Friday, August 10, 2018

5 Ways To Stay Safe While Running Alone: A Reminder

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Last weekend, I ran with my Weekly Wrap co-host Holly while visiting her in Alabama. When I asked her to take me for a run on one of the local trails, she told me she rarely runs on those desolate trails, citing safety concerns. It wasn't the possibilities of encountering alligators that concerned her, it was possible encounters of the creeper kind.

While I know that we runners can never let our guard down, I've become a little lax when running on my local paths. I run alone almost exclusively on my local bike paths and forest preserve paths. I had an incident earlier this week reminded me that complacency on the run is never a good idea.



I set out to run 6 miles on the local bike path where I do so much of my running. I have easy access to the path from my home. I often run there alone, but there are usually walkers, runners, and bikers on the path. It's been a long time since I've seen anyone sketchy.

My 6 mile out and back takes along a paved route lined by houses for 2.5 miles. The remaining 0.5 mile detours down a hill, through a tunnel, and into a beautiful wooded area that borders an apartment complex on one side and an office complex on the other side. The library is also located there. The police station is across the street. With all these buildings, you'd think it would be pretty safe, but the wooded area is pretty secluded. You can't actually see any of the buildings from the path.

I ran my first 3 miles, using my run/walk intervals. I stopped at the tunnel entrance to take a photo. The tunnel is dark and makes for some really good photo opportunities. I didn't see another person, save for a cyclist who came through the tunnel when I was setting up my phone. Once I finished, I headed back through the tunnel and towards the paved part of the path.

A tunnel photo from a run earlier this summer.
When I came up to the start of the path, I saw a cyclist sitting on the bench, smoking, watching me run up the path towards him. Something about him made me put up my guard. I don't know exactly what made me feel uneasy--it may have been the way he was watching me, but I gave him a quick acknowledgment and just picked up the pace. I scanned the path ahead of me and was happy to see another runner coming towards me, although she was a ways off.

I ran until it was time to take a walk break. While I was walking, I was lost in my music and my thoughts. Someone came up behind me and said, "why are you walking?" I just about jumped out of my skin. It was Scott, a fellow runner who I often see on the path. He asked run him to the water stop up ahead. He's training for a marathon and I didn't know if I could keep up with him, but grateful for the company, we made small talk as we ran together.

We continued to talk at the water fountain for a few more minutes and I saw the sketchy bike rider pass by, very slowly. Scott and I walked back to the path and went our separate ways. The biker was riding so slowly I worried I would catch him, but he turned off the path onto a side street. I saw him pedaling backward as if to slow himself down. Ok, that was odd, right? I tried not to read too much into it and kept on moving. I was really happy to see more people on the path coming towards me.

I finished my run without incident but the rest of the time, my mind was occupied with this potential creeper. Even if he wasn't a creeper, the episode was a good reminder about staying safe on the run.

What should runners do to avoid incidents while running alone?

1. Don't run with headphones. I am so guilty of this. I love to listen to music, while a lot of runners listen to podcasts. I do run with AfterShokz, which are open to ambient noise. That's great but if you're not focused on what's going on around you, you're at risk for danger. Don't take the risk. Don't run with headphones.

2. Trust your gut. If you see someone who makes you uncomfortable, make sure you get a good look at them. If this guy had decided to attack me, I couldn't have told you what color his shirt was. I could give a vague description of him, but not enough to identify him. When I took that self-defense class last winter, we were told to make eye contact with a potential creeper, to let him know we were aware of him. I'm not entirely comfortable with that--I think the creeper might see it as a challenge. But it's a good way to soak in the details of what could be a potential attacker.


3. Don't run alone or if you do, make sure you run where there are a lot of other people. I love to run alone and I do run on forest preserve paths. I try to go on those paths when I know there will be people around. Be sure to let someone know where you're running and how long you'll be gone.

4. Carry your phone when you run. I'm still surprised how many people don't do this. I use a SpiBelt to carry my phone. My running skirts and shorts have large, phone-friendly pockets. If you don't carry your phone, make sure you carry identification. There are tracking devices, such as Road ID that you can download for iOS and Android. Road ID leaves "crumbs" that allow your loved ones to track you. There's also a stationary alert feature that will call a designated person if you don't move for 5 minutes.

