When you head out for an early morning run, you’re pounding the pavement to improve your health, clear your head, and get ready for a productive day.
The last thing you think about is someone attacking you. But runners are being targeted more often, with tragic stories of women being grabbed from their go-to path and assaulted—or worse. No matter what, though, you shouldn’t run in fear or stop running altogether.
Here are six ways you can protect yourself each and every time you’re running solo.
Run with a Partner
It may sound obvious, but it’s true: There’s strength in numbers. Jarrett Arthur, founder and chief instructor of Customized Self-Defense for Women and other specialized self-defense programs, says that an assailant is way less likely to attack two women versus one. “Typically attackers look to target those who will give them the easiest path to achieve their crime—fast, little to no resistance, and in secret,” she says. “Successfully assaulting two women at once is much more difficult because one could scream or run for help, dial 911, or help fight back.”
While it’s not always a realistic option, do your best to convince your partner, a friend, or a coworker into squeezing some miles in with you whenever possible, especially if it’s in the earlier hours (before the sun rises) or after dark (when the sun has set). “It means you have two sets of eyes and two sets of ears on the ready,” says Arthur.
It’s not the smartest idea to run with headphones—in fact, many safety experts advise against it, as it slashes your odds of hearing an attacker (and traffic) come up from behind. But that doesn’t mean you should leave your phone at home. You should always have it handy when out by yourself, not only as a way of touching base with someone if an attack were to happen but also in case something unexpected occurs (like spraining an ankle when you’re still 2 miles from home). And since you already have it, you might as well make the most of your phone. Download a safety app like bSafe (free), which lets you set up a network of “guardians” who can “follow” your route—and make sure you get home safe—via its GPS trace feature. If there’s an emergency, press the app’s alarm to set off a siren, alert your guardians of exactly where you are, and begin recording audio and video in case you need to present evidence to the police later.
You Don’t Need to Ditch the Music
Just because you shouldn’t run with headphones doesn’t mean you have to skip your favorite tunes if that’s what truly keeps you motivated (and for many it is—experts say it can increase endurance by at least 15 percent). “If music is an absolute must, opt for a small, portable external speaker for your phone that you can zip into an exercise band or pocket,” says Arthur, or just turn the volume all the way up on your phone. That way, whether your phone is in your hand or pocket, or tucked into your bra, your music will be loud enough to hear but low enough for you to still be aware of your surroundings. And no, other runners won’t mind—you’ll be zooming past them fast enough that they’ll only hear a quick second of your song anyway.
Mix Up Your Routine
“Running on the same day of the week, at the same time, in the same area, makes it easy for someone to follow your patterns, and it’s simpler for them to locate you in places where you’re particularly vulnerable, like jogging on an isolated path after dark,” says Arthur. So if you usually run on Wednesday mornings, mix it up now and then and head out on Monday instead. And challenge yourself to different running paths. Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and chief fitness advisor for Nautlius, Inc., says that also helps to keep your body guessing. Pick four or five of your favorite routes in the surrounding area that have different elements to them—hills, descents, pavement, and trails, for example—and randomly rotate among them for a built-in challenge. The only catch: Don’t explore a new-to-you path by yourself, especially if you don’t know the neighborhood well. Arthur says that’s when it’s time to enlist a friend and put that “safety in numbers” rule into action. And always let a trusted friend know when you’re heading out, where you plan on going, and what time you plan to be back
Reflective running gear has come a long way, and big athletic brands are making it look seriously cool to stay safe at night. “Reflective gear makes such a huge difference when it comes to safety,” says Arthur. “Not only is it easier for vehicles to see you in low-lit environments and avoid you, but in the absolute worst-case scenario, reflective gear can help search parties locate you during nighttime hours.” Some great options include the Precision Run Capri from New Balance ($119.99), these NIKE Air Zoom Structure 19 Flash sneakers ($135), Asics Lite-Show Tank ($48), and the LSD Jacket from Brooks ($98). And just in case that’s not enough, there are even accessories like RunLites gloves ($35) with built-in rechargeable lights, and Reflective Lock Laces
Be Ready to Fight
If the worst-case scenario does present itself and someone tries to attack you, it helps to have some key self-defense moves in your arsenal. “There are two things you must do in order to effectively fight back, especially when someone tries to ‘bear hug’ you, which makes it easy for them to lift and carry you away or slam you to the ground and knock you unconscious,” says Howard Mallen, cofounder of Krav Maga Worldwide, which offers self-defense classes across the country. “First drop your ‘base,’ or make yourself heavy by bending your legs and dropping the level of your hips.” This lowers your center of gravity, which makes it harder for someone to pick you up. Second, create space between you and the attacker by “sending strikes in a side-to-side motion to vulnerable areas like the groin.” The attacker’s hips will reflexively fall back, giving you room to get away. Call for help as soon as you possibly can.