What Does Runner Safety Mean (for Women)?

Every time we lace up our shoes to head out for a run, every time we cross a street or a driveway, and every time we encounter unfamiliar creatures – we need to consider safety.  Runners (and walkers!) face a unique set of safety challenges.  Cars, typically, are our biggest threat.  I speak from experience on this one as like most runners, I have had a close call or two with a car that decided to turn without checking the crosswalk first.  I also have had the experience of seeing my dad recovering from being hit by a car while out for his nightly walk – shattering one leg in multiple places and breaking the other ankle.

Now that Spring has sprung (kind of) we are heading out of the darker months, but it is important to remember that visibility is a year round issue, and one that as runners we need to be vigilant about.  We need to remember to use the side walk when it is available – and to ALWAYS run against traffic if the road is your only option.  Assuming a car will see you is never a safe thing to do.

There are hazards for runners that end up sounding funny in hindsight.  Several years ago I wrote a blog post about how while out for a training run in rural Costa Rica, I was chased for a quarter of a mile by a quite small, but quite angry sounding dog.  I’ve also had encounters with deer and foxes – thankfully without being chased, but we certainly equally startled each other!

Lastly, and the most bothersome for me, are the dangers for women running alone.  Most frequently these dangers are mainly of the psychological nature.  I’ve dealt with years of cat calls from moving cars, rude comments from folks I run by, and even once while running down Franconia Road at night, a car slowed to my pace and stuck right on my heel, asking me what the hurry was, where I was going, and what I was doing after my run.  That night was the most unsafe I have ever felt running.

There was something so utterly jarring about the experience.  I was out for my nearly nightly run.  I had run the same route dozens of times, and had gotten to the point where I didn’t even hear the honks and hollers of the cars as they buzzed by me.  Now – that is not to say it is EVER acceptable to have cars shouting at you or honking their horn, but it was something I had accepted about where I ran, and while I found it obnoxious, I never felt like it made me feel unsafe.  This was different.  It was brazen.  This wasn’t thoughtless words shouted out at 45 miles per hour.  This was intentional tormenting.  I can’t imagine anyone has ever successfully acquired a date from stalking a runner in their car, which made it clear this was a power play.  They wanted me to know I was weaker.  It worked.

I got home shaken up and stopped running that route at night.  And that pissed me off.  I was so frustrated that I had to change my habits because of the behavior of others.  At the same time – I found myself grateful that I’ve never experienced anything scarier while running.  I’ve never had anyone physically grab me, or follow me for longer than a block or two.  We frequently hear reports of runners being groped, grabbed, and assaulted on the trails.  We are told we should never run alone, that we should only run in daylight hours.  That advice, while sensible, also just infuriates me.  I hate the idea that I have to change my habits to make up for the poor behavior of others.  What do I do if I can only run at night?  How about if no one else is available to run?  Does that mean I simply can’t?

Let me get something straight – I think it is smart to run with others for many reasons.  It makes the miles go faster.  It strengthens social bonds.  It motivates you to keep going and gives you others to support you if you were to get injured.  There is also, of course, safety in numbers.  A person (regardless of gender) is an easier target alone than they are when in a group.  And yes, of course, it is smarter to run in the day time.  You want to be seen, you want cars to see you, and the risks of someone attempting to hurt you are also going to be decreased due to more people being out and about.  However, there is more that we can do for ourselves than to give up running alone.

What can we do?  Lots!  Run with your phone and use an app that can broadcast your GPS to friends while you are out.  If you don’t want to run with a phone – map out your run for someone (I frequently use google pedometer to check my mileage out anyway), and leave it up on a screen and give a time frame when you should be back.  Lastly – learn how to defend yourself!!  On April 9th we will be joining up with Capital MMA to host a women’s self defense class.  The cost is only $20 and can help you feel safe when you have to run in less than ideal circumstances.

You can register here – https://www.signmeup.com/site/reg/register.aspx?fid=3R2VKH7

Stay safe and come see us soon!

-Addie @metrorunandwalk

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