Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Running Safety - A Plea & A PSA

Y'all, I usually try to keep things pretty light around here. Every now and then, though, we need to get serious. (In my head, that is pronounced "sUrious," and it's how you know I'm really for real.)

I know that I don't have a million readers and that my words don't reach very far, but I have a few, and of the few I have, a smaller few are runners. So what I'm about to write is especially important for those people, and for myself, and if I can make one iota of difference in the life of one single person, then I will consider myself successful.

Yesterday, I read this post on Shut Up and Run, and it hit me hard. There have been two stories in the news in the six months about female runners who were murdered while they were out running: Sherry Arnold (Beth's cousin), in Montana, and now Sarah Hart, in Kentucky. I am not so naive as to think that these are the only two incidents of their kind; they are just the two that have made the news most heavily.

These stories scare me. They sadden me. They are tragedies that simply should not have happened. But they did. And the best thing to do after the fact is learn from these two women. Running is important. Running safely is more important. (This message is not just for female runners, but is especially crucial for the girls. Just FYI.)

I live in a pretty safe town, and in a pretty safe neighborhood. I have no problem heading out to run the streets around my house. However, (again) I am not naive, and I know that things do happen. It is key to realize that neither of those women were doing anything "wrong" - they simply had terrible, terrible luck. Sherry Arnold was killed by two men who were not from her safe little Midwest town; they had driven in from another state and crossed her regular running path. Just because your next door neighbors are sweet as pie doesn't mean you won't interact with someone who is not while you're running. Be aware.

Here's my advice: Don't stop running. Do (start to) run safely.

Basic tips and safety precautions:
  1. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Know where you're going. Know where you are. Just like tourists in big cities, runners make themselves targets if they are standing around looking confused about their path. Also, if something doesn't seem right, or you have a "gut feeling," go with it. It's better to cut your run short than run straight into danger. This has happened to me before (think creepy forest trail that was probably perfectly safe, but felt weird when I got about a half mile in... I turned around and went home!) and I was probably being silly, but better safe than sorry.
  2. Take your phone. I know a lot of people think this is uncomfortable. I'm sorry - being uncomfortable is better than being dead. Get an armband or a belted pouch or a jacket with pockets. Just take it with you. If nothing else, most phones have GPS tracking on them, and it can be used to find you (or wherever your phone was left) in the event you go missing.
  3. Don't run alone at night or in the early morning. This seems so obvious - if it's dark, don't head out alone.
  4. Turn down the tunes. I am one of those bajillion people who prefers running with music. That's fine (though some would tell you for absolutely safety, don't do it) - but keep the volume low. I know it's fun to jam out, but save it for the treadmill. I keep my music loud enough that it keeps me going, but low enough that I can hear a car coming or people talking to me.
  5. Make eye contact with people you pass. I always, always try to look any walker, runner, dog-walker, or random person in the eye and say "hello" as I pass by. It's the same concept as any time you're out - if a person feels like you could potentially identify them, or that you are confident enough to look them in the eye, they are more likely to not see you as a potential victim.
  6. Tell someone where you are going and when you'll be back. Make sure that someone knows that you are going out running. Give at least a rough estimate of how long you'll be gone. When I head out before C is awake, I leave a note, and I put the time that I left. That way, when he reads it, he's not wondering if I've been gone for five minutes or five hours. I tell him I'm doing "about an hour" (or however long) so that if I'm gone for two hours, he knows something isn't right. I also give him a basic idea of which route I'm taking, so that he'd would know where to start looking, should the occasion arise. 
  7. Carry identification. I personally wear a RoadID when I'm out running. Put your driver's license in your pocket or wear a chain with something like dog tags on it. This is more for medical safety - think being ID'd by EMTs after falling or something - but equally important for basic safety. If, heaven forbid, something happens to you, this may make identifying you, and therefore notifying your loved ones, easier. Don't make yourself Jane Doe.
There are so many more things you can do - carry mace/pepper spray, take a self defense course, always run with a buddy... but those listed above are just the things I, personally, do to stay safe. I know there are runners out there who take it so far as to carry a weapon or never run outdoors - I hope that I never become one of those people. I hope that I will always feel safe enough to put on my running shoes and head out my front door. However, I want to make sure that I always come back through that front door after a run, so I do the things that I need to do to stay safe. Please do the same.

I don't want to scare anyone, and I don't want anyone to think my message is "RAWR! Running is scary!" The stories in the news haven't stopped me - just like I haven't stopped flying because the plane could crash, or swimming because I could drown, or driving because I could be in an accident. But with all those things, I take the necessary precautions.

I could go on for days about this topic, but I think I've said enough. I really just felt, in my heart, that I needed to address this topic. As I said, if even one person runs a little safer after reading this, that is a win in my book.

Take care of yourself when you run. Girls and boys alike. Do everything you can to keep yourself from being a target or a victim, so that you can keep doing what you love: running!

Any other safety tips or suggestions? How do you keep yourself safe when you run? Would you prefer I go back to regularly scheduled programming instead of PSAs? Sorry 'bout it.


passionandlaughter said...

I think this is a really great post and message to get out. One that everyone who writes about fitness should stress. These same things could happen if you're on a bike or just walking. Things happen, knowledge is power.

Lindsay said...

Absolutely agree. It's so easy to get sucked into your own little world while outside running/walking/whatever - can't stress enough how important it is to be a little bit more cautious.

elizabeth @ chronic venture said...

This is a great post, Lindsay. And so important for people to remember when out alone. Thanks for sharing this info, every little bit counts!

Lindsay said...

Thanks girl! It all seems so obvious, but sometimes we get lazy and forget ;) Just a little reminder for myself & my friends!

Elizabeth said...

great reminder linds! and something we all need to hear as we move our running/exercise outside with summer here!

Samantha at Pollinator Plates said...

Just found your blog through the Virginia is for Bloggers link!
I'm just getting back into blogging (and running) and what a great first post to read on your blog. Thanks for the tips. I try to be super-aware of my surroundings all of the time and I wear a Road ID, but the tip on always bringing my phone with me (sometimes to listen to music, which I keep turned very low) is a good one since lately I've been going without it. The tip that really got my attention was to always make eye-contact. I always avoid it at all costs, but your reasoning makes a lot of sense and I'll do that from now. Thanks for this great post.

Lindsay said...

Thanks lady! It just cannot be said enough times.. and wouldn't you know, I went out tonight and forgot my RoadID - even after writing this giant posting telling everyone else what to do ;) never can be too safe! Miss you, sweet friend!

Lindsay said...

I am loving all the connections via VA is for Bloggers! Such a great site :)

Thanks for reading! Glad you stumbled upon this, as it's probably the most informative/legit post I've written, whereas the rest are general ramblings. Be safe when you run (and blog?! ha)! So glad you stopped by my little corner of the web!