Six tips for running alone

I did something this morning that I’ve done a lot over the past 22+ years. I ran – alone.

When I first started running, it never occurred to me to run with others. I didn’t belong to a running club of any kind and I had no concept of pacing. I was of course aware of safety, and to achieve that I didn’t run late at night or any place that I deemed to be too desolate or a “sketchy” neighborhood.

When I did finally join a running club, I joined group workouts for the competition and comradery. Safety wasn’t really an issue. Sure, there were times when I went out in the early morning on weekdays alone in the predawn darkness that my senses were more alert to danger. I wore reflective clothing, blinking lights, and carried my keys in my hand (figuring they would be a good tool to gouge someone’s eyes out).

In Northwest Bergen County, New Jersey, I rarely felt threatened. Although, I was always aware that there were places (those peaceful, desolate places that are always seen in the Runner’s World “Rave Run” feature), that I wouldn’t venture alone – as a woman.

I’ve spent a lot of my time on the run over the last few weeks thinking about Mollie Tibbets. Mollie, you may recall reading in the news, was the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who disappeared while on an evening run not far from her home in July. Her body was found a month later.  A suspect confessed to kidnapping, killing, and dumping her body.

The running community responded with #MilesForMollie, dedicating their runs to Mollie’s memory. Female runners in particular made a statement in their posts of not letting fear keep them indoors. I have only been conscious of this kind of fear when assessing new running routes. I’ve had male runners suggest different trails or paths, that I know as a woman, I would not feel comfortable running alone. I think men take that for granted.

I continued running on the lakefront trail here in Chicago. A big part of running safety for me has always meant avoiding vehicular traffic whenever possible.  The lakefront trail gives Chicagoans an easy place to do that. On any day of the week during daylight hours the lakefront trail is a popular place and even when running alone, a runner rarely feels alone. So, all good, right?

Not so much. On the last Saturday in August, I ran part of my run alone until I met up with a couple from the group that had more miles on the agenda and started earlier. I met them at around 7 o’clock in the morning near the Lincoln Park Zoo. By Sunday afternoon, news broke that a female runner was attacked around 7:30 Sunday morning a little further north on the trail. A place where many of us have run – alone.

So how do we feel safe when the places we thought were safe aren’t any more? I think we can do the best we can. To do that, I’ve compiled some of my own safety tips:

  1. Run on trails and pathways that are well-lit, not desolate, and whenever possible, separated from vehicular traffic.
  2. Run at hours of the day when you are most likely to share the trail with others.
  3. Always be aware of your surroundings. Steer clear of anything suspicious or that makes you feel uncomfortable. Consider limiting headphone use to the treadmill.
  4. Find running buddies whenever possible. Join a local running club. There are many groups on social media that can help you plan meet-ups with runners in your area as well. If you have difficulty finding other humans to run with, run with your dog. Fido needs the exercise and most would-be attackers will think twice about approaching a dog.
  5. Try not to be a creature of habit. Don’t run the same route at the same time of day every day if you are running alone.
  6. And finally, make sure you have a way to scare off an attacker. Some runners I know run with small weapons, mace or pepper spray. I’m afraid those things will get used on me, so I carry a little personal ear-piercing alarm on my belt. I remember hearing a safety lecture by the NYPD a number of years ago where they said they best thing you can go is make sure you don’t leave “crime scene #1” because “crime scene #2” never has a good outcome.

So good luck running everyone. Stay safe out there. And if at all possible don’t run – alone.

Chicago’s Lakefront Trail offers spectacular views! Chicago, Illinois. August 2018.


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