Is this too risky?
It’s a question I often ask myself when the sunrises get later, pushing my morning runs into the predawn darkness. During the summer I enjoy a (maybe false) sense of security thanks to the early light. My runs are more at ease, I feel comfortable and secure.
Headlines from this summer proved that not even in broad daylight is a woman safe on the run. The stories from this summer regarding the attacks in NYC and MA made me wonder, what can I do to be safe? How can I prevent and protect myself?
I already take measure to make sure that I am safe: I don’t run with music, I carry mace. My husband and I share an app on my phone which allows him to track my location. And while I often post pictures of my runs on social media, I make an effort to keep the location ambiguous and I don’t share my runs on mapping platforms like Strava.
Yet I wonder, is that enough? I hesitated to write a post regarding safety earlier this summer mostly because it would simply have been my personal opinion. I wanted answers from an expert, I didn’t just want to pass along wrote advice.
Days after the attack in MA I saw that one of our local running specialty stores, Millennium Running in Bedford, NH was hosting a RUNSAFER clinic led by two-time Olympian and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, Todd Williams. I immediately sign up to attend this (free, thanks to a sponsorship by Asics) event. I had questions that needed answers and I wanted to brush up on my self-defense tactics. I’d take a self-defense class in college, but it had been years (12 to be exact) since I’d gone through the motions of defending myself against a potential attacker.
My friend, Tina Muir had recently interviewed Todd for her podcast, Run to the Top on that podcast he shared similar content to what he offered in the clinic. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it, you can check it out HERE.
Todd’s knowledge and passion for keeping runners safe was evident in his presentation, as a father of two teenage girls you can tell that safety isn’t just a profession it is something he thinks about constantly.
In his presentation, Todd went over five techniques for self defense in different scenarios. He demonstrated:
- breaking a grip
- potential targets on the attackers body and how to inflict the most damage
- how to escape after being knocked to the ground
- how to defend yourself when you are attacked from behind
In each of these demonstrations, Todd emphasized that every technique you are practiced and proficient at will add time to your “safety clock.” The goal of each technique is to create a window of opportunity that allows you to escape and run, the more techniques you are proficient at the better advantage you have and the more time you can add to your safety clock. And an attack can happen at any time, not just when you are out on the run, so it is important to apply these techniques to any situations where you are alone.
I walked away with my questions answered and with some amazing safety tips. Here are my take aways from the event:
If you are attacked, yell the name of a friend to plant a seed of doubt in that attackers mind that you are with other people.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
While the potential scenarios are frightening to think about, it is essential that you are prepared and consider everything a possibility. These skills are nothing without practice, which Todd emphasized over and over again. I realized that the targets, techniques for escaping from the ground and from being grabbed from behind-they all need to be ingrained in my memory so that if I am ever attacked muscle memory kicks in and I know exactly what to do.
Carrying a tool can add to your safety clock
My biggest question was, “Is it OK to carry mace?” I’ve heard mixed opinions on this topic and Todd’s point of view is that, if you are trained to use it, any device can add time to your safety clock. I carry mace and while I haven’t take a specific class on how to use it, I carry it in my hand with my thumb on the ‘trigger’ at all times while running. I’ve test sprayed it into the woods so I know how far the stream shoots (and yes, I’ve gotten it on my hands and touched my face later and know how it can make your skin burn) and what kind of pressure it takes to activate the spray. If your safety product is in your pocket it will do you no good. It must be ready to use at a moments notice. If someone grabs you from behind, you may not be able to discharge the mace as a deterrent, but it could potentially be useful if you are knocked to the ground and need to create space to escape. This is the mace I carry.
It’s easy to get into a set routine, especially if you’re following a training plan for a big race. Mixing your routes up, running at different times during the day or even swapping an outside run for a treadmill run could be enough to throw a potential attacker off, especially if they are tracking your running habits.
I walked away from the RUNSAFER Clinic with so much information. Todd sent us away with a really helpful card that outlined the techniques and ten safety tips. He also pointed us to his website which has a wealth of resources, from articles to videos with “practice workouts” to demonstrating safety techniques. And it is all content that he provides for free thanks to Asics.
Here’s what I’m doing differently now:
Being Careful what I post on Social Media
I’ve always been pretty cautious about the content I post to social media, but I realized that when I posted a pic and people asked me in the comments where I had run (even if it was a friend) I was sharing my location. I’ve stopped doing that and went back and deleted comments that gave away my location. I’ve also tried to eliminate posts the feature recognizable landmarks that are close to my home. Mostly I’ve been asking myself: can someone tell where I am if I post this pic?
I’m going to continue to carry mace and am looking for a self-defense class that teaches and gives practice on how to use mace in a self-defense situation. The mace I carry is strapped to my hand (I got it from SABRE as part of the Rise.Run.Retreat swag bag last year) and I’m always ready to use it if need be.
Changing the way I wear my hair
Typically I wear my hair in a long braid or a ponytail, but after the clinic I’ve started to put it up in a tight bun for each run. It’s not my personal preference, but I can save my personal preference for race day or group runs. If I can make one small choice to increase my safety and add time to my “safety clock” then I’m going to do that.
Making more of an effort to find other runners
One of the first tips that Todd gave was to run with others. For so many of us this seems unrealistic, especially for early risers who run before work. It can be hard to find someone who is willing to run early in the morning and at the same pace. But what I realized at the RUNSAFER Clinic is that “safety in numbers” doesn’t mean running with someone who is same pace, just being out there together within a half mile or so of each other can be enough of a deterrent. You don’t necessarily have to be side-by-side of the entire run to get the “safety in numbers” effect. If that person is with earshot of a yell or scream, they can come to your aid or if you’re both looping around the same neighborhood there’s a good chance a potential attacker will be deterred.
Going to a Jiu Jitsu class
Todd provided so much information in such a short time that it left me wanting to know more, and wanting a chance to practice some of the techniques he mentioned. I’m looking into signing up for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class in my area, just to reinforce the ideas and techniques and get some hands-on practice.
Practice with my hubby
My husband is a blue belt in Taekwondo and at one point was a New England AAU champion. He taught self-defense classes for a while when we were in college. He tells me “that was a long time ago,” but he’s still got moves and I know that working with him will keep me sharp. He’s probably more concerned for my safety than I am and would be a great person to practice with, so I should take advantage of him as a resource.
Todd mentioned a tracking app called glimpse and I’ve since downloaded it and my husband is able to get more exact information about my location and pace than when we were using the Find My Friend app.
Sometimes safety boils down to a gut feeling and to making small choices that reduce your risk. Once choice that you can make to reduce your risk is to find out if the RUNSAFER Clinic is coming to an area running specialty store (find their event calendar HERE), and if it isn’t call up a local martial arts studio and ask if they would be willing to put on a safety defense clinic for runners. The more you know, the safer you will be.
I love connecting with readers! You can find me here:
Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com