For all of the years I lived in Massachusetts and was a morning runner, which I count as 18 or 19 – Patriots Day would mark the time when people would come out of hibernation and either start exercising or take the exercise routines outdoors. As I have noted, I keep running outdoors in pretty much any weather, this winter contending with wind chills around -25. But for those who mark the Boston Marathon as ‘oh crap I made a resolution and we are four months into the year I better get my butt outdoors’ time, there is a bit of a quandary: the temperatures have generally risen to above freezing each morning, but it is still dark until after 6AM for most people. Therefore with more people out and about it is a good idea to go through some basic morning running safety tips.
I have always loved running in the early morning because it is a time I can dedicate to myself, because it is so quiet and peaceful, and as I once read – because the drunks and nutjobs had already passed out, and the rest of the world wasn’t awake yet.
- Run against traffic: this is the law pretty much everywhere – bikes are vehicles, and so they travel WITH traffic. Pedestrians and runners travel AGAINST traffic. As an added bonus you get to see what is coming at you, and with people half-awake rushing to work while juggling cell phones and coffee and so on … this works to your advantage!
- Choose well-lit routes if possible: this might sound obvious, but a better lit area means that predators (animal or human) will not be able to hide or surprise you, and that you are more obvious and visible to approaching cars.
- Make yourself visible: the great thing about most running gear today is that it is all reflective. This is great – but don’t hesitate to take the extra step of using a running vest and headlamp, especially if some of your routes are less well-lit or prone to foggy conditions. For about half of my normal routes I only occasionally use my headlamp, but for others I need it pretty much the whole time. And even if you aren’t worried about cars, a bobbing headlamp will typically send a skunk waddling off in another direction.
- Leave the music at home: bottom line – you cannot pay full attention with an external sound source in your ears. That isn’t opinion, it is reality – you are blocking off what should be an important sense at a time when your vision is hampered by darkness. If you cannot get motivated without music – stay indoors or wait until after sunrise.
- Bring your phone / Road ID: Stuff happens, and while we continue to pound on this one, it is worth the extra few dollars for a Road ID and some sort of running belt or armband to carry your phone. You hope you never need it, but want it there in case you do.
- Trust your instinct: I have said I used to avoid others when I ran because of embarrassment. But a couple of months ago I altered my route to avoid someone (the alteration became a great new way to add a half-mile to a route, but that wasn’t the point). The reason? I saw these two guys walking down the road, and something inside of me put up a red flag. I hesitated for a moment, but then recalculated a possible new route and went off telling myself I was probably being silly – but I didn’t regret my choice.
- Don’t be an idiot: Don’t try to race cars through intersections; share the roads and don’t force bikers into the road and put them in danger; don’t play ‘invisible pedestrian’ and put the onus of your safety on others; give other runners warning if you are approaching from behind. Be a considerate human being.
But that isn’t everything … sadly enough, as a physically fit white male I get the privilege of being oblivious to some of the darker aspects of running in the dark. Over the last couple of months I’ve gotten into a few discussions around the particular difficulty of RWF – ‘running while female’. In just the last year we have had more than a couple of cases of runners who were murdered and never returned home — these were normal runners, moms and wives and daughters — who just happened to be out running in the wrong place being the wrong gender. And there was another one just a couple of weeks ago, not to mention several rapes and other attacks that I have heard about this year.
So here, based on those discussions, are some more safety thoughts and tips … which honestly it sickens me to have to list:
- Vary your schedule: if someone leaving for work is thinking ‘she runs by the end of my street every morning at 5AM’ … you might have just made yourself a target.
- Mix up your routes: similar to the first one, if your schedule is fairly rigid, be sure to vary where you run, again trying to make sure you are not burning the image of you running alone in the dark into the head of a potential predator.
- Don’t OVER-light yourself: some make sure they run in well-lit areas but won’t run with a headlamp or vest, for fear of being TOO visible. If this is the case, make sure that you are ‘headlight safe’, testing it out with friends to be sure.
- Don’t run alone: if at all possible, run with others – the old ‘strength in numbers’ saying is true. Two women running together is no longer a target for a single predator.
- Carry mace/pepper spray: In case something actually does happen, you will be moving while the attacker is stationary, meaning that you will have the chance to spray and then run away.
- Lock your house: think about it – you are leaving your house for an hour or so at the same time every day. Unlike when you drive to work, you probably don’t want to deal with keys. Make a spare to carry with you on your run.
- Say ‘hi’ to everyone, and make sure friends know your habits/routine: in case you don’t make it home, you want to be sure that your close friends know where you run and when, and if something happens and someone saw you pass and say ‘hi’, chances are they will remember you.
- Remember your childhood rules: if you are alone, don’t talk to stranger seeking directions; be wary of cars stopped at an intersection; don’t be afraid to cross the street if something feels wrong.
- Pay attention!: none of these rules mean anything if you are drifting down the street not looking straight ahead contemplating the buds on the trees and run straight into an attacker. Keep your eyes open and remain alert when you run, your awareness can be your best defense.
Are there other ideas for early morning running safety you feel are important? Share them in the comments!