In the wake of the shocking slayings of three female runners in August, many women have been scared to run outside alone.
I have remanded myself to the treadmill since June after my husband made me swear I wouldn’t run alone along the river following the broad-daylight face slashing of a woman on the Schuylkill River Trail.
There has been a resounding response to the attacks universally, with multiple sources offering tips to help women run more safely. These recommendations are important for anyone, man or woman, to consider before setting out on a run: (adapted from Runner’s Connect)
Avoid running alone. Ask a friend to run with you, walk behind you or even ride a bike beside you. If you have trouble finding a partner, there are other options. The running community is very savvy and organized, so explore running clubs in your area. Run215 is a thriving running group in Philadelphia that promotes a positive culture and hosts group runs daily. Also, running with a medium to large dog makes you a less desirable target, but beware, running with a small dog can further inhibit you.
Carry pepper spray. Running with pepper spray can be the difference maker in stopping a potential attack as its effects can be felt up to 10 feet away. They now make holders specifically for runners that wrap comfortably around your hand. As with any self-defense tool, be sure to practice using it at least once in an open area so you know exactly what you are doing if a situation arises.
Hear what is going on around you. Listening to music or talking on the phone is an obvious distraction. My headphones and great soundtrack were a must for me when I initially set out running because the music motivated me to keep going. For safety reasons, I am practicing running without them and use the silence as a reflective time. A friend told me to observe my breath and steps and be grateful for the beauty around me rather than distracted by music. That said, if you must listen to music while you run, put headphones in only one ear and keep the volume low enough that you can hear the sound of your own steps and those around you. Without your sense of hearing, you will not only be more vulnerable to predators, you will be more susceptible to accidents with cars, bikers, or other runners.
Make Yourself Visible. Do not run in isolated areas alone, especially at night. Running after the sun goes down is more dangerous, but if you insist, do so with a partner and invest in reflective clothing to ensure that everyone can see you.
Run on familiar roads or trails. If you are running alone, it is not recommended to explore areas to which you are unaccustomed. Running through streets that you frequent allows you to put a plan in place in case of emergency. You may be more comfortable knocking on a neighbor’s door if something strange occurred during a run, and you probably know exactly where the police station is in your neighborhood. Thoughtfully plan your route accordingly.
Do not run the same route, at the same time, every day. Stalkers will often look for a routine. So, being too predictable can be unsafe as well. Changing up your workout also is important to avoid plateauing, and adding variety to your repertoire will be both safer and more impactful.
Carry your phone to use only in case of emergencies. Your phone is your lifeline and your connection to the outside world if anything happens. Whether it is something small like a twisted ankle or upset stomach or something more serious, you will be happy that you had your phone when something unexpected happens. Keep your phone unlocked while you run and know exactly how to make an emergency call or drop a pin to share your location. Also, apps like MapMyRun allow others to track your exact route via GPS.
Run against traffic. If you run facing traffic, it provides you with more visibility and makes it easier to turn. It also allows for drivers to see you head on.
Always have ID on you. Running with ID is important because if something happens and you were unable to speak for yourself, your identification will provide important information that those around you need to know. Many runners and hikers are now wearing ID bracelets that have their names inscribed on them, along with their address, emergency contact and known allergies.
Run confidently. Stand tall and run confidently to avoid looking like a weak or easy target. Keep your head held high and know that you are strong. God forbid if someone attacks you, do everything you can to avoid being taken to another location.
Mandia stretches before a run at Penn's Landing.
The advice is helpful but it is simply not enough. Most people already know that they need to be aware of their surroundings at all times, especially when they are alone. The reality is that it is impossible to predict when accidents will happen or when criminals will strike, and it is unfair to expect that victims must do more to prevent the assaults.
This begs the question, “What else can be done?”
In a perfect world, perhaps cities and towns could designate specific safe zones that are constantly policed. This would allow people to feel safe without being robbed of their independence.
For the moment, we must take care and continue to look out for each other.
My message for women is DON’T BE AFRAID. Keep running. Things can happen anywhere and those headlines are national news because the attacks are uncommon and infrequent. Just like you won’t stop going food shopping alone, there is no reason to stop running alone. And, of course, be sure to follow the guidelines and use best safety practices in your everyday life.
PhillyVoice contributor, Christie Mandia runs near the Delaware River at Penn's Landing.
I know I am planning on going back to the trail, but this time with pepper spray. What do you do to stay safe while running? Please join the conversation and share your ideas in the comment section below.
I will continue to keep you posted on my health journey and would love to hear your experiences, as well. Please feel free to share below or tweet me @christiemandia.
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Each week, on Mindful Mondays, Christie shares her tips and tricks toward a healthier lifestyle. Give these tips a try to improve your health, wellness and quality of life!
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