A friend of mine messaged me today that a female runner had been abducted yesterday on a road that she and I ran on during marathon training. A beautiful and bucolic road, it is the perfect road to relax and enjoy a long run. But alas, we do not live in a perfect world, and terrible things can happen. The runner was able to get away thankfully, and I want provide you with useful information to decrease risk for dangerous incidents and what to do if one occurs.
Being an ever-optimistic person, I always try to give folks the benefit of the doubt. It’s very easy to settle into a routine running similar routes at similar times, and forget that unfortunately there are some unsavory characters out there. My father was a police officer and SWAT team member for the City of Portland. He taught me a young age to be mindful of my surroundings. I remember him teaching me self-defense techniques at age 3, and still as an adult he reminds not to put myself in dangerous situations.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. This is just as true for your hometown as it is during a vacation in a new town. Often we are most cavalier in our own hometown, making us vulnerable to danger. If you must run with music, keep the volume low enough that you can still hear cars and voices. Be alert for cars slowing near you, and people changing direction on the street to walk behind you. Runners are increasingly vulnerable because prowlers perceive them to be fatigued and occupied, especially with earbuds in. “Watch your six” is a common saying for officers, indicating to know what is happening behind your back.
Run with others. Obviously, there is safety in numbers. A dog counts as a “someone”. If you must run alone, inform someone when you are leaving as to what route you are doing and when you intend to be back. Before I was married I would text a friend or check in with a roommate when I left for a run. That is what friends are for!
Change up your routine. We are not as discreet as we think we are. I see the same man with the same dog running the same route near my house at the same time each day. He is very predictable. Imagine what kind of information an unsavory character can gain by seeing the same swinging ponytail crossing the street at the same predictable time each day. Change up routes, days, and times if you can.
Don’t post your routes on Facebook! Mapmyrun and Runkeeper are awesome apps, and I love the camaraderie that they inspire when people can see your progress and cheer you on. But do not post those maps on Facebook or other social media. Brag about your time or your mileage and post a picture instead.
Carry protection. This will look differently to each person. It may be a phone strapped to your body. A small whistle attached to your keys or in a zipper is also helpful. Do not tie it to your shoe! Most likely there will not be enough time to get it off to use it. Bear spray and mace are a very good option. They need to be accessible and in working condition to be effective. Familiarize yourself with where the spray nozzle and the release button are. Other more assertive devices may be considered as well. A key strategically placed between your fingers in a clenched fist works well too.
Act like you own the place. Run with your head up, and presume confidence. If you are walking, walk with purpose and a little bit of swagger. When strangers come near, look them in the eye. Looking at them closely serves two purposes: 1) Perpetrators do not want you to know what they look like. They do not want you to be able to describe them if you get away. Also, avoiding eye contact portrays timidity, which actually makes you a target. Criminals do not want to work hard. They tend to choose people who look meek, and easy to overcome. Confident people kick hard, and they are not as interested in that. 2) If you do get away, you will be able to convey an accurate description of the person to the police.
Chose busy well lit, populated areas. Especially in the dark, well lit areas are helpful. Unfortunately it does not eliminate risk so please do not be fooled into thinking that you are safe simply because you are in a busy area. There was unfortunate incident in Queens, New York in 1964 in which 38 people witnessed the rape and murder of 28 year old Kitty Genovese. Onlookers when interviewed stated that they each thought that someone else would call the police and take control of the situation. She called for help, and eventually 1 of the 38 witnesses phoned police. Interesting psychology behind this, but lends to the notion that just because you are in a populated area does not necessary make you safer.
IF YOU ARE ATTACKED:
Aim to INJURE. Unfortunately it is not enough to simply kick an attacker and stun them. You need to cause them bodily harm in order to give yourself time to get away. Aim to poke eyes, kick shins and genitals. Hit as hard as you can with elbows underneath the chin. If someone has you from behind, try to hit them with the back of your head. Hit and kick as hard as you can.
Yell ANYTHING. There is some speculation that hearing “help”, or “rape” makes people uncomfortable, and more likely to assume someone else will help. There has been rumors that yelling “Fire” is helpful to attract people’s attention and make them call 9-1-1. On the other hand, hearing “FIRE” has been seen to induce action from bystanders but may result in a fire truck coming when you need armed police. There are no concrete statistics as to which cry for help elicits the best response in people. “Let go of me”, “help”, “I’m being attacked”, and high pitched screams are attention grabbing as well.
When you get free, RUN. Enough said.
While paranoia is certainly unhealthy, it is important to maintain awareness. There is a lot of good in this world. There are many beautiful and scenic trails and routes in this world. We can enjoy them without being overshadowed by evil- but let’s be sure that if someone chooses us, we do not let them win.
Make your day great and run safe,