Ways for a Woman to Protect Herself When Running

According to a 2017 survey published in Runner’s World, 5 percent of female runners have experienced unwanted flashing by a man, 18 percent received a sexual proposition, 3 percent were physically assaulted (such as by groping or grabbing), and 30 percent were followed. You don’t want this to happen to you or any woman in your life that you love. Ladies, how do you stay safe when running?

A woman can protect herself on a run in the following ways:

  • Don’t wear headphones or earbuds when running
  • If possible, train with other people, even if it’s only one other runner
  • Otherwise, run with your dog 
  • Use a GPS tracking app so your location is always pingable
  • Run where you know
  • Stick to populated areas on your run
  • Only run during the day
  • Bring your phone
  • Keep an emergency whistle 
  • Have some means of defense on your person, such as pepper spray
  • Learn self-defense

Although statistically, the risk of you being kidnapped or murdered on your run is small (about 1 in 35,336, says Runner’s World), women runners have been killed before. Some have even died during their runs. You can never be too careful, and in this guide, we’ll give you some great safety measures and tactics to use on every run going forward.

11 Methods for Women to Stay Safe When Running

Don’t Wear Headphones or Earbuds

For many people, running is a chance to earn some much-needed me-time. As part of that special time, you like to play your favorite tunes. You worked really hard on a great running playlist, so it’s running shoes on, earbuds in, and then it’s time to hit your favorite trail. 

Except wearing earbuds–and headphones too for that matter–shuts you off from the outside world. Sure, you can see what’s going on around you, but only what’s in front of you or off to the side. If an assailant were to come up behind you, you can’t see nor hear them since you have your earbuds in. 

That makes you an easy target, way too easy. In this classic study called Attracting Assault – Victims Nonverbal Cues, criminals reviewed footage of people walking in New York City. No one knew they were being filmed, so all their behavior was natural. 

One of the factors the criminals identified as making someone an easy target is a lack of “awareness of environment.” You know, like how you lose awareness of everything when you have your earbuds in.

It’s not fun to run in silence, that’s true, but doing so can save your life, so it’s a small sacrifice to make. 

Train with Others Rather Than Running Alone

The old saying that there’s safety in numbers is true, especially as a woman. 

When a criminal is planning to commit a crime, be it a robbery, a physical attack, or a sexual assault, they look for someone who they won’t struggle to victimize. A woman by herself could be a target, but if that woman is running with others, you’re not so appealing to the criminal anymore. They’re outnumbered, so committing the crime is not worth their effort or time. 

That means then that even having one other running buddy with you could be enough to deter a criminal. This other person doesn’t have to be a man either. 

Running with someone else, which is known as social running, has its benefits. You can make memories with your running buddies. When you achieve a running goal, big or small, you have someone to share in it with. The same is true of your running friend. You also have a great chance to bond with your running buddy.

Are you the type who’s eagerly counting down the moments until you hit your miles and can stop running? When you run with someone else, you’re focusing less on how much time is left of your run as you might be engaging in conversation. Now your runs feel like they go faster. 

Not sure where to find a running partner? You might join a group on social media to connect with other runners. You can also look into running clubs near you. Who knows, you might just make your next great friend this way!  

Run with Your Dog

Even if you have five running pals, sometimes your schedules just don’t mesh. You had a run planned today and you really don’t want to skip it, but no one is available to run with you. Can you still go out anyway?

Sure, but again, not alone. Instead of bringing a human companion, take man’s best friend, your dog! Most dog breeds require at least 30 minutes of daily exercise anyway, and running is a fantastic way to get your dog outside and off the couch.

You don’t necessarily need a ferocious pooch like a Pit Bull or a Rottweiler to scare away a criminal. Small breeds can be yappy and very protective, so they’ll begin barking the moment someone gets too close. That will stop any criminal from progressing on your further. 

If you do happen to own a bigger dog, then the mere presence of the canine is intimidating enough even if your pooch is the nicest dog in the world. The criminal doesn’t have to know that! 

Use a GPS Tracker 

It doesn’t hurt to let at least one other person know when you’re running, where, and for roughly how long you plan to be gone. Then use a GPS tracker app that can ping your location as you run. 

We shared an extensive list of running apps in this post on the blog. Many of those apps include GPS functionality intended for accurate miles logging. You can use an app like one of those to share your running progress with friends or family so they can see where you are on the trail at any time.

Although it has nothing to do with running, Spyic is another good GPS-centric phone app to download. Designed for worried parents who want to track their kids virtually, you and a friend can use Spyic for the same purpose. Outside of GPS monitoring, the app also has SIM card and Wi-Fi tracking, so it’s pretty advanced.

Also, speaking of safety, Noonlight is another good app any woman should have on her phone, even non-runners. This app is incredibly easy to use. You press the button on the app when you’re concerned about your safety. By letting go of the button, the police are automatically called to your location without you having to dial 911 or say anything.

Run Where You Know

Here’s another smart means of protecting yourself when running: stick to the places you know. Now, we’re not saying that just because you’re familiar with a location that crime can never occur there. You can’t ever say for certain which kinds of nefarious characters might show up at your local park or running trail.

There are some clear advantages of running in places you’re familiar with though. For one, you’re acquainted with the types of crowds these places attract. If someone seems off, you can get away from them. Sure, maybe this person is just a bit weird and not threatening in the least, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Another advantage you have when running where you know is that if a criminal was trying to pursue you, you’re probably aware of some shortcuts. You can exit the main trail and hit a side trail or venture through a clearing of trees because you know what’s on the other side. The criminal doesn’t, and he or she might not feel like being led on a wild goose chase, so they’ll let you go.

You can also make a quick exit if the situation ever calls for it, which is something you might not be able to do when running somewhere new.

