Self-Defense for Runners: No, You Can’t Always Just Outrun An Attacker

I’m a runner, not a fighter. Aside from the occasional kickboxing class where I look more like a kangaroo on crack bouncing around than a seasoned martial artist, I’ve never really dabbled in self-defense or martial arts. After all, I spent 22 years living in Lexington, KY, a city known more for its “more barrels of bourbon than people” rather than its violent crime statistics. When I moved to Chicago, my mom gave me some pepper spray and told me to text her every night when I got home from class or babysitting, and that was about it.

Unfortunately, living in Chicago, you kind of have to face the ugly facts: we live in a city where violent crime happens. And as runners, we often unintentionally find ourselves in dangerous environments, such as running alone at night with our headphones turned up. Even if you do everything right – run without music, wear bright colors, stay alert, have your phone out – there’s a chance that you’ll get caught in a dangerous situation. And your ability to escape depends on how well you’ve mentally and physically prepared to react to this scenario.

HIIT and self-defense for runners at POW Kickboxing
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Enter Katalin Rodriguez-Ogren, the ass-kicking owner/instructor of POW Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness in the West Loop. Last week, she led a group of running bloggers in a 90 minute self-defense for runners workshop, teaching us how to defend ourselves in dangerous situations and more importantly, how to prevent these situations in the first place.

It’s true that runners (and female runners in particular) may find themselves in dangerous situations, such as running with music so loud that you can’t hear the environment around you, running with “blinders” on instead of surveying the environment as you run, or running and approaching a group of men and deciding to run through them instead of changing your position to run around them.

However, Katalin firmly believes that the first step to decreasing the chances of a dangerous encounter is more about “creating a behavior pattern, where you are constantly surveying your surroundings, making eye contact with people, and learning how to read people” to anticipate a dangerous situation.

Some of these potential behavior patterns include:

  • Running during the day and/or in well-populated areas with well-lit streets or paths
  • Running with your phone and/or with a friend
  • Running in bright colors (#ifitsnotneonitshouldntBEon)
  • Surveying your environment and making eye contact with people
  • Keeping your headphones low enough that you can hear the environment around you
  • Removing your headphones while stopping for water or to stretch and continuing to survey your environment
  • Changing your path if you’re approaching someone who acts suspiciously. For example, if you notice a person walking towards you with an unusual gait (like hiding one hand behind them) or moving quickly towards you

In the event that you do face an attacker, knowing a few basic self-defense moves ahead of time and mentally preparing yourself to use them could save your life. Katalin broke down a few of these self-defense moves for runners:

“Kicks to the A-frame of the attacker is often described as a groin kick.  But it is intended to cause far more damage then a groin kick.  I love palm strikes, punches, hammerfists, elbows and knees, if I had to pick 5 combative moves everyone should learn.  The goal is to know combatives that work at the three basic ranges – long, mid and close.  But the truth is most attacks require the close range strikes.”

Kicks to the A-frame should aim for the pubic bone instead of the balls (go ahead and giggle, I’ll wait). Punches, hammerfists, and elbows should aim for the throat and face. Don’t be afraid to yell when you begin to hit your attacker – we yelled “GET THE F*** AWAY FROM ME!” during class and it was pretty empowering. And finally, remember that while you do want to injure your attacker, you should focus on getting out of elbow-range so that you can escape.

Remember, these practices aren’t just for running. As Katalin says, “Living in Chicago requires you to have a code of safety and security.  Knowing how to protect yourself, is as important of a skill as knowing how to swim.

“The goal is to always follow a ‘best practices’ for your life.  It should be tailored to the hobbies and lifestyle of a person.  If you are an ice skater who can only get ice time at 5/6am in the morning you need to expect that you will be traveling when areas are isolated.  If you are bartender who closes a 2am club down, you need to create behaviors and practices that keep you safe when leaving with hundreds of dollar of cash from the bar.  Runners know where they are going to run.  They know their path ahead of time.  Plan ahead and be honest with the path you are running.  No where there are vulnerable spots and be aware when you approach them.

Chicago is the best city in the world, but we have to face the fact that it’s also one of the most dangerous. I firmly believe that every runner – or honestly, every human – should take a self-defense class to prepare for the worst. It’s not fun to think about, but being prepared to defend yourself is one of the most valuable things you can learn.

Endurance Move

About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

1 thought on “Self-Defense for Runners: No, You Can’t Always Just Outrun An Attacker

  1. Good tips! I walk to my work 3 days a week at 530 am (guess I will just broadcast that to the internet) and have often thought about how isolated it is at that hour. Luckily there really arent that many people out that early that I run into, but it is always good to be aware!

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