*Part 1 of 2*

Safety is a topic that no one really wants to have to address, but considering some of these things and planning ahead can literally save your life. Running is fun, it has countless benefits, but when done at the wrong time/place it can be very dangerous. I would much rather talk about cool places I’ve run or my last workout but safety on a run may be the most important topic we could discuss. As someone who ran in Boston in 2013 and feared for my family after the bombings, I know too well how vulnerable we are on the streets and trails. 

This first point is applicable to everyone, but based on numerous conversations it affects women more than men. This hits hard right now because of the tragic events in Memphis recently. Everyone should be aware of their surroundings on a run. Now, my wife has told me many times that I just do not understand what she has to consider on runs and she is right. My perspective comes from being a husband and a dad with 2 daughters. I want everyone to enjoy running. I want my daughters to go for runs when they are older and not worry about them coming home. Statistics and reality tell us that females are disproportionately more likely to be targeted. Depending on how you look at it, up to 90% of victims are female. I am about 6 feet tall, younger, fit, relatively fast, and male. I don’t really give any thought to running in the dark or down certain streets (for better or worse). It shouldn’t be this way, but it is. 

Everyone has their own comfort level with where, when, and with whom they will run. The location and the time of day have to be considered at the same time, and to some degree, who you run with plays into that as well. Generally, areas with more people tend to be a little safer than secluded areas, however that normally means more vehicular traffic to navigate (more on that later). I live in a town with a huge university, so I do not run through the bar district on Thursday-Saturday nights- it’s too crazy. However, Saturday mornings are normally super dead over there and it’s still a public place with minimal cars so it makes the long run route list from time to time. In other towns, I have seen some parks that seem unsafe after dark, but would be fine for a lunch run. Wherever you are, go with your gut (or a loved one’s gut). If it feels sketchy or unsafe, DON’T RUN THERE. Another idea I have used when moving to a new city is to talk to a police officer in the city about safer and less safe areas around the town. They can tell you where the less safe areas are first hand so you can steer clear of those. 

In order to be aware of your surroundings, the most important thing is to be able to hear what is around you. Around 60% of runners listen to music/podcasts/etc while running. 1-2x a week I will throw some headphones in during a run, and I will say I am very guilty of what I am about to say not to do. Most of us blast motivational music to get us pumped up and distracted from what we are doing. Don’t do this. If/when you run with headphones, keep the volume low enough to hear things. Faster runners and cyclists should announce themselves as they pass, but they don’t always. You may not know if they did or didn’t because you have that high school throwback playlist blasting in your ears. Animals have startled me on plenty of runs and the only way I knew the skunk was there was from hearing it. Options: turn the music down, run without headphones, or use bone conduction headphones. The bone conduction headphones leave the ear canal open so you can still hear other things around you along with the music. Quick google search will give you some options there.

For some, carrying a defensive item on a run helps them feel safer and better prepared. What you may want, use, or need will depend on where you live. A rural road in Idaho will have different risks than an urban run through downtown Chicago. Some states have different laws regarding what you can carry with you, so double check your local laws before taking something on a run. Common defensive tools people run with: a key (in their hand), pepper spray, a knife or sharp object, and some even carry small firearms on them. A key is held in the hand such that it sticks out between the fingers to be used to scratch or jab in a defensive situation. A lot of people use the gel pepper spray option to limit the risk of the spray blowing back on you and getting in your own eyes. I have never used or carried pepper spray, so do your own research on best brands and types if you feel you need to carry it. Knives would be similar to the key, but with a little more potency and intentionality to it. Carrying a firearm is where the greatest variation on legality will occur. In Texas, there is no issue as long as you don’t enter a building where they are restricted. In other places the laws are more restrictive on what, where, or how you may carry (I am not a lawyer, and this should not be perceived as legal advice). I will say two things here. 1) Do not judge someone else based on what they need or perceive they need. You have not walked in their shoes. If they are carrying a firearm they may have been viciously attacked by an animal, assaulted, or harassed in their past. 2) When it comes to safety, to life and death, or to a significant life altering event I personally want the most one sided fight imaginable. If you have a bat and are actively threatening myself or my family, I want a tank. Take your safety seriously and do not be ashamed about doing so. 

Heaven forbid you end up in a situation having to defend yourself, but if you do, get scrappy. There’s no such thing as a fair fight. Hit them where it hurts. Scratch, hit, kick, jab, or whatever you have to do. Aim for “soft spots” like the eyes, throat, private areas, etc. I would encourage everyone to take a basic self defense course and have 2-3 options for quickly creating separation from an attacker and yourself. 

My hope and prayer is that everyone can enjoy running safely. As other runners, look out for others. We are typically good at helping those who need it, but there is more safety in numbers. We will talk more about my personal safety rules next time.

Zach Ginnings