go back to jiu-jitsu! Thank you for sharing this!

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  10. That sounds like such a great class, and thanks for sharing what you learned! Years ago I hosted a similar class at the gym where I worked. The person offering the class asked if I'd volunteer to be the person being attacked. Even though I knew he was coming after me as I walked by, he had me on the floor and pinned in a split-second. It was eye opening!

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    1. It's amazing how well the techniques work! And breathing. Helps keep you calm. As much as possible...

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  11. Great post Wendy! I've taken a course years ago and I always carry pepper spray, my phone and a whistle when I run. Can never be too careful!

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    1. I don't carry any spray because I was cautioned years ago by a police friend of mine that if it's windy, pepper spray can blow back in your face. I do run with headphones and I know that's a no no.

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  12. This sounds like such a great course! I really want to take something like this. I have a personal alarm that I run with but I definitely want to know how to defend myself too.

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    1. Even though it was geared towards young women, it was so applicable!

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  13. Sounds like an excellent class. I have never taken one. But I should. I try to run in safe areas but you never know.

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    1. It was really good. Glad I had the opportunity to attend!

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  14. The more myself and my 13 year old go out for runs, the more I realize we both need a self defense class. Thanks for the reminder!!

    Jen
    jpabstfitness.com

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    1. I'd definitely recommend Girls Fight Back if you can find it!

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  15. I am a huge proponent of empowering women and giving them the confidence they need to defend themselves. I went to a similar class a few years back. Even if you can't remember everything they taught, remembering just one move might save you or someone else one day.

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    1. Exactly! I took a self-defense class many years ago, but the lessons I learned there have stuck with me.

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  16. OH MY GOSH! Your encounters sound terrifying! This is 1/2 the reason why I do not work out outside! I don't want to be attacked! I sometimes get scared getting gas for my car and I see someone who looks a little suspicious walking near by. I try not to look like I am uncomfortable because they might feed off of that... But ugh, I don't like it. I need to learn these moves ASAP!

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    1. I think those encounters could have turned out so much worse had I not listened to my spidey senses!

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  17. YESSSS to our guts.
    I started teaching my now 12 year old this when she was tiny. SHE NEEDS A REFRESHER COURSE for sure.

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    1. This particular class would be awesome for your daughter! The instructor was spot-on for young girls.

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  18. This sounds great, and trusting your gut instinct is so important. I've turned back when I've felt unsafe and since we've had some robberies and muggings, I've not run through most of our local parks alone. We group together for safety and luckily I have running friends for that. One thing I do when I feel unsafe is start to hum slightly mmmm mmmmm so I know I can make that noise LOUD if I need to. Fortunately, as a middle-aged woman I don't need to be polite or avoid making a scene if I have to.

    I love all these people who have to avoid mountain lions though - wow. I did fall over a dog once and crack a rib, but still ...

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    1. Ok, seriously! Sometimes I see coyotes but they don't want anything to do with me....

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  19. So cool that you had the opportunity to take this class! I have always wanted to take a self defense class but haven't found one that was offered around here.

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    1. It was such an excellent class and I highly recommend it, especially to moms and their daughters!

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  20. Such great information. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. This sounds like an excellent class. Great that is was so well attended too.

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  22. Oh wow, how inspiring! It's so smart to be trained. I've had a few creepy encounters too- it's always better to assume the worst and take precautions that to pretend like it can't happen.

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  23. I wish programs like this weren't necessary, but I'm so glad they exist now. I need to find a class like this near me!

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  24. Yes unfortunately, I have a story. I was attacked years ago when I was running in the dark early in the morning. Long story short, I was able to fight him off and run like hell away (I still thank God he didn't have a weapon) It changed me and the way I looked at things for years. Even though it was over 25 years ago I am still afraid when I run in the dark (bright side: I run much faster!} This class sounds great. I feel pretty confident about my self-defense capabilities (or as confident as you can when you haven't had to actually use them} but real training sounds like a smart idea.

    I do try (along with self defense tools I carry} to project a sense of confidence both when I'm running and in other iffy situations I guess it shows: My husband and I stopped at a rest stop the other day He stayed in the car while I used the restroom. There were some strange looking characters hanging out in front of the bathrooms so I put on my most confident attitude striding to the car, walking tall, giving them the "queen" look as I passed. My husband even commented on it when I got back in the car!

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    1. That is such a scary story! I'm glad you were able to get away. It's a shame that there are people out there who threaten our safety and our peace of mine.

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  25. I really should do a class like that. I usually feel very safe in my neighborhood, but then you keep hearing all these horror stories...maybe I shouldn't feel so safe!

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    1. Weird things happen everywhere, it seems! I thought I lived in a safe area--it is pretty safe--but after working in the ER, I learned that no one lives in a bubble.

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  26. Thanks for all the info. I work in an Emergency Department and take Management of Assaultive Behavior (MAB) every year but we don't really talk about fighting back just getting away. One technique that I always remember is if someone is choking you from behind, step into them instead of trying to pull away. It throws them off balance, hopefully weakening their grip.

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  27. I really want to take a self-defense class! I always tell myself I can outrun whoever approaches me, but that's not necessarily true...plus i'm really tiny so I need to be careful :/

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    1. Ha! I always tell myself that very same thing but I'm pretty sure it isn't true.

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  28. I took self defense once. I need to take it again. And again. And again.

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  29. Such a crazy story about that creepy guy you ran into - but definitely reinforces the need for self defense. A few years ago I was running in a rough neighborhood where I used to teach on my lunch break. Mid-day and rounded the corner to a group of sketchy guys. Tried to ignore my intuition. Came back around the loop a few minutes later to police with guns drawn on them. Scary!

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  30. I hate getting that creepy feeling followed by the helpless feeling. I NEED to find a class like this and go.

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  31. Thanks so much for sharing your experience attending this event, I definitely need to find one in my area. I love that they are empowering women around the country, especially young women that can sometimes be vulnerable alone. You're so right about trusting your intuition!! Thankfully I've never had an incident but I do my best to stay as aware and alert as possible when running solo.

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