Staying Safe When You Run

Staying Safe When You Run

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
July 13, 2023

Let’s talk about something important: safety.

Becoming a runner, feeling good, and learning to enjoy running are all super important, but you can’t do any of those things if you’re not safe out there.

When we run on roads or trails, certain variables create running conditions requiring thoughtful safety measures. Running in urban areas requires awareness of vehicles and other humans, among other things. And trails can be remote, wild, and introduces wildlife considerations.

This post isn’t meant to freak anyone out or increase any fears a new or blossoming runner might have. It’s intended to present the facts and offer preventative measures to help keep you safe wherever and whenever you choose to run.

General Running Safety Tips           

1) Run with someone.

It is always safer to run with a partner or group than without. There is safety in numbers…safety from threatening humans, and reassurance that someone can help should you have a medical problem while running.

2) If running alone, run with a phone and tell someone where you’re going.

If you’re running alone, tell someone where you’re going and when you plan on returning. That way, if you don’t return as scheduled for any reason, that person can either go looking for you or worst-case, alert officials where you went.

Carrying a cell phone or smartwatch enabled with cellular is also a good safety measure. You can call or be called if needed. You can also use your smartphone’s mapping/GPS apps and tracking to keep from getting lost.

3) Know where you’re going.

Those apps are well and good, if your phone doesn’t run out of battery or lose signal. It’s always safer to know where you are and where you’re going than to rely on a phone app.

4) Stay aware.

Headphones and music, while they can do wonders for motivation and combatting boredom, eliminate a key sense: your ability to hear cars, bikers, wild animals, other runners, etc. If you must wear headphones, keep the volume low or wear one earbud out. And always be aware of your surroundings.

5) Take what you need.

It may take a while for you to dial in just what you need on a run in terms of hydration, fuel, layers, etc., but be prepared and take what you need. “Bonking”* on a run lessens ability to remain aware.

* Aussies, get your mind out of the gutter 😉. Bonking is also used to mean “hitting the wall”.

6) Avoid lightning.

Running in rain, wind, snow, heat, sleet and more can all be just fine, if you’re prepared with the right gear and knowledge. But any sign of lightning? Stay indoors and postpone your run until the sky is calm.

Road Running Safety Tips

1) Honor traffic laws and make eye contact.

Cross at crosswalks, when available, and make eye contact with the driver who should be stopping at stop signs so you know they see you before entering the road.

2) Run facing traffic.

If running on the road without a sidewalk, run facing traffic so you can hop out of the way if necessary.

If approaching a corner where an oncoming driver wouldn’t be able to see you, cross the road and run with traffic temporarily before returning to the other side.

3) Wear reflective/bright clothing and lights.

4) Especially if you’re running in low light—early morning or evening, fog, or especially after dark—choose bright colors and/or apparel or accessories with reflectivity.

5) Avoid dark alleys and other sketchy situations.

Make smart choices when running alone in urban areas. If you wouldn’t want your daughter running down a certain dark alley or through a particularly remote area, avoid it yourself.

6) Consider mace or other self-defense devices.

It’s not a bad idea to carry mace, especially if you run in isolated areas or in early morning or evening hours.

Trail Running Safety Tips

1) Know where you’re going and take what you need.

Knowing your route becomes even more imperative on trails, where you can’t grab an Uber home and being stuck out in the wild lost has real consequences.

Likewise, the inability to pop into a convenience store for extra

2) Know how to respond to wildlife.

Wildlife sightings can be magical, and without consequence, if you know how to react to them. Generally speaking, keep your distance—respect the animal’s space. They don’t want to be bothered just like you don’t.

For a simple, illustrated guide, check out this page from my first book, Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running.

3) Consider running with a dog, and keep that dog on leash.

Dogs offer great companionship on trails (soft ground is better for them than pavement). They also add a layer of safety. But keeping them on leash is safer than not—a dog chasing after a predatory animal, like a coyote, bear or mountain lion, or a large non-predator like a moose, can put both your dog and you in danger.

4) Make eye contact.

I got this tip from Gina Lucrezi, founder of Trail Sisters: make eye contact with other trail users. Pass by another runner, hiker, mountain biker or equestrian? Make eye contact and say hello.

Doing so is not only the nice and friendly thing to do; it ensures that someone on the trail you’re running has seen you, should you not return to your vehicle or your home when you said you would.

Their information could help rescue efforts, should you need them.

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