No matter your gender, running on the streets is fraught with hazards, from pedestrians to dog mess to cyclists and cars. But for women, there is another hazard that is all too real - the risk of abuse and assault. With women's safety firmly back in the public consciousness due to recent tragic events, how can female runners keep themselves safe and minimise the risk of something happening to them while pounding the streets?
It is a sad fact that if you are female and you regularly run outside, there is a good chance you have experienced some form of unwelcome attention while out running. While this does not always take the form of a physical assault, verbal abuse and being followed either by other pedestrians or by people in cars can be highly intimidating and traumatic and leave you not wanting to run at all. Considering most people run to relax and switch off, this is a deplorable state of affairs.
A recent survey conducted by Runners World magazine reported that an astonishing 46% of women said they "sometimes experience harassment on a run". This is compared with 9.2% of men. This harassment took many forms, from the shouting of lewd comments to being followed. Being physically assaulted is rare, but it does happen.
While not every woman who runs will experience harassment or a threat to their safety, it is still worth being mindful of measures you can take to protect yourself. You can't eliminate the danger, but you can take steps to minimise or avoid it. With lockdown easing and more people planning to travel a bit further afield, you may find yourself running in new places or on quiet trails rather than roads. Running somewhere new, no matter how safe it may seem, is always a journey into the unknown, so your safety should still be at the forefront of your mind.
So, what steps can you take when running to minimise risks but still enjoy your run?
Avoid wearing headphones or ear-buds
Many people use music as motivation when running, but wearing headphones or ear-buds disconnects you from your surroundings and may stop you from noticing any potential dangers. If you must wear headphones, then just wear one, so you are more in tune with the world around you.
Don't post your route/run on social media
Social media is chock full of people posting their most recent running route for all the world to see. If you do this, people can see the route and time you are likely to run at, which is open to abuse, especially if you are a creature of habit and tend to stick to the same runs each day.
Let someone know where you are going and share your run with them
Women the world over are more than aware of the need to let someone know where they are or that they got home safely (ring me as soon as you're home etc.), and going out for a run is no different. Share your run with a friend or family member on google, or at the very least, let them know how long you will be and that you will let them know when you are home.
When you are running somewhere new, research local running routes
Running somewhere new can be an exhilarating experience, especially if you are getting out of a city and running on trails in the countryside. But running somewhere new does present its own hazards, not least getting lost! If you are running somewhere new, it is good to research local running routes or ask someone who knows the area where they would recommend. If in doubt, stick to the main routes and run during the day.
Stick to well- lit streets and populated areas
While this may seem like a no-brainer, it is tempting to get away from busy streets when you are running. You are running to switch off after all! Running on quiet roads, even in an area that you know, leaves you vulnerable and exposed. Sticking to streets where there are shops and other people around is far safer, even if you will have to dodge old ladies and buggies as you go.
If you must run after dark, then it is essential to stick to well-lit streets and make sure you are running in populated areas.
Always carry your phone and bank card/money
Most people will carry their phone with them to listen to music while they run (but only with one ear-bud in remember!), but even if you are not listening to music, you must ensure you have your phone within easy reach when you are running in case of emergencies. It is also a good idea to take your bank card or some cash with you in case you feel unsafe and decide to cut your run short.
This may seem extreme, but nailing a few self-defence manoeuvres or attending a self-defence class will make you feel safer and more confident when running alone. Remembering and practising some basic moves such as jabs to the eyes, throat, and groin will stand you in good stead if you are unfortunate enough to be assaulted.
Run with someone else or a running group
If you prefer the idea of safety in numbers, running with someone else or joining a running group is a good option. While you should not get complacent when running with others, it does provide you with a certain sense of security compared to running alone. Look for groups in your area or join one of the many park-runs around the country.
Consider carrying a personal alarm
Carrying a small personal alarm that can be activated quickly might be something to consider if you are concerned about your safety when running, or often run alone. Personal alarms such as these are typically the size of a keyring and involve removing a pin to activate an ear-piercing alarm which should deter any potential attackers.
Maximise your safety when trail running
Trail running is increasing in popularity amongst the running community as athletes relish the fitness challenge as well as the calming effect of running in nature. However, trail running does have safety implications as some trails are quiet and remote, which may leave you vulnerable as a lone female runner. The steps mentioned previously such as letting someone know where you are, making sure you have your phone with you and especially running with someone else all apply even more if you are planning on hitting the trails.
It is both sad and frustrating that articles like this still need to be written, but the fact is that there is an awful long way to go before women are safe to run on the streets without the threat of verbal abuse, intimidation or assault. But warrior women will not give up! By taking sensible precautions, women can keep on running and not let a small minority take their streets from them.