5. Vary your routine. Many years ago, I had a neighbor who started waiting for me to go by so he could run with me. I didn't want a running partner, but stupid me, I made it easy for him. He told me that he always knew when I was coming by. So stalkerish, right? While I dumped his ass after a few of those runs--I told him "it's not you, it's me"--I learned a valuable lesson. If you have to run the same route, vary the direction in which you run it. Vary the times you run. Be careful about sharing your runs on social media sites such as Strava.

I don't know how easy it will be for me to give up running with music, but I know it's the right thing to do. By the way, I didn't address carrying self-protection devices such as pepper spray or weapons, because that's not something I do. I will say this: If you decide to pack heat, make sure you are prepared to use it. Pepper spray is only effective if sprayed with the wind at your back. If you spray it into the wind, it's going to come back to hurt you and make you more vulnerable.


While it's really a shame that we can't feel safe running alone, this is the world we live in. The best way to prevent problems is to make smart decisions about where and when you run.

What do you do to stay safe on the run? Do you run with headphones? Do you run alone or in a group? Vary your routine? Do you carry your phone? If you run with a self-defense device, share your story in the comments. 

I'm linking this post with the Friday Five--Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy.


43 comments :

  1. This is definitely a good reminder. I too have gotten a little "lax" when it comes to running solo - not bringing my phone, etc. I think it's easy to get complacent, especially if you do the same route constantly.

    While I do run with music, I always keep the volume super low. That way I can still hear everything around me, especially cars!

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    1. I start out with the music volume low, but I tend to to turn it up as I do. Doh!

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  2. This is a great reminder for all of us and one of the reasons that I am a huge advocate of running with a group. No one is going to mess with a group of mother runners. I can't tell you how many times I have passed a runner on my bike and yelled on your left only to realize they could not even hear me. So dangerous and careless!

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  3. My husband hates that I run alone, but now I run with Scooby which raises another set of risks if he spots a squirrel. Trusting you gut is key. As is varying your route. I'm glad nothing happenned but I'd be freaked out a bit.

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    1. I could run with Cocoa but I'm not sure that she'd be very threatening!

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  4. All good tips - I don't run on secluded paths by myself for your very reasons. But I'm kind of surprised that you didn't mention your unease to Scott - or even let the female runner know that there might be a sketchy person up ahead in her path. I think we all need to watch out for each other out there as we run...because you are right, it's easy to be lulled by music, or just zone out with runner's brain, and not notice someone until you're right upon them.

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    1. I know it's dumb and I should have said something to him but I thought he'd think I was overreacting. Guys just don't often get it.

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  5. As you know, I had an "incident" with a major creep two years ago (I wrote a post about it and safety in June of 2017). There are so many paths and trails in my immediate area, but unfortunately I hardly utilize them because I do run alone. I always have my phone and I don't listen to music when I run. I also carry what is advertised as the "world's loudest whistle" and "military grade" (whatever that means) pepper spray. I sometimes also carry a kubaton. It's sad we can't just go out and do what we enjoy doing.

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    1. Maybe I need to pull out my ninja star! In all seriousness, it is sad that we can't just run alone without fear.

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  6. I think I've told you that I was attacked, years ago, when I was running alone early in the morning. Fortunately, I was able to get away but it totally changed the way I thought about things. I have gotten a little lax too, except when I run in the dark. Then I carry my pepper spray ready to go if needed. These are great tips. I also run with headphones, but since I listen to a book it isn't really loud, so I can hear things around me. I do turn them off though if I feel a little wary. Listening to your instincts is so smart. If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is.

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    1. I do keep the volume low for the most part, but I tend to zone out and that's where the danger lies.

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  7. So glad your "creeper" episode had a happy (?) ending. I hate it that we women runners have to worry about that, but it's just the way things are, unfortunately. There are only a few paved paths near my house. I wind up running mostly on the roads, but some country roads near me can be pretty lonely too. I always listen for cars slowing down as they approach me. I never run with headphones either.

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    1. I run mostly in my neighborhood and I feel pretty safe there. There is a creeper that lives nearby but I don't think he's interested in me...he hangs out by the school...

