Running Safety Tips from a Self-Defense Pro

by Molly Hurford
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Running Safety Tips from a Self-Defense Pro

Running safety: It’s not a topic that’s fun to think about, write about or implement on your daily runs, but that doesn’t diminish its importance. If you’ve ever felt nervous on a run — or read disturbing stories of victims — then you know that it’s important to take precautions to keep yourself safe on runs, especially if you’re running alone, in the dark or in obscure places.

Statistic legitimize this fear. RAINN reports that one in six American women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. ScienceBasedRunning.com recently did a deep dive into criminal statistics and concluded that while it wasn’t likely that a runner would be attacked, it wasn’t out of the question. Just under 14% of rapes are committed in open areas “like parks and greenways,” but 78% of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Last summer, news stories popped up nationwide about women getting attacked on runs, spurring a debate about whether women should ever run alone. (The answer: Of course, but be smart about it.)

Running in a constant state of fear is a bad thing, but being smarter about how we run — and being prepared for anything — might just save our lives. We asked Dan Gador, a Krav Maga instructor in Tel Aviv, Israel, for some tips on how you can take some elements of Krav Maga — a self-defense system developed for the Israel Defense Forces that combines several schools of martial arts — for some tips to use on your next run to help you feel, and be, as safe as possible.  

1. KNOW YOUR ROUTE

Before you head out on your run, have a good idea of where exactly you’re going, especially if you’re running in at night. Gador says route planning is the first step in awareness — and for good reason: If you know that the bike path is great during the day but not well-lit at night, stick to a brighter route. Well-lit paths, especially ones frequented by other runners, are your best bet to feel safe.

2. BE AWARE (BUT NOT HOW YOU THINK…)

Gador says that one of the major problems he sees in running safety advice is that they suggest to run without headphones so you can be aware of your surroundings. But that’s not where awareness should start, he argues. In addition to your awareness in the moment, he suggests planning ahead and constantly being aware of one’s surroundings at all times, not just trying to switch “on” when you hit the trail. (And, running sans headphones is still a good idea.)

3. BRING YOUR PHONE

It’s tempting to unplug during your run, Gador says. But it’s not necessarily the safest option. “You can always turn it to ‘Do Not Disturb’ if you’re trying to enjoy some peace and quiet,” he says. But you should still have it with you in case of emergencies. Again, share your location with someone you trust, and keep your phone transmitting, don’t change it to airplane mode to be distraction-free.

4. WEAR HIGH-VIS GEAR

High-visibility clothing and lights aren’t just for avoiding getting hit by a car, says Gador. If you’re getting dragged away, you’re more likely to be spotted if you’re sporting reflective gear or a headlamp.

5. FILE A FLIGHT PLAN

Another part of being aware means simply being responsible by letting someone know where you’re going. If you have a roommate, husband or BFF whom you can easily tell, great. For a higher-tech option, use the live-tracking option in MapMyRun. That way, your loved one can monitor your run in real time.

6. AVOID POTENTIAL OBSTACLES

If there’s a creepy guy up ahead on the running path or a windowless van idling in the back alley you usually run down, Gador says that the best offense in these situations is a good defense. Simply remove yourself from the obstacle’s path rather than stressing about what you’ll do if creepy guy approaches you. Turn around, and change up your route — if you don’t get a good vibe, it doesn’t make sense to continue to run toward the potential threat.

7. KNOW BASIC SELF-DEFENSE

Gador’s firmly believes that without proper training, being able to actually defend yourself in the moment becomes more difficult. If you’ve never kneed someone in the groin, for example, the movement might feel foreign, or you might be too paralyzed with fear to make it happen. A self-defense or even a Krav Maga class will focus on fighting in any way that gets you away from your assailant — and practice makes perfect.

8. SCREAM AND YELL

Gador says that screaming and shouting is the best first step when you’re being chased or attacked, since there might be help nearby. It doesn’t really matter what you yell, whether it’s “help” or “pizza,” he says. Just make it as loud as possible.

9. WIGGLE, GO FOR THE GROIN OR AIM FOR THE FACE

If someone grabs you, your first move is to keep moving. If you wiggle enough that you’re hard to hang onto, you might be able to slip away. If that doesn’t work, the next best move is the one we’ve known all along: Whether your assailant is male or female, try to land a hit on their groin for the best chance of incapacitating him or her. Gador also notes that there are options, like pepper spray, that runners can carry, but he adds that those options come with a few drawbacks. You’re more likely to spend precious seconds fumbling to open a can of mace and not succeeding, versus going for the groin and landing a hit faster. He also warns that any weapon you’re using can end up being used against you.

If someone is chasing you, Gador says, “If you have the chance, throw something at someone in the general direction of his face. You can gain precious seconds to run doing this.” Even if you don’t hit your assailant hard, you might startle him into stopping for a few beats — and in an every-second-counts situation, that can make a difference. Again, scream while doing it.

10. RUN WITH A GROUP

Women shouldn’t need to run with a group every single time. Last summer, after a seeming streak of violence perpetrated toward female runners, “don’t run alone” became the rule bandied about by more conservative groups. And while it’s not realistic to run with a group all the time, if you don’t feel safe on your solo jaunts, it might be time to consider adding a running buddy, finding a club or recruiting a friend or family member to occasionally ride a bike next to you while you jog. If you have a partner who runs but not at the same pace, you could even pick a shorter loop to do laps, and run it in opposite directions, so you’re constantly checking in with someone but not actually running together.  


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