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home > training > training tips > running scared

Running Scared
Be confident of your own safety with these sensible precautions for avoiding nighttime accidents and fending off would-be attackers (both human and canine).

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By Josh Clark
Posted Tuesday, 28 November, 2000

Be careful out there. As soothing and relaxing as running can be, it nevertheless happens in the real world with real dangers. Smart runners take careful precautions to make their runs as safe as possible.

First, always be sure to carry identification in case of emergency. A colleague of mine was hit by a car on her run a few years ago, and because she had no identification, she was unconscious in a hospital for several days before family and friends found her. In the end, she had a full recovery but, it goes without saying, never went for a run without ID again.

Run smart. Be relaxed and confident, but always be aware of your surroundings and who is around you. If you normally run with headphones, consider stopping; a walkman cuts down on your awareness of your surroundings (and makes an attractive target for theft). Be familiar with your route and the locations of phones, call boxes, hospitals, police stations, etc.


Not enough hours in the day, right? Most of us wind up doing at least some of our running in the dark, either in the evening or early morning. As long as you dress to be seen, there's no particular reason not to.

Even at twilight, wear light-colored clothing or, even better, reflective vests. Many shoes have reflective materials built right in, or you can add some reflective tape. Clip-on flashing lights are also available and are an especially good idea if you plan to run in the roads. Do everything you can to make yourself as visible as possible.

The rules for running on roads go double when it's dark. Run facing traffic and stick to the shoulder. Do not assume that drivers will see you. Give cars plenty of space, and when in doubt step off the road. Before you hit the roads in the dark, take a look at your course in the daytime to survey it for potholes or other obstacles that you might miss during your nocturnal spin.


Every few years in virtually every city the awful news of an assault, rape or murder of a runner makes for a chilling reminder of the danger of our surroundings. These things do happen, and it's wise to remember that violence and crime are an unfortunate part of modern life. Whether you run in country roads, suburban streets or city parks, it pays to be aware of potential danger. At the same time, however, you should not let fear of crime dictate your life or overcome your enjoyment of running. A few precautions will go a long way to keep you safe.

There is safety in numbers, so consider finding a partner or group to run with. Bring your dog along if you can't find another runner (but be sure to ease your dog into training before launching Fido on a ten-mile run). If you insist on running alone, be sure to run where there are other people. Avoid deserted or poorly lit areas, especially routes that are surrounded by dense foliage or other hiding places where someone can jump out without warning.

It should go without saying to avoid creepy people. Don't acknowledge or respond to verbal harassment. If the situation only gets worse, however, change your route. Have a whistle or alarm device handy if you need help.

If you are actually attacked and the bad guy is unarmed try to get away and make as much noise as possible to attract attention. This last point seems obvious, but the surprise of an attack can sometimes stun you into silence. Don't let it. Make lots of noise. Fight back as a last resort. Look for a moment when the bad guy is distracted to make a break for it.

In general, listen to your instincts. Why run in places or times that seem to invite trouble? If you feel that you might be in danger, change your route.


Every runner has a dog story. You're running innocently along your course, when you suddenly find yourself nose to snout with a pooch that's all teeth. Scary stuff. Dogs are very territorial, and while most are perfectly mild-mannered, others seem to have a bloodlust when it comes to guarding their turf.

Obviously the best way to avoid dog trouble is to respect the borders of the dog's territory. Cross the street when you see a dog, and you'll probably get only a few harmless barks. Try not to act afraid, though. Look and act confident.

If this doesn't work and the dog is hellbent on coming after you, don't run. Stand your ground and shout "NO!" as loudly and with as much authority as you can muster. The idea here is to intimidate the dog and make clear that you are not an easy lunch. With a truly unpleasant dog, the nice-doggy routine will not work and you have to act tough. Or even crazy. If "NO!" doesn't work, try waving your arms, looking mean, and screaming at the dog. Like any other thinking, breathing creature, even a mad dog doesn't want to get involved with a crazy nut. This often works.

If it doesn't, try squirting your water bottle at the dog. If this is a dog that frequently causes you trouble, you might even consider bringing along a bottle of diluted ammonia and giving that a go. A squirt of ammonia on the eyes and nose should stop the dog in its tracks. Likewise, some pepper spray (not a bad idea to have around if you run in a potentially dangerous urban area) should also give the dog pause. It should go without saying that you should only use these defensively and as a very last resort. You might also avoid using these in front of the dog's owner...



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