A red truck. A red truck with a dent on the back left bumper. I feel like I’ve already seen this car. My eyes connect with the driver’s as he powers past me. So familiar. I brush off the feeling and refocus on my run. I’ve got a race to train for. My feet align with the beat of my music, and I settle back into my pace.
Red on the horizon line again. This time I’m sure. Glancing down at my stomach, I immediately feel self conscious about my decision to wear nothing but a sports bra and short shorts on my run. I watch as the dented truck pulls into a Wendy’s parking lot about 400 meters ahead of me. My speed waivers. He’s waiting for me. I stop cold as the car pulls into a parking spot near the road, standing by. I’m alone. No one knows I went for a run. No one knows where I am. Occasionally cars pass by on the street, but I feel alone and vulnerable in the sight of this sinister red truck.
As I turn to run the other way, I glance back towards the parking lot. He is pulling out of the parking lot, his right hand blinker turned on, ready to follow suit. I begin to sprint towards another fast food joint on the road, fumbling with the screen of my sweaty phone, trying to call my mom. I walk into Chick-fil-a just as the red truck blasts past the restaurant outside. He doesn’t turn around.
Thankfully, I was safe that day. Aside from a few weird looks I got while in Chick-fil-a, there was no real physical harm done. But it could have been much worse. Change a few variables, and I’m not sure that I would have ever run again. According to a recent study by the CDC, 1 out of every 5 women will be raped at some point in her life. While there are no firm studies or statistics on sexual violence against women while running, there are countless stories. It may be easy to casually dismiss horrible accounts of rape and murder with a simple “but that wouldn’t happen to me,” but that mindset is unacceptable. Runners, especially female runners, need to be vigilant and aware of the potential dangers that surround them while running. Dangers that come, not just from speeding cars, careless drivers, and shin splints, but from the people that surround them during their run. Follow the following guidelines to avoid potential danger.

Run with a friend

Though it’s not always possible to meet up with a running buddy, this is one of the easiest ways to steer clear of potential harm. Join a local running club or get the word out that you enjoy running. Not only could you protect yourself from danger, you can also find a few new friends. According to Michelle Maidenberg, “they can play the role of teammate, co-coach, and cheerleader–all while working out!” Finding a friend to run with is one of the easiest ways to stay committed to safety and to your training regimen.

Don’t be afraid to be rude

Yes, that man asked for help with his “dog”… in his house… but don’t feel like a jerk for ignoring him completely. If you’re not willing to advocate for your own safety, then who else will? When you’re out on a trail run or if (heaven forbid) you decide to run at night, feel free to forget any guilt you may feel for obviously crossing to the other side of the street when you see someone walking up, or to call someone on the phone and tell them where you are running. While you may feel silly for being overly cautious, the old adage “better safe than sorry” is actually pretty sound advice.

Don’t run at night

I used to do this all the time in college, and it certainly was not the smartest thing. Drivers are much less likely to see you at night, especially if you wear dark clothes. I almost never run at night anymore, but I have some awesome reflective gear for when I need it. You are also most vulnerable when it’s dark. If your schedule dictates that you must run at night, stay away from trail running and trying out new routes. Stick with roads that are well lit, familiar, and have steady enough traffic nearby to ensure that you could flag someone down if you needed to.

Bring your phone

This one is a no brainer. There are all sorts of apps that can help you stay safe while you run. I use the iPhone app Find My Friends to text my GPS location to my husband before each run. My phone sends a continuous signal to Jackson till I tell it to stop. That way, he always knows where I am, and, in the event that I was missing, he could check my location to see where I was… or at least where I was last with my phone. If you have your phone, you can easily call 911 or call someone to come pick you up if a situation seems dubious.

The more people, the better.

Try to run on paths where there are a lot of people. This is especially handy when you do not have a friend to run with, or if you want to go on a run at night. I used to run on the trail at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas and there was always a fantastic vibe there. It was so fun to be completely surrounded by people dedicated to running. If you don’t have a trail like this, try to find a route nearby where there is a safe sidewalk near a well trafficked area. When you’re running near a road, run against traffic. This will make it easier for drivers to see you, and for you to scan the area to search for reckless drivers… or your own version of that creepy red truck.

Run on different routes at different times

Predictability is not your friend, at least when it comes to safety. If you have three or four routes that you enjoy, do not run them at the same time on the same day. You don’t want anyone to realize you run past the grocery store 7:45 am everyday. The more you switch things up, the less likely it is that someone will notice a pattern in your running. Changing routes also benefits your running in other ways. According to an article by Leta Shy, “running the same route all the time can actually cause imbalances in your body that can lead to injuries, since you are training your body to react to your route’s particular uneven surface.”

Don’t run with music

What? Is she serious? No music? Impossible. I must confess, this is a rule that I don’t follow, but should. Music cuts off your ability to be really in tune with your surroundings. You may not hear an approaching car, biker, or person. However, I love listening to music while I run. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks or podcasts on long runs on weekends. So, if you’re addicted to listening like I am, you may want to compromise. Instead of using headphones, I just play music out of the speaker on my phone. It makes it so it’s a little quieter, and it’s easier to key into other things happening around you. However, my best advice to you–and to myself–is it’s best if you ditch the music altogether.

Thankfully I’ve made it through a lifetime of running safely, and I hope to continue to do so by following these ways to stay safe.