Solo Safety: When the Dark Keeps Coming, the Brave Keep Going

Running with a partner will discourage most perpetrators from even considering you as a victim.

Anyone who runs alone should be hyperaware of the surroundings, especially now when the days are shorter than the nights. Running alone allows vulnerability to assault, heightened by the shadows lurking around each corner.

But there's a difference between being alert and running scared. Sensible habits can transform vulnerability to empowerment to make you safer and more confident during all your solitary activities.

Notify others of your plans--except for the criminals. Before you even leave for your run, let someone know where you're going and when you plan to be back. This can be helpful for more trivial mishaps--more than once I've had a search party come looking for me when I've gotten lost (usually while traveling), or locked my keys in the car.

Carrying a cell phone can help you escape such mishaps with a minimum of fuss. Many newer models of hydration belts have pouches designed to hold your phone, and fortunately modern phones can fit into pockets in your shorts or jerseys.

Target your heart-rate, not yourself. Leave your bling at home--impress the crowds with your running form rather than inviting theft. If you've driven to your running site, don't store valuables in your car either. Many advise against doing your post-run stretch right beside your vehicle, because potential perpetrators could suddenly overtake you and force you into your own car.

And don't get caught up in a predictable routine like running out the door at the same time each morning on a route so familiar you could run it blindfolded. You might as well post your itinerary on the door so potential assailants know just when and where you will be most vulnerable to an attack.

Pay attention. Careful observation is your best defense. Steer away from people and situations that make you uncomfortable. This means turning around and looking behind you once in a while. To avoid looking like a nervous Nellie, I pretend that I'm intentionally bringing some backward running in my workout.

Wearing headphones while running alone is also a big no-no, but if you insist on running to music, turn the volume down very low, or wear only one earpiece, so that you are certain to hear others approaching.

Don't let the vampires bite. It's never a good idea to run in the dark alone. Not only can you not see potential threats, but the shroud of darkness prevents witnesses from coming to your aid. Most evening runners are huge proponents of the daylight savings extension legislation, but it's important to remember that pre-dawn darkness is no safer than nighttime.

Many people mistakenly feel more secure in the morning, maybe because horror movies have trained us that bad things only happen at night. But many criminals take advantage of women who let their guard down before sunrise.

Self defense. Finally, if the worst happens--being confronted by an offender--self-defense tactics can be your best weapon. Self-defense classes are offered in many cities, often free of charge. You can find a list of classes near you here on

Hopefully you'll never have to use the techniques you learn in a real-life situation, but knowledge and preparation can be very empowering. Your confidence alone might offer deterrent enough to potential attackers. Whistles and chemical sprays (running stores sell handheld models specifically for runners) offer other defensive tools.

Buddy system. Of course, running with a partner--human or canine--will discourage most perpetrators from even considering you as a victim. But the truth is that most of us want to be able to run at our own pace, alone with our own thoughts, occasionally or regularly.

When the days get shorter and darkness settles in the sky earlier, we must take extra measures to guarantee our safety. Remember that it's never a sign of weakness to run away from danger: Bursts of speed during your runs make you faster, stronger and safer.

Winter Running

Runners not only need to protect themselves from suspicious characters on the trail, but from the cold chill in the air as well. Besides investing in a set -- or two -- of reflective clothing and increasing your visibility in the dark by strapping on flashing clip-on lights, you need the gear and a layering system to prevent you from running back to the fire in the living room.

Some ideas to keep you safe in the cold:

  • Yaktrax--strap them over your sneakers for extra protection on slippery surfaces.
  • Stay dry with technical wicking fabrics.
  • Use a hydration system--whether it's a belt, fanny bag or bottle holder.
  • Dress in layers--you'll start cool and gradually grow warmer.
  • Avoid wearing cotton which absorbs sweat and will make you damp and cold.
  • Avoid overheating after your warm up by dressing as if it's actually 10 to 15 degrees warmer than what the thermometer reads.
  • Remember, your body will generate a lot of heat. If you're warm at the start of your run, chances are you'll be too hot after a mile or so. Another good reason to dress in layers.


Reprinted, courtesy of Windy City Sports Magazine.

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