I struggled to believe something I heard a couple of weeks before Christmas from a visiting technical group with a couple of runners. They were not used to being away from a city and indoor track, and were surprised about running in the dark mornings. But they said they wouldn’t wear reflectors or lamps because it ‘didn’t look cool’.
I have always loved running in the early mornings most of all – I am a morning person, it is peaceful outside, it really starts my day off right, and in clears my head. Besides, as I once read – the drunks and nutjobs have already passed out, and the rest of the world isn’t awake yet! BUT … this also means that I start my runs in the dark pretty much every day and finish in the dark about 10 months out of the year. This means I need to take visibility and safety very seriously.
A couple of years ago I had written about some early morning running tips, but they are definitely worth reiterating … so here goes:
- 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. Downside? I find drivers pay much less attention on roads near home in the early mornings.
- 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.
One thing that came up when discussing running safety is the danger for women in being TOO visible, or otherwise being potential targets. Some of these are related to visibility – but all are related to safety. And yes … the concept of ‘running while female’ being a specific danger category is something I continue to find sickening, but it is important.
- 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.
It is worth remembering that ultimately we run for exercise – whether we call if training or weight loss or whatever, it is about motion and positive health benefits. And there is a ‘rule zero’ of a workout – getting home safe and alive. If that means looking ‘less cool’ than we would prefer … maybe it is time to get over ourselves and remember that primary focus! Safety – don’t push it off onto someone else.
Also, check out this video highlighting the importance of being visible: