I may have two karate black belts, but I am definitely a white-belt runner. But as a National Women's Martial Arts Federation-certified self-defense instructor, I do have a leg up on strategies for keeping safe when I run.
It's not that running is an especially dangerous activity. "Stranger-danger" is highly overblown -- most women are not attacked by a menacing stranger, but by someone she knows (often an intimate partner). Still, running can put us into vulnerable situations. By thinking ahead we can make workout choices to further reduce the chance of assault. And all runners -- male and female -- can plan ahead to avoid and survive injury and accident.
Here's my list of tips:
Be seen. Any time light is low-dawn, twilight, night, or inclement weather, reflective gear is de rigueur. This is one time that bilious phosphorescent yellow is a fashion "do." You will be more visible to motor vehicles, and more memorable to neighborhood folks.
Keep in touch. If your running route is not within shouting distance of populated areas, carry a cellphone.
Prepare to show ID. Order a snazzy runner's ID with your blood type and an inspirational quote -- or shove an old driver's license into your pocket. Either ensures that rescuers can locate loved ones if you are injured.
Leave an itinerary. Tell friends and family your favorite running routes, which one you'll be taking today, and when you should return. I was appalled to realize recently that my sweet darling -- a confirmed couch potato -- has no idea where I disappear to when I walk out the door with my Sauconys on. Now I leave my itinerary on the dining room table.
Use all of your senses. Save the iPod for the gym. Use your eyes, ears, nose and intuition to remain aware of your surroundings. Trust yourself if something looks, smells, or feels fishy.
Be heard. If someone approaches you in a way that feels unsafe, use your strong voice and declarative statements: "That's close enough," or "Tell me what you want." If they try to touch you or don't respect the limit you set, yell your fool-head off. Don't be afraid to make a scene in the service of keeping yourself safe.
Run. Always know where you are and where you can run for help. Save exploration of new trails for an afternoon hike with a group. When running alone, be sure you can sprint to a house or busy road. (If you experience an unexpected injury you will be glad that you don't have far to go to find help.)
Fight. It is my sincere wish for every woman reading this that you never have to fight an attacker. But if you do, go for the most vulnerable parts of his body: the eyes, nose, throat, and knees. Consider taking a self-defense class to learn simple, effective fighting techniques.
Tell. If you are attacked, seek help immediately for your physical and emotional well-being. It is never your fault that someone made the criminal choice to assault you. By alerting someone you trust, you can heal your body and mind and you may be able to prevent an assault on another woman.
Lynne Marie Wanamaker is an AFAA certified personal fitness trainer who creates and teaches customized exercise programs for adults who want to be stronger and live longer. For more information visit her online at www.compassionateconditioning.com.