Running Safety & You: How to Stay Safe On Your Run

A woman stands on a road at sunset while considering running safety.

When you’re lacing up your shoes and prepping for a run, the last thing you might think about is running safety.  Especially if you’ve been running for years, you know what to expect when you head out the door.

But the truth is, running can be dangerous — and we’re not just talking about the horror stories that you sometimes hear on the evening news.  Icy road conditions, feelings about safety, and windchill were the biggest preventions to outside running in 2017, according to the Running USA 2017 National Runner Survey.

From negligent drivers to aggressive dogs and unexpected weather, getting caught unaware even a few miles from your driveway can end in disaster.  

Here are a few tips to help you amp up your running safety and get home in one piece.


1. Go where the people are.

Running can be a social activity, even for non-socialites.  From your local running store to Meetup groups, finding a pack of runners to train with can do wonders for your self-esteem whether you’re jogging for fun or pushing for your personal best.

If that doesn’t sound like your scene but you’re still concerned about your running safety, consider running in locations where people are abundant.  That may be parks, greenways, or popular and well-trodden urban centers.

While you may have to dodge a few speed walkers or joggers if you’re taking a quick pace, you won’t have to worry as much about someone approaching you with malicious intent.  That’s not to say that it won’t happen, but having help just a shout away can be a deterrent for would-be bad guys who would rather not make a scene.

If you’re looking for popular routes in your neck of the woods, consider Strava’s Global Heatmap for runners or a route search tool like the one over at Runkeeper.  While you’ll still want to vet the routes before you go jogging, information is a good step in the right direction.


2.  Go at the right time of day.

There’s something to be said about choosing the right time and place to hit the road  If you search around, you’ll find a ton of articles about running safely at night or during the winter months (which is not a fan favorite).

The reality is that finding the right time of day can be something of a balancing act.  If you’re running on the road in low-light conditions, especially at dusk and night in urban areas, you’re at a much greater risk of injury or fatality, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Unfortunately, for most of us, a midmorning run might be off the table.  Between jobs, getting kids off to school, and household chores, our only free time often occurs when the sun is already sinking into the horizon.  This is especially true in winter. When the sun comes up late and goes down early, a night run may be your only option.

Your particular flavor of running safety needs to reflect your personal lifestyle, but you should always take the appropriate precautions and understand the risks.

For example, if we look to midday runs in the summer, heat is an issue and the precautions you need to account for are entirely different than jog on a quiet, autumn night.

Whatever your choice and how you choose to handle it, choose the right time of day to ensure your safety on the road and offset any hazards with appropriate gear and a cautious approach.


3.  Take the right gear with you.

As a species, we’ve braved the elements for thousands of years with tools.  They’re our secret weapon, and we’ve gotten pretty good at using them. When considering your safety while running, don’t forget to take your tools into account.

What you choose to carry with you on a run is a personal decision.  Aside from absolute essentials — your phone, a house key, an ID, and maybe a water bottle — your tools should consist of items that keep you prepared for the environment.

For night runners, reflective vests, flashlights, and headlamps may be in order.  Never assume that a driver will see you, especially if you’re dressed in dark clothes with no reflectivity.  From the same NHTSA study mentioned earlier, over half of pedestrian fatalities involved no alcohol on the part of the driver or the pedestrian.

During midday runs, especially in the summer, wear cooler clothes and bring plenty of hydration.  If you’re allergic to bees, wasps, or other summer hazards, make sure to carry an EpiPen or similar auto-injector in case the worst should happen.

If you’re just starting out, browse around for a guide to basic running gear to get an idea of what you need, then adjust that list to something that suits your personal style and situation.  That could mean anything from particular sweat-wicking fabrics all the way to running spikes to combat icy road conditions.


4.  Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

At the head of many hiking trails in the US, you’ll find a sign-in sheet where you fill out some basic information, including your time of departure, your planned route, and your expected time of return.

There’s a reason that signing in and telling someone where you’re going is essential to hiking success.  If nobody knows where you are or how long you’ve been gone, they may not know you’re in trouble until it’s already too late.

How does this equate to running?  These are good steps to take whether you’re hiking up a mountain or taking a long run around town.

Even if you’re just heading for a three-mile jog through the neighborhood, do yourself a favor and tell someone you know and trust where you’re going and when you’re expecting to be back.  It’s a quick text or a phone call that can ensure your running safety.

We’re so glued to our phones these days that it’s easy to believe that those devices will always be there and within reach when we need it.  But that might not be the case. Take a minute and let someone where you’ll be and when you’ll be back before you hit the road.


5.  Stay Alert

If you start looking around for articles on running safety, you’ll find a ton of information about self-defense, especially for women.  Learning a martial art takes time, dedication, and is often expensive.

The same is true when considering something like pepper spray or other similar self-defense items and the training and expenses involved.  You shouldn’t carry those items without knowing when and how to use them, and that’s additional gear on top of what you’re already carrying.

Self-defense courses often have a “feel good” factor, but a single one-hour seminar could do more harm than good if you learn basic self-defense and then never practice it again.  That may lead to a false sense of security that undermines your running safety.

A better idea is to learn how to stay alert.  Learn to keep your eyes up and your head on a swivel.  If you run with music, ditch an earphone (or two) so that you’re not entirely disengaged from the world around you.

If bad guys are looking for easy targets, your goal is to make sure you spot the potential danger well in advance and take steps to avoid it.

And just to be clear, we’re not saying that learning self-defense techniques are bad.  We’re saying that, like many skills, they depreciate in value if they aren’t maintained.  Don’t fool yourself; take steps appropriate to your desired level of safety and maintain those initiatives!


Even More Running Safety

Running safety is a broad topic, there’s no doubt about that.  There are too many different niches and circumstances to cover them all here.  

No matter where you are in the world, we believe that running is an exercise you can enjoy with a little extra caution.  If you’re looking for more tips on running the roads safely, check out the Road Runners Club of America for additional info.

And if you’re looking for a running group that can help you run a marathon somewhere in the world, connect with us!  We’re here to help!

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