On the Run with RUNGRL: Runners' Safety

Avery from RUNGRL runs down a street alone

In Fleet Feet’s new video series, On the Run with RUNGRL, two avid runners, Iesha Pankey in Baltimore, Maryland, and Avery Joshua in Washington, DC, discuss how they are able to hit their mental stride as they hit the pavement and protect themselves in the process.

Take a look at their top running safety tips for women below.

Women often face an internal battle when they elect to do certain things alone. From dining out to solo traveling to an early-morning run, it’s an unfortunate reality that women have to factor personal safety into their plans.

The shifting tide of self care, however, is helping us discover what aids our mental space. For so many of us, running offers a much-needed release from stress and anxiety and helps support both physical and mental wellness. Because of that, it’s something we often like to do alone.

While we’d love to simply focus on pace and shoe choices for each run, safety is a consideration that women runners simply can’t skip over.

While all runners have safety concerns, Black runners and other runners of diverse backgrounds have another important consideration to make: Who and what constitutes a threat? This is a nuanced and scary question to ask each time we step out of the door for a run.

“I think as women, we deal with a lot of safety issues while running, but then last summer, we had [the murder of] Ahmaud Arbery, and as Black women, there are definitely other considerations that we have to take,” says Avery Joshua.

In that respect, Iesha Pankey shares that where you live can have a huge impact on your safety. In Baltimore, her neighbors are used to seeing someone who looks like her running down the street.

“I probably have never been so grateful to live in Baltimore,” says Pankey. “I’m surrounded by a lot of people who look like me, so from that perspective, it’s very different.”

Avery and Iesha from RUNGRL sit on a coach and talk about safety while running

1. Run with a Buddy or Group

Our number one tip: safety in numbers.

“When I think about safety when I’m running, I think about a lot of things, and it’s mostly if I’m running by myself,” says Avery Joshua. “If I’m running with a group, I know I have the protection of the group.”

Knowing that your fellow runners are around to help you observe surroundings and deter any would-be attackers is the best protection you can establish on a run.

“Since I’ve been marathon training, I try to map my route, but I always reach out to see who’s running with me first,” says Pankey. Having multiple friends to run with can help when schedules don't align, making for more ways to mix up your running group and keep people paired so they don’t have to go solo.

2. Wear Bright Colors and Run During the Day

Visibility is a key way to stay protected especially at night when 360-degree visibility ensures that you can be seen from all angles. But even during the daytime, bright colors can help ensure you’re seen.

However, with the statistics as they are, many women opt not to run alone at night at all. A 2020 running safety survey by RUNGRL revealed that 90 percent of women runners surveyed had received unwanted comments or attention while running, while a terrifying 33 percent reported having had someone follow them while out on a run alone.

Top UK marathoner Charlotte Purdue says she runs on a treadmill when it gets dark instead of going outdoors, due to concerns for her safety.

"When I was younger, my dad used to drive in a car behind me when I ran at night...for safety...and now I do run on the treadmill in the evenings when it's dark,” Purdue told Sky News.

"I think it's a bit safer and I feel safer and not as anxious about going out running at night by myself. It's definitely something to think about," Purdue says.

3. Speak to People on the Run

Panky has another tip that she says helps her feel more comfortable--she says good morning to everyone she passes.

“I’ve found that it helps people remember you,” Pankey says. “And if they are [looking at you with bad intentions], it throws people off if you say ‘good morning,’ because then they find themselves saying ‘good morning’ back to you, versus wherever their mind was going before.”

Two women smile and run together on a road wearing bright colors

4. Cut the Run Short

Joshua shares that you should never be afraid to cut the run short if you need to.

“There was one time [during my marathon training when] I was supposed to run 12 miles,” says Joshua. “I started later than I should have and the run ended up going slower than I planned. As I was coming back, I noticed it was getting dark faster than I thought. I knew where I was on the trail, but I thought, I’m just going to cut this run short...because this 10.5 miles is going to have to work, and we’ll figure out the rest of these miles later.”

Opting to end the run early was the best decision for her safety, and she always chooses that as a priority.

5. Share Your Location

If you do opt to run alone, it’s important to let someone know. You can tell a friend where you’re going and plan a time to check back in, or share your location via an app or tracking device. Apps like mapmyrun can be useful in finding different routes and sharing them with friends to follow your route. GARMIN also offers built-in safety features with their watches so that you can alert your emergency contacts if something goes wrong.

It’s also important to consider where you’re running. Being aware of your surroundings is key and avoiding certain areas at night is a best practice.

6. Carry a Protective Device

Like many other runners, Pankey finds that running is a crucial way to protect her mental space. She regularly runs at 4:00 a.m., which causes her family and loved ones to worry about her safety. But for Pankey, running is not something she is willing to give up.

As a result, Pankey’s dad makes sure she always has a protective device on hand. He got her both a bedazzled taser device as well as portable pepper spray.*

*Note: Be sure to check local laws and regulations as to what types of protective devices are legal in your area as this can vary from state to state.

Some runners may opt to keep their keys in hand to ward off would-be attackers, while others prefer helpful apps like panic button or safety features on their Garmin device as a backup warning system in the event of trouble.

Watch the first episode of On the Run with RUNGRL to learn how these runners navigate running safety in their daily lives and what advice they offer fellow women runners. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes from RUNGRL about common topics and issues faced by everyday runners.

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