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  8. In South Africa where crime rates are pretty high, we all have an extremely overdeveloped cautious button. I seldom run alone, and if I do, I always carry my phone which my husband tracks, he knows where I am running, and when to expect me home. I also never run alone in the dark, and will stick to busy roads and paths. I only ever use earphones on a treadmill, I will never use them on the road! A lot of girls will run with pepper spray or a taser, but I haven't gone that far yet. It's sad that we have to be so weary.

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    1. I've heard from other runners who live in Africa about the crime. One of our WW linkers is from Botswana and was mugged on a trail race. So scary!

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  9. I have got increasingly worried about running on my own as we have had a lot of violent incidents happening to people in the parks recently, even the very busy family friendly local one. It's mainly car-jackings and I don't have a car, but ... I get harrassed verbally pretty well every time I go out for a run, if we get shouted at from a car and we're in a group we tend to holler and wave and embarrass them by being thrilled, but I keep quiet if on my own. I avoided an early run the other week because I could hear a quad bike and I don't go down the canals on my own. It's so annoying but fortunately the running lads I know DO understand and will run with us ladies if we're too worried. They get a lot of crap too, so it's just general people hating runners or being creepy.

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    1. We don't have a lot of that where I live, but in the city, yes. I just feel like society in general has become meaner. I blame our president but maybe there's something else at play.

      Stay safe!

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  10. I'm glad you were okay and had your guard up. As women, it is IMPERATIVE that we are aware of our surroundings. I have a hard time explaining to my husband why my guard is always up. And it's just instinctive, you know what I mean? He's a dude, so he doesn't get it. And he thinks I am this way because I read a lot of true crime. I try to tell him, no, this is just how women have to be in this world.

    Example: We were driving to Cape Cod last week and we pulled over at a small gas station in PA so I could go to the bathroom. There was a dude standing outside the gas station at the door. He was dirty, bearded, and was carrying a gallon jug of iced tea. When I parked my car in front of the door, he opened the door to the gas station and just stood there, waiting for me to get out of my car. I pretended to check my phone for something, then pulled away. Paul wondered why I didn't get inside. I said the guy was creepy. Paul ACTUALLY SAID that I probably made the guy feel bad because he was being nice opening the door for me. I had to explain to Paul it is not my job to make strange men feel good. It's not my job to be polite to strange men. What if he had followed me into the bathroom? What if he just grabbed me while I walked in? Sure there would be witnesses, but what if he was on drugs and he didn't care about witnesses? I just keep trying to explain to Paul women always have their guard up and it's not just me. It's been ingrained in us and we do it without even thinking about it.

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    1. I don't think we need to concern ourselves with what other people think! You totally did the right thing. You sure didn't owe that guy a thing.

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  11. Thank you for writing this post! Now I don't feel so bad not keeping a consistent running schedule, it's for safety reasons, right?

    Rest assure since your "creeper" was smoking, I'm pretty sure you could have out run him...lol. But really, I know this is not a joking matter. I pretty much ALWAYS wear my headphones. I've only gone without them a few times when I am running in the woods because I just want to take in all the nature. I love running on my local wooded trail but I also know it is not safe to do alone. I do carry a pepper spray and a personal alarm. One time I forgot both of those things, so looked in my car to see what else I could find. I ended up running with a flash light...haha.

    That path you are on looks lovely! I don't think I would like that tunnel though. That's when I would probably practice "speed work". Have a good weekend and thanks for linking up! -M

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    1. I do try to be extra diligent in certain areas of my running routes. The tunnel is one!

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  12. I almost always run alone but not with music. When I do run with music I only wear one earbud. I also always have my phone with me. In my California neighborhood there are dozens of runners, walkers, and cyclists everywhere. I've always felt safe. In Waikiki there are people everywhere and I usually feel safe. There is something about that gut feeling though, isn't there? I would definitely be suspicious of a smoking cyclist ;)

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    1. Well, that's what struck me at first. But it was the way he looked at me that gave me the creeps.

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  13. I run around my neighborhood which is very open, and I see the same faces. I would love to run at work, but Boulder does have a homeless population living along the running path, and I don't know them or trust them enough.

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  14. I always vary my running route and times and I NEVER use Strava or apps like that because they share too much information about my whereabouts. I do run with pepper spray on certain route and I do know how to use it. I run with one headphone in at a low volume and my head is always on a swivel!

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    1. I've considered canceling Strava for that reason. I do have "safe zone" programmed in that doesn't show my home.

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  15. I don't carry my phone when running in my neighborhood but I do any where else I run. If I go back to those trails we ran, you'd better bet I'd have it on me. I think I'd still prefer a buddy though.

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    1. I'm debating where to run this morning. Don't know that I want to go back to the bike path!

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  16. I don't run with music, although I do often run by myself. Most of the time, in fact. And except on very rare occasions -- usually when I've taken it out of my pocket to roll before my run & forget to put it back in -- I always have my phone with me.

    Unfortunately bad things can happen in good neighborhoods, too. Anywhere, really.

    In fact, I was just chatting with a friend today -- she enjoys running, but is not super motivated to do it. So she sticks to a park that usually has lots of people around (and is getting bored with it) -- and said she'd be too afraid to run alone where I do (our schedules rarely mesh, btw). Yet most of where I run there is usually people around -- although lately I've had to run very early to beat the heat and often there's only a couple of people around when I start.

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    1. That's exactly my issue as I'm getting mentally prepared to go out this morning!

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  17. I run with headphones, but with the volume turned way down, which is how I prefer it anyway.

    When I lived in Nevada, I happened to mention one of the city trails where I ran frequently and someone said, "isn't that where the meth heads hang out?" Not sure if that was true or just a rumor, but I avoided the more remote parts of the trail for a while after that.

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    1. The meth heads would probably keep to themselves, right? :p Yikes!

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  18. Great reminders. We've had a missing girl in our area for three weeks now...no one knows if she turned up missing while she was out running or afterwards, or even the next morning. I seldom run with my headphones these days, and if I do, it's when I have daylight.

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    1. That story is so sad and so odd. I wonder what happened to her.

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  19. I run alone, in my neighborhood. It's not at all isolated, but I am always super-away of what's going on around me. Do I listen to music? Yes, I do, but at low volume. I can always hear what's going on around me. If I hear a car or person coming I always turn around and look to let them know I am aware that I know they are there.


    Last year while I was running on the bike path in New Hampshire where we spend a week each summer, I noticed a couple of guys and my alarm went off. Were they creepy? No, but I take no chances. There is a short area that is relatively isolated and that is where I noticed them. I turned around and ran back a spell before I resumed my path. Was I over-reacting? Perhaps, but I don't take chances.

    There is no perfect solution to safety. We strike a balance between being cautious and not doing what we want to do out of fear. It's not a perfect solution but we do what we can.

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    1. I've learned to trust my gut--if it doesn't feel right, I do my best to avoid the situation. I've turned around and changed my route when I've encountered creepers. You can't be too safe.

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  20. I do like the road ID app but sometimes I forget to turn it off when I get home and when it hits that 5 minutes it starts beeping really loud and alerts my husband as well. I don't run with headphones but I do play music sometimes just to alert the bears in the area that I am there. I don't want any surprises. I also carry bear spray. It would be nice to go out and run without having to worry about your safety but that is the way it is these days. Thanks for the reminders.

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    1. The only predators we have to worry about here are people and occasionally dogs off leash. I can't imagine having to worry about bears!

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  21. That's scary AF. I always run with my phone, pepper spray, and I use the Road ID app. And I hate running alone. I like it because I like to think but I hate it because I'm paranoid. And now I have to go run alone... ugh... lol...

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    1. I'm heading out to run alone as well. I do prefer it but every once in a while I get that reminder that maybe it isn't the wisest thing to do.

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  22. Good reminder!
    There are a couple of tunnels in Central Park that creep me out, no matter the time of day or whether I'm run/walking. Oddly I run/walk right near where Trisha Melli was attacked weekly and that spot doesn't haunt me, although I think of it. I'm lucky in that I'm a late enough in the morning runner that the paths are usually crowded but as someone who was all too familiar with the park in the 80s news, I won't go in after dark and if I have to walk the perimeter, I'll cross to the opposite side of the street where most buildings have doormen. Overkill? Yes, but rather safe than sorry

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