Monday, November 25, 2013

In the gutter: Running safety

I felt incredibly proud of myself Saturday morning. I actually got up at 5 a.m. I managed to cordon off Denali in the back hallway and get him leashed up to run. I stepped out the front door.

The air was more than crisp that morning - it was downright cold. We got moving quickly, though, thanks in part to my choice not to wear my Garmin (no waiting around for satellites!). As we found our legs, the run was starting off just like any other.

Until it wasn't.

About a half-mile in, on a manicured boulevard with gorgeous old homes, I heard a man screaming at me. Trying to get my attention. He was angry at best and possibly intoxicated. He was alleging that someone stole his gutters, and I needed to be worried. Tie things down. A litany of racial slurs and threats toward perpetrators followed.

I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to engage him but  I didn't want to make him angrier either. I said "uh-huh" and "OK" on repeat as my legs turned over quicker and quicker. I looked down at Denali and was never so glad as to have him next to me. I spent the next mile hauling ass, switching up the route and cursing the frigid air for making it harder to breathe.

I stopped at the intersection of a main road to "let Denali pee." I could finally breathe again but still struggled to shake the unsettling feeling. I've been thinking about running safety a lot - November is National Running Safety Month" and Another Mother Runner had a great podcast - but it's been more focused on why I need a headlamp (two runs, two rolled ankles) and not what to do when the crazies are out at 5 a.m.

 photo 67187480-AB46-4D49-83E7-6F4072F090E0_zpsxbmppqu3.jpg

Here are a few tips:

Bring a dog if possible. I worried that having Denali was a false sense of security but a large dog can be intimidating to predators. A potential attacker doesn't know that he would more than likely lick them to death than bite. Even if the dog doesn't get protective, it might bark and bring attention to you.

Not only will a dog ward off unsavory characters, a dog will also help bring your attention to other possible safety concerns. Dogs have a better sense of hearing and smell than humans, and they are more tuned into those senses. Denali's head will often turn at the slightest noise and because he's on a short leash, it catches my attention. On a run tonight, he noticed an off-leash dog before I did and I was able to stop and get ourselves braced. (Note: I always stop for off-leash dogs because I believe that running could provoke it.)

Tail 'em. A ponytail, the hair style of choice, can be grabbed easily by an attacker. Think of making the pony a messy bun or tucking it into a hat.

Trust your instincts. In my case, the guy could have been just an angry drunk but something didn't feel right and so I did what was best. It's better to be overly careful than naive. Get out of the situation, change your route and stay aware.

Lean in. I wrote a story about Escrima, a Filipino martial art, last year and one of the things that has stuck with me is one of the things a participant said. During an attack, don't back down. The perpetrator expects that, relies on that and uses it to his advantage. Rather, you should move forward and get closer if you intend to fight back. According to the AMR podcast, a good place to strike is any place with soft tissue - eye, groin, nose and knees.

Be visible. We all know to wear bright colors and reflective clothing when it's dark so drivers can see us. Usually, we think it's to allow them time to slow down as they pass or allow us to cross an intersection but it can also allow a passing motorist to see us if we are in distress.

If worse comes to worse, there's a number of apps to make emergency calls quickly in a situation like an attack.

What are your safety tips?


  1. Oh my goodness that guy sounds like a loon! Glad you were able to get out of there. These are all great tips, I especially love the one about putting your hair up and not in a pony tail. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  2. I hadn't thought about the ponytail thing. Makes sense. Great tips, Kim.

  3. I bring pepper spray in my Spi belt whenever I'm running outside my own neighborhood

  4. Sooo so true. Glad you are safe!

    I got followed by a creepy guy a few months ago - in a sleepy small town where we all know each other. He didn't try to hide what he was doing, either. Cut me off and got out of the car to watch me. I ended up calling my husband and saying very loudly, "some creepy guy is following me!" He just happened to need to walk the other direction all of a sudden... really freaked me out. I stopped wearing a ponytail and stuffed my hair into a hat or into a buff.

    Another thing - don't bring a weapon unless you are ABSOLUTELY prepared to use it, or it is more easily used against you.

    I carry a small whistle I bought for $4 at Walmart. It fits inside the palm of my glove, and it's always ready to go.

    On a lighter note - cute shirt! Where's it from?