Of course, sticking to the same running trail can be boring. When adventure calls and you want to answer, run at a new place with a group. The next few times you visit, stay with your group until you begin to adjust to this trail too. 

Stick to Populated Areas

On the note of shortcuts and back exits and all other manners of secretive routes, you don’t want to run in these places unless you feel unsafe.  

Instead, as often as you can, stay in populated areas. The people around could be other runners, joggers, cyclists, or even parents with kids enjoying a day out in nature. You don’t have to be picky so much about who’s there just as long as you’re surrounded by non-threatening people. 

This has several perks. For one, in a crowd, it’s a lot harder to single you out. That said, make sure that you’re aware and running with good posture. This makes you look confident, and that will sway criminals. When you have to take a break, stay alert. Slow walkers or those who look tired are often targets of criminals because these people appear weak.

Being a part of a crowd also helps in that criminals can’t get to you if they wanted to. It’s the power in numbers situation, remember? If they attack you now with so many people around, there are far too many witnesses. Someone will definitely call the cops, and a person might even try to intervene.  

Only Run During the Day

Earlier, we talked about how depriving yourself of your sense of hearing is a bad idea when running because it makes you vulnerable. So too does depriving yourself of sight, such as when going on a run in the dark. 

For those especially busy women who usually save their runs until after work, you might want to reconsider your running schedule. You already have the disadvantage of not being able to see who’s coming up behind you on a run. Once darkness falls, you also lose the clarity of your front and side vision. 

Wearing reflective running gear helps to a point, as does donning bright colors, but running at night is still far too risky. You’ve lost the benefit of a crowd since most people go home after dark. What’s worse is that anyone can jump out at you at any moment and you might miss them.

There are plenty of other conditions besides nightfall that can create darkness. Running at dusk or before sunset is sketchy, as visibility still isn’t great. In stormy weather or deep fog, you’ll also want to replan your run for a clearer, brighter day.

Don’t get the wrong picture from all this. You’re not invincible in the daylight; murders of women runners have occurred in the middle of the morning or afternoon. There is no one safest time, but nightfall is definitely one of the more dangerous periods to run.  

Don’t Leave Your Phone at Home

You used to run with your phone in your hand until the day it slipped because your hands got sweaty. Your phone hit the asphalt hard and the screen smashed into many small pieces. Since then, you prefer to leave your phone at home when running.

This is a very poor decision, so please don’t do it! For one, without your phone, you can’t use a GPS app or any of the other above-recommended apps. That makes it hard for anyone to track you and know whether you’ve disappeared.

Much more importantly, you can’t call 911 should someone put their hands on you or attempt to. When a crime is occurring, time is of the essence. You probably can’t get away and ask to borrow someone else’s phone. You need your own.

You don’t have to carry your phone in your hands when running. As a matter of fact, we caution against it, as it affects your arm movement, which then trickles down to changing your running gait. 

We published a post a while ago with some very cool alternatives to holding your phone on your runs. The options include buying an arm brace with a phone holder, a race vest, or a waist pack. You can even upgrade your gear and get a sports bra with a phone pocket! 

Have an Emergency Whistle Handy

As a woman, you may be familiar with the rape or emergency whistle. The idea is that by blowing a whistle or otherwise making a very loud noise around an attacker, you’ll ward them off. For that reason, you never want to go without one of these whistles when you’re running or going anywhere.

It’s not highly recommended that you wear your emergency whistle around your neck like a necklace. An attacker can take the lanyard and wrap it around your throat, choking you with it. Instead, buy a keychain version of an emergency whistle that you can attach to your waist pack or even keep in your pocket. 

You hope you won’t ever need your emergency whistle, but having it on your person will give you great peace of mind.  

Keep Pepper Spray and Know How to Use It

Don’t just stop at the emergency whistle. Another means of defense you should carry on you is pepper spray. Now, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to port around a huge canister of mace when running, right? 

No need! Pepper spray is more portable than ever, such as this flip-top keychain pepper spray on Amazon. We like this one because it doesn’t even look like pepper spray. If you pull out the neon-colored plastic canister, an assailant might not know what you’re up to. 

The finger grip makes it easy to spray, and the mace has a range of 10 feet. That will let you spray before a criminal gets too close for comfort.

Having pepper spray is great, but it’s all but useless if you don’t know how it works. Once you buy your mace, practice spraying it in your yard. You’ll then be ready to pull out and use your pepper spray at a moment’s notice. 

Learn Some Basic Self-Defense 

Our last tip is to enroll in a self-defense class. You don’t need to know karate or another martial art or even a variety of self-defense maneuvers, just a few of the basic moves. Here are some good self-defense methods to master:

  • If an assailant is in your face, you can force your fingers into their eyes or clap their ears on either side. The first will hurt and possibly maim them while the second disorients them so you can escape.
  • Should you find yourself being pulled to the ground, you want to let your center of gravity lower too. This lets you maintain your balance. 
  • Widen your legs so you’re harder to take down. 
  • If you have to throw a punch, don’t try for the face, as too many facial bones can injure or even break your fingers. Instead, punch the assailant in the throat so they can’t breathe for a moment.
  • When grabbed, go for the groin. This works for men and women. You can knee the assailant there or punch them if your arms are free.
  • Should your assailant get you to the ground, begin searching for whatever’s closest. For instance, at the park, you could grab a rock or a tree branch. Use these items as weapons in whatever way possible to escape. 

Final Thoughts

Running as a woman is fraught with danger, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay home. Above all else, be aware and alert of your surroundings at all times, using your senses as a radar. Stick with groups and crowds, use technology to your advantage, and have some self-defense measures up your sleeve too. Best of luck and stay safe out there!  

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Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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