On a recent evening run, alone and in the dark, I was unnerved to find myself being followed by some random guy in a car. He drove past me and waited at deserted, empty junctions for me to pass him. Doing this once was suspicious, but I figured he could have been lost or looking for a house number. However, when he did it twice more – and then waited again at the next junction – I decided caution was the best option and changed my route, running down a pedestrianised street to make sure he couldn’t follow.
This episode was unnerving and irritating in equal measure – I enjoy running but due to work, I often have to go out on my own, in the dark. The standard advice from many non-runners would be to go out in a group but running buddies are not always available at short notice, or they may not be running at the same pace/intensity as you’re planning to do. Also, while running in company is great, sometimes it’s just nice to go out by yourself. I don’t want to be put off by some dumb-ass, but equally I don’t want to end up a statistic in a police report. So, what can us female runners do to minimise our risks when we’re running alone?
The first and most obvious suggestion is to not wear headphones or – if you absolutely must listen to music to keep you motivated – try keeping the volume low or just popping one ear-bud in. This is so that you can hear approaching people, bikes and cars etc. I’ve often run up behind people who’ve been listening to headphones and they’ve not realised I was there until I was already next to them. This lack of awareness is potentially dangerous. As a minimum, another runner suddenly appearing at their elbow has made several people jump out of their skin…
Take notice of any cars or other road users behaving in a suspicious manner. If someone is behaving in a way which makes you suspicious or wary, double back or change your route. Listen to your instincts – it’s better safe than sorry. One further tip I’ve read is to run on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic as this puts space between you and any kerb-crawlers.
Try and let people know your planned route or, if not your exact route, at least give an indication of where you’re heading and roughly how long you’ll be. Plan your run to avoid lonely, isolated and unlit stretches of road. If you do have to run down dark, lonely roads, make sure you are wearing high-vis clothing so cars and bikes can see you and move over to give you space. Give way at junctions; don’t assume car drivers have seen you and will stop in time – finishing your run in one piece is more important than beating that Strava segment time.
Change your routine. If you always run the same route, at the same time, you’re making yourself more vulnerable to potential nutcases. Vary your route, mix up the time and days and make it harder for someone to know where you’re going to be at any particular time.
Take your phone
Running in the dark is inherently more risky as you’re more likely to trip over unseen hazards or uneven surfaces. If you fall and you have your phone, you can at least call a taxi and save yourself a painful limp/stagger home. Also, if you’re really safety conscious, you can add a GPS tracking app so your partner/loved ones can see exactly where you are.
Finally, I feel like this is a pretty negative post but it’s worth remembering that most people are decent and law-abiding and, for those few that aren’t, runners aren’t a good target – we’re so much harder to catch…