Running Safety Tips

Many of the things that make running a wonderful sport can also make it a bit risky. Exploring new places is exciting. Getting lost during a thunderstorm is not. Working out through the streets of a city is exhilarating. Getting mugged? Not so much. And nothing stops the fun like a sprained ankle in the middle of nowhere.

You get the point.

Running can be dangerous – and there are specific circumstances that put runners in harm’s way. This guide tackles a some general safety guidelines that all runners should follow.

1. Stay Alert and Be Aware

Runners have been known to space out and lose track of time as they hammer away at the miles. But isn’t that sort of the point? The “runner’s high” is not exactly imagined as an athlete carrying a fanny pack with pepper spray and a cell phone, ears piqued to capture any hint of danger (after which you can blow the whistle bopping around your neck).

But no matter what kind of groove you are in, you need to stay in control of the situation.

  • Take note people around you. This includes the people you pass or those you are about to approach from behind.
  • Keep track of public areas that could act as a place of refuge in bad weather or emergency situations
  • Remember that cars always have the right of way
  • Be aware of your location. You should always know, at least vaguely, what direction you are heading and how it relates to your starting point.

The specific trouble you might encounter depends on the specifics of each run. Learn to adjust your “danger radar” to best suit the changing circumstances.

Cities: City and urban running pose some of the more obvious threats for distance runners. You will have to be hyper aware most of the time in order to avoid cars, other exercisers (especially cyclists), precarious passers-by, and pigeons. (Seriously. If you think that’s a joke, check out the video “Pidgeon Attack.” See sidebar for link).

Rural Areas: Although you are statistically safer in rural areas, you are also more isolated. Be aware of severe incoming weather, wildlife, and avoid running next to parked cars/vans. If someone drives by and asks for assistance or directions, evaluate the situation before rushing over to help.

Trails/Wilderness: Remote trails are the safest venues in terms of criminal activity, but being in the wilderness also makes you more vulnerable to the elements and your own folly. It is important to keep your bearings so you don’t get lost and to watch the footing on the trail. Sprained and broken body parts are the easiest way to complicate an otherwise glorious escape from reality. Weather and wildlife can also be an issue.

2. Use Your Common Sense & Intuition

More often than not, a bad situation will first present itself as a weird feeling that you can’t place and try to shake-off. Don’t. If you feel uncomfortable, just switch directions and run to a safer location.

3. Be Smart Regarding Use of Headphones

For the sake of honesty, let’s just be straight: The best way to stay safe at all times while running is to never wear headphones.

But that just not feasible, is it? In the era of the mp3 player, some runners would rather you cut off an appendage than take away their music. Unfortunately, the same jams that get your feet moving also completely distract you from your surroundings and block out your ability to hear oncoming cars, people, and/or animals.

This is not about engaging in the larger music debate, but about making decisions or adjustments that will keep you safe. 

Try a compromise: If you are running at a riskier time (night or pre-dawn) leave the headphones at home. When your sight is compromised by darkness, it is crucial to have the other senses at full capacity, and crime is at its highest early in the morning and late at night.

Otherwise, keep the headphones on if you want, but at a volume where you can still hear outside noise. If you are coming to a rougher section of town, feel lost, enter a really crowded area, or just get a weird feeling, have the controls accessible enough so that you can hit mute at a moment’s notice.

Keep in mind that you will still be vulnerable, even if the music volume is low. All the things that present a danger to runners – bikers, cars, animals, people –approach more quickly and quietly than we usually think. Recognize that you have chosen to essentially “clog up” a sense and should compensate by keeping the rest on high alert throughout the run.

4. Leave a Trace

And do so without endangering your environmental principles!

But seriously, before you leave for your next run, make sure someone knows where you are headed and your estimated time of return. Tell, call, text or write a note to your housemate, family member, or friend. It doesn’t have to be a love note or the next great novel – something like “bridge and back, 6:00-7:15ish” should suffice. Make a pact with a fellow running-friend that you will leave messages with him/her and expect the same in return.

Communicating is important, regardless of where you run. It will help you stay safe in a city, but also comes in handy in more rural areas, where many a runner have left the house without so much as a whisper, only to spend the next hour hunkered down in a ditch waiting for a storm to pass.

5. Run with Company

Running with a friend is the best way to stay out of harm’s way. Safety in numbers, right?

However, as mentioned above, many of us run as a means for escape and solitude—scraping up a partner every time we need some fresh air seems a bit silly. Try to balance it out. Run alone sometimes and make sure that you have some running buddies for those times you need or want company (try to have those “company” times coincide with night-time running).

Dogs count, too, of course.

MUST Follow Safety Rules

  • Run against traffic.
  • Be very careful around blind corners. Avoid them if possible.
  • Be very careful of cars turning left.
  • Run clear of parked cars, dark or isolated areas, and large trees and bushes.
  • Ignore verbal harassment.
  • Be familiar with your usual running area, but also make sure to change up your routine so that people can’t track your pattern.
  • Cross the street if you can see a large group of people loitering.
  • Carry identification if possible. Make sure it is in a secure place.

Safety First!

Running is a relatively innocuous activity. But the thrill of being out in nature or hitting your splits is no reason to neglect your safety or the safety of those around you. Stay aware and alert, and always, always tell someone where you are headed before you run out the door.

Share the knowledge