This is a post that I have been thinking about writing since I started the blog. I don’t have a good reason for not writing it before now, other than it was just difficult for me to write.
Safety is one of my biggest concerns (both when running and just in general). Most of you probably know my story at this point or you may have seen my interview for the Runner’s World cover search, but in case you missed it …
My interview was posted Friday on the Runner’s World social media accounts and so I feel like this is a perfect time for me to share some personal safety tips, as it is all pretty fresh in my mind right now. None of these things are super profound or things that you haven’t ever heard before, but I chose these five tips because they are all things that I didn’t do (or know to do at the time) that I feel could have affected my situation. We can all use a good reminder every now and then and I am hopeful that these tips will help everyone out there to stay safe!
Run with a friend.
We have probably all heard the expression that there is “safety in numbers.” Running can be a solitary activity and some people enjoy that aspect of it, but it can also be a really fun group activity! I would definitely encourage everyone to get involved with your local running community and find a friend (or spouse) to train with. I rarely run alone. I am so thankful to have wonderful running friends and a very supportive family that will always accompany me (by either running with me or biking beside me) when I need a buddy. Daniel, my dad and Daniel’s dad have all biked with me at various times throughout my training journeys.
You could also run with your pet. Brooks doesn’t make the best training partner as he has a little bit of difficulty pacing himself (it’s a hard lesson to learn, I know buddy). I run with him occasionally, but it’s usually just for very short distances. One time we ran a race together …
I would also like to point out that just because you are running with someone doesn’t mean that there is no potential for danger. You still need to be smart about the times and areas where you are running, because there is only safety in numbers unless you are outnumbered.
Be aware of your surroundings.
It is always a good idea to be familiar with the area that you are running in. Stick to routes where you typically see lots of runners out and areas that have lots of traffic regularly. If you listen to headphones when you run, make sure that you have the volume turned down low enough that you can hear all of the normal sounds around you and don’t get so lost in your music that you aren’t paying attention to what is going on.
When I was attacked I was listening to headphones, but I don’t think that actually made a difference. The thing that would’ve made a difference is if I had known that a similar instance had occurred in the park where I was running not long before my attack. I definitely wouldn’t have been running there alone had I known that. It wasn’t a highly trafficked area or an area where people run a lot. As much as I absolutely hated having a story written about the incident appear as the front page headline of the local newspaper the day after the attack, I now can appreciate why they did this. People need to know and be aware of things like this and hopefully that article helped keep other people safe.
Tell someone your route.
It is always best for someone to know where you are going to be running and how long you will be gone. If I do run alone, I either carry my phone or I text Daniel or my mom to let them know where I am going and what time I should be back. We just purchased an item called Trackimo, which is a GPS tracking device that has an SOS button that you can push to alert someone if you are in danger. This would’ve definitely been a game changer for me. I haven’t gotten my Trackimo yet, but it should come this week and I can’t wait to have it. I know that it will bring me a lot of peace of mind.
The day that I was attacked I was planning to run 8 miles. My parents knew this and even knew my route, but the problem was that I wasn’t planning to specifically let them know when I got back to my car. After my run, I was heading to the gym to do some strength training (yes, I used to actually do that) and then I was headed back to school. They weren’t really expecting to hear from me at a set time. If we had planned for me to call when I got back to the car, they would’ve known a lot sooner that something was wrong or if I had my phone or another device, like Trackimo, with me I could’ve just alerted someone immediately.
Run with a self-defense device.
In the event that you do have to run alone (or even when running in a group for that matter) take along mace or some other form of self-defense item. Here are a few self-defense items that I use:
Ruger Pepper Spray. Rebecca turned me onto this handy item a while back. This thing is pretty cool because it is pepper spray, a strobe light and a siren all in one. We both carry our pepper spray with us (even when we run together) on the early morning runs. She has had to use hers several times on dogs. I haven’t specifically ever had to use mine, but I have definitely had it out and ready to go a few times if I pass someone who I feel looks suspicious.
Go Guarded. Go Guarded is a neat product that just slips on your finger. You will naturally use your hands to fight off an attack, so this product can be very useful and it can’t get knocked out of your hands. The product is adjustable to fit on different sized fingers and I don’t even really notice that it is there. I definitely feel like it would be useful in the event it were ever needed. I also keep this in my purse and slip in on if I am ever in a dark parking lot or something like that (which is very rare, because I make a very conscious effort to avoid any and all situations that could be questionable).
TigerLady. TigerLady is another neat product that is designed to fit in your hand. It quickly becomes a natural extension of your body. All you have to do is make a fist, and TigerLady is ready for action. The thing I like about this product is that it fits perfectly in your hand. I think it actually helps my running form because my hands are wrapped around the claws (it comes with two claws, one for each hand) and they aren’t too tense or too relaxed. The claws are really sharp and could definitely do some damage if needed.
Trust your instincts.
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Listen to that little voice inside that says, “Stop! Danger!” and get out of there. This is the one that definitely would’ve completely changed my situation. I actually ran past the man who would later attack me earlier on my run and something definitely felt off. He was sitting on a set of bleachers when I ran by the first time and when I passed, he got down and started walking the direction where I was planning to go. I decided not to go that way and instead ran a one-mile loop in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, my stubbornness got the best of me and I didn’t want to cut my run short, so I ran back by the bleachers and when I saw that he wasn’t there (or anywhere to be seen), I continued on the route that I was originally running. He was hiding about a half mile down the road waiting for me. I should’ve just run back to my car and cut my run short.
I think stubbornness is a quality that probably a lot of runners have in common. While this can definitely be an asset to your training and racing, don’t let it also be your biggest liability (a little accounting analogy for you guys). Don’t be dumb. There have been several times since that day when I have been out running and just felt like something was off and I get myself out of there as quickly as possible. I realize that I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and my fight or flight instinct is a tad sensitive, but that’s fine. I would much rather be safe than sorry. It just isn’t worth it.
Whew. I got it out and I feel much better. I think that the main reason this one was difficult for me to write was because it had me questioning how I could’ve been so naive and not been more careful. It is easy to play the “what if” game and question the decisions that you made (this could apply in lots of circumstances, not just as it relates to this story). That won’t get you anywhere though. What happened, happened and there isn’t anything you can do to change it at this point. This is going to probably sound completely crazy-train, but honestly I don’t think I would’ve changed anything. I survived. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had it not been for the things that I have gone through. I have learned so much about myself through this process and I definitely have a different meaning and different perspective on life. Every day is a blessing.
I am not trying to instill a feeling of fear in anyone. Unfortunately I learned these lessons the hard way, but you don’t have to. Please, please pay attention to these things. It is easy to think that nothing will ever happen and I pray that it doesn’t, but you can never be too safe or too smart.
What other safety tips do you have to add? We all need to hear any and all suggestions you have!