In the last post, I gave you a few tips on personal safety. Let’s take a deeper look at how we can stay safer out on our runs.
1. Dodge the Danger
My mom thinks traveling with me is great. For one, I’m the consummate planner who handles every last detail. (It’s a side effect of my emergency preparedness profession, I suppose.) However, she also likes it because she thinks she’ll always be safe with me. Once when I was asking the front desk of a hotel for recommendations on a safe running route, she said, “Why worry about that? You can handle anything!” While it’s sweet she thinks I’m so awesome, she is completely wrong. Never could I handle “anything” no matter how much I’ve trained. There's always someone better trained and stronger out there. People carry guns and knives. Therefore, the absolute best defense is to avoid danger in the first place. How might you do this?
- If you are traveling and running in a new location, ask colleagues, friends, or hotel staff for suggestions on safe places to run. Nothing beats local knowledge. Plus, it means that someone knows where you’ve gone if you don’t return when expected. Have your colleague mark a suggested route on a map. Study the map before you leave to reduce the number of times you need to stop and look at it (and subsequently take your attention off of the road).
- Run with a partner or a friend. There’s definitely strength in numbers and having someone with you might act as a deterrent from unwanted attention.
- Run in daylight hours. Darkness can mask a potential attacker and make you harder to see for drivers on roads (often, our biggest risk is cars!). However, we work. We have kids. Four AM happens. So, wear a headlamp.
- Run in places where other people are present, and, in particular, where there are other women and families. An attacker doesn’t want to attract attention to his actions and risk getting caught.
If I’m being honest, I don’t always follow my own advice. I run alone all the time, and I’ve run all over the United States and the world: India, Nepal, Haiti, Thailand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Russia… To me, it’s a risk that is worth taking in order to see a new place and experience nature or a new city. But I always have a plan in case something happens. Here’s my plan.
2. Prepare for an Impromptu Speed Workout
Fight or flight is instinctual. The safest response is usually flight, as we do not know our attacker’s intentions, level of fight training, or if he is carrying a weapon.
Right now, take a few seconds and think about what might trigger you to run away? Would it be a verbal threat? A look? Would you be willing to follow your intuition? It’s best to run early before a situation worsens. And never, NEVER stop if someone yells, “Stop!” Keep running until you are in a safe place.
Think of this next time you’re doing speed work or tempos. Those painful mile repeats might just save your life one day!
3. Talk ‘Em Down
Okay, so what happens if you can’t run? What if there’s no obvious place to go? Your next step might be to try to deter the situation using body language and verbal responses. To deescalate the situation. How might you do this? Well, it depends upon the situation and the type of conflict.
If someone just wants money, give them your money. For situations where you might have insulted someone’s ego (think of an argument over a parking spot), apologizing humbly might be the most expedient way to avoid a problem. However, when you’re out running you might encounter someone bent on harming you. How do you respond to this? By using confident, assertive language and posture to project strength and confidence. By not looking or sounding like a victim. In situations where I think an attack is imminent, my plan (born of practice and experience) is to act scarier than the person threatening me. I become aggressive, shouting (as loudly as possible) “Back the F*CK off now!” It startles the attacker and attracts the attention of other people nearby.
What else might work? Act like a crazy person. A complete and utter loon. Shout, scream, flail, say incomprehensible stuff. Loudly, often.
One of my favorite security books is “Meditations on Violence” by Rory Miller. He talks about an exchange with a self-defense student of his.
One of my students was concerned that she couldn’t hurt a large man. I told her to imagine a two-hundred-pound man holding a small cat. Could the man kill the cat? Sure.
“Now imagine I throw a bucket of water on them. What happens?”
“The cat goes berserk and starts scratching the guy up.”
“Does the guy let go?”
“So the cat wins?”
“I guess. Sure.”
Be the wet cat.
Which brings us to…
Perhaps the person threatening you is between you and your only exit. Or perhaps the attack is so sudden you can’t get away. You have to fight.
Once again, spend a few minutes right now thinking about this. What would trigger you to fight? When would you strike someone?
Ideally, the first time you throw a punch is not in actual defense. I hope reading this prompts you to take a self-defense course or try a class in some form of fighting. Training in self-defense will help you feel more confident about being aggressive and teach you how to strike effectively.
In my years of teaching self-defense, the number one hurdle women encounter is “I’m sorry.” What do I mean? Many women are so afraid of hurting someone that they don’t fully commit to punching or a kicking. If in training they accidentally do commit, they then proceed to apologize profusely. This is even if their training partner is a huge dude clad in a red, padded training suit! By taking a self-defense course, you can practice ridding yourself of the “I’m sorries” and learn to hit hard when it really matters.
And you must hit hard. As hard as you can. Hitting “soft” might just piss your attacker off. Use anything you can as a weapon: nearby rocks or sticks, your purse, cell phone, water bottle, car keys, etc. Any hard object is better than just using your hands.
I’m often asked, “Where on the body should I hit?” My answer: wherever you can. Ideally, you want to use hard, bony parts of your body (fists, elbows, point of your knees) to strike vulnerable parts of your attacker's body: nose, eyes, inside of thigh, groin. However, the key word is ideally and nothing about a real fight is ever ideal. Stress will reduce your targeting ability, even if you are a trained fighter. So worry less about where you hit and more about how hard and how often.
Seems obvious, but if you’ve never done it, it might not be: how do you hit?
The most important aspect of fighting is learning how to maintain a solid stance. A good fight stance has your legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with one leg forward and the other back. This wide stance helps keep you balanced if pushed, pulled, or hit. Keep your knees slightly bent and your weight on the balls of your feet. Keep your hands up and in front of your face to protect your head should your attacker strike toward your face.
To determine how to strike, you need to understand range – how close you are to your attacker.
- Close range: strike with your elbows or knees
- Medium range: punch with your fist (or, better yet, your fist with a rock in it)
- Longer-range: kick with your legs and feet
Don’t be afraid of the classic “girl fight” techniques: scratching, biting, pulling, twisting, etc. These work when done with force and intent.
And keep fighting. Don’t believe TV shows and movies where the heroine lands one punch to the nose, and the bad guy is out. A broken nose won’t deter a hardened criminal. Neither will a sharp kick in the groin. It may take continuous hard strikes to injure an attacker enough for you to get away. And your objective is always to fight just enough to run away. After all, we’re runners. Running is our super power. Let’s use it.
So, fight like a wet cat. Scratch, bite, hit, kick, yell, and scream until you can run like hell.
What you do to keep yourself safe when running? If you have any specific questions or scenarios of concern, please ask! What do you want to know more about? Send me an email!