Trail Running Safety for Women, part 1
A cool breeze, a sweet downhill, the soft crunch of leaves beneath your feet. It’s what every trail runner craves and relishes. Suddenly, a sense of “being watched” falls over you. You’re acutely aware of a “presence,” a sinking feeling in your gut. Glancing towards my left, I catch a glimpse of a man with an ackward gait, running as if trying not to make a sound, pulling closer towards me. Adrenaline flooding through my veins prompts the fight-or-flight response, shooting a rush of energy towards my legs. Not hesitating, I pick up momentum. The man immediately runs off the trail into the woods. There were no side trails to run onto or houses nearby. He disappears as quickly as he appeared.
Not wanting to take a chance, I stay in race mode until I can catch up with my buddy, who was about 1-2 minutes ahead of me. A few days later, I report the incident to the local rangers. As brief as it was, the encounter stirred up a past long forgotten, opening a door I thought I had closed over a decade ago.
Per the RRCA, avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets, and overgrown trails. Avoid unlit areas, especially at night. Run clear of parked cars or bushes.
I’m a trail runner by heart and find peace in my surroundings, a stillness that escapes me in everyday life. I have no intentions of changing that and decided long ago that I refuse to be victim and give someone else the power to dictate my life.
Whether running alone or in a group, on the pavement or on the trail, I encourage women to run safely and not become complacent. This doesn’t mean you have to run on a track. It means that, as a woman, you need to take extra precautions when running, particularly by yourself.
Below are a few tips I find essential to any woman.
1. Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? I see it all too often, and it is becoming a more frequent sight on the trails. To me, it is shocking. There have been times where I’ve needed to pass and have startled women in doing so. Please do not run with headphones on the trail. This goes for any runner. Trails require awareness not just of other people, but also of your environment. By listening to music on the trail, you are decreasing your awareness of your surroundings.
2. “X” marks the spot. Although this may sound a bit paranoid, letting someone know where you are going, the route you are going to take, and how long you will gone is a simple way to run safely. I also let people know my start time and anticipated finish time as well. I’ve had friends call me before asking if I was ok because I hadn’t texted them when I should have.
3. Running Buddies Forever. Not only is running with a buddy safer, it can be a lot more fun too, especially on those long runs! Still, this isn’t always an option. If I can’t run with a buddy, I choose trails that are closer to civilization and that are more populated. I may get annoyed at having to run repeats, but that’s okay. On a side note, when running with a buddy, stay in close proximity to each other.
4. Hi, can I borrow your dog? I am your neighbor. Dogs are great deterrents, not only for humans but also for other animals. If you don’t own a dog, see if you can borrow a neighbor’s dog. They might actually be happy. It’s one less walk they have to take. Just make sure your furry companion isn’t a Chihuahua.
5. Hmmm, this way or that way? Alter your route. Try not to run the same route everyday, and choose different running times and days as well. Mix it up a bit. Not only will this help throw off suspicious characters, but it will also liven up your running as well.
6. Android or iPhone? Carry your phone with you, and have it in an accessible location. When running solo, I always have my phone on me. If it’s not in my hand, it’s very close by.
7. Leave some fuel in the tank. This is one I personally go by, the Running Teacher’s personal tip. I always, always, always leave extra fuel in the tank. I never run at 100% power on the trail, not even 80%. I make sure that I have reserves should I ever need to call upon them. This can make or break a getaway. Per A Safe World for Women, 85% of the women who ran away avoided being raped. Yet, it is the least used strategy. The key here is to react immediately.
8. Pass the pepper, please! No, not what you use on your dinner plate. Pepper spray. Following the above encounter, I carry pepper spray on all my solo runs, whether they are short or long. After a lot of research, I went with SABRE, a known and trust company since 1975. I am currently testing several of their products, including The Runner (with and without UV marking dye) and the Duathlete Athletic model, which is perfect for running and cycling. I have been very pleased with both versions of The Runner and have a particular affinity towards the one with UV marking dye.
In addition to pepper spray, I strongly encourage carrying a whistle or a personal alarm. There are many whistles available on the market. SABRE also carries a wide range of personal alarms.
9. Pull a Sandra Bullock. Take a self-defense class. Sure, you can imagine what you would do if you ever found yourself in a compromising situation; however, with the flood of adrenaline and emotions, would you follow through? Do you really know what you would do? Most women don’t. Self-defense classes are the perfect way to practice what you preach. R.A.D. is an excellent program. Check with local police departments, universities, and martial arts studios for classes.
10. 6th sense. Trust your women’s intuition. How often has it failed you? Mine has rarely failed me. If your insides are screaming that something is wrong, stop and listen.
I encourage you to pass this along to the women runners in your life. This is part 1 of my installment on Women’s Running Safety. Throughout the next 4-6 weeks, I will roll out a new article each week starting Mondays focusing on women’s safety.
*Because we should all keep running happy*