How to Stay Safe While Running (Especially If You’re a Woman)

As a distance runner, I spend a decent amount of time each week planning out when and where I am going to run. While training for a spring marathon this past winter, I found myself with a tighter schedule than what I’d had for previous fall marathons. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was because I was refusing to run in the dark. One of my top priorities while running is staying safe, because I want to be able to enjoy this sport for as long as my body will let me.

That said, I found it frustrating that something like fear of running in the dark was preventing me from having flexibility in my training.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my fear. According to Runner’s World, 60 percent of women have experienced harassment while running and 25 percent experience it on a regular basis. This maltreatment has led 6 percent of female runners to leave the sport and 88 percent of women to change their running behaviors when running in the dark. These statistics are chilling as they communicate how pervasive of a problem harassment is in this sport.

staying safe while running for women

And while harassment is a huge issue for women’s running, darkness also leads to other dangers, like injuries and accidents. Fifty percent of fatal auto-accidents happen in the nighttime due to a higher prevalence of alcohol intoxication, speeding, low visibility, and driver fatigue. While few of these accidents involve pedestrians or runners, the higher risk applies to everyone. Darkness can also lead to increased risk of injury, like sprained ankles