What to Do When Running Feels Dangerous

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It’s the news story we’ve heard too many times: a jogger went out for a run but never returned home. If you’re someone who likes to run — particularly if you’re a woman who runs alone — these reports hit all too close to home and can leave you wondering how to stay safe while running.

Runners face everything from distracted drivers on the roads to dangerous wildlife on the trails. But often, it’s the fear of being followed, harassed, or assaulted anywhere that’s not super populated that keeps runners from lacing up their sneakers.

In a 2020 survey of runners who identify as women by RunGrl, a media company for Black women runners, 82 percent said they sometimes worry that they might be assaulted or attacked on a run. And sadly, it’s for good reason: 86 percent of respondents reported being catcalled, and 33 percent said they’d been followed while on a run. Over half of people who responded to the survey said they’d decided to cancel a run over concerns for their safety.

The sad truth is we can’t control the actions of others and runners should keep safety in mind at all times. But there are some actionable steps you can take to help you stay safe while running — both from other people and from other things that pose a threat to runners’ safety, including cars and animals. Here, running coaches offer their go-to safety advice.

Go With a Group

Two in three runners who responded to the RunGrl survey reported running with others in order to protect themselves while on a run. And to be sure, joining other runners gives you a built-in safety network. Go on a group run or enlist a running buddy — even a dog can be helpful. Or you can head to a local track or another well-populated running trail where you know other runners will be training, at a busy time of day.

Make Sure You Can Hear

Allison Felsenthal, a San Diego–based running coach, recommends leaving your headphones at home (or only putting in one ear bud, or turning off any noise-canceling functioning and keeping the volume low). You want to be able to hear cars, other people, and any animals.

Bring a Phone

Even if you use your runs to disconnect, keep your phone on you. “Just turn your notifications off,” suggests Amie Dworecki, a marathon and ultrarunning coach. That way, you can call someone if you get injured or fear you’re being followed. Even better: share your real-time location with a family member or friend so they can see exactly where you are.

Avoid Running in the Dark

When the sun isn’t shining, it’s harder for cars to see you. There are also typically fewer people out. Consider doing a treadmill run or joining other runners if you have to log miles after dark. Otherwise, be sure to bring appropriate safety gear (more on that below).

Track Your Runs Carefully

The popular activity tracking/social networking app Strava can reveal more than you want. Protect yourself with the safety settings. Keep your profile private, or hide the start and end of your run. You can also use the Beacon feature to share your location with someone you trust.

Plan Ahead For Trails

Felsenthal recommends looking up routes before any trail runs so you know exactly where you’re going, what the conditions are like, and how much water to bring with you. “Understand what kind of area you’re in, what to do if you get lost,” she says. AllTrails and Reddit are both good resources. (Don’t forget to research what kinds of critters live in the area, and have a general idea of what to do if you encounter one.)

Check the Weather

On a long run, the temps you head out in won’t always be the temps you return in. “If suddenly the weather turns and you’re by yourself, what do you do?” Dworecki asks. Check the forecast to make sure you have the right layers (and waterproof gear, if necessary).

Bring the Right Running Safety Gear

There are several things you can wear or bring with you to help stay safe while running.

Sabre Runner Pepper Gel ($10): A handheld pepper spray can help protect you from both crime and dogs. Just check on the laws in your area to see what’s allowed.

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Birdie Safety Alarm ($30): Many runners swear by Birdie, a small device with an incredibly loud siren and a strobe light that can help attract attention and scare away any possible predators.

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Noxgear Tracer2 ($50): A lightweight light-up vest won’t add much bulk to your running outfit, but it will help keep you safe from cars if you’re running near streets after dark. “I recommend looking like a Christmas tree if you run after dark,” Felsenthal says. It’s especially useful if you gravitate toward all-black running ‘fits.

BioLite HeadLamp ($60): If you’re running in low light, a headlamp will help you see where you’re going. This BioLite option is rechargeable and one of the best at not bouncing around while you run.

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Road iD ($25+): If you struggle to find a good spot for your driver’s license, invest in a Road iD. The bracelet can strap onto your wrist, watch, or shoes, and it lists all your pertinent medical and contact info.

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Shokz OpenRun Pro ($180): If you don’t like to run without music, choose open-ear headphones like these, which let you hear your tunes and your surroundings at the same time.

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Jennifer Heimlich is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in fitness and wellness journalism. She previously worked as the senior fitness editor for Well+Good and the editor in chief of Dance Magazine. A UESCA-certified running coach, she’s written about running and fitness for publications like Shape, GQ, Runner’s World, and The Atlantic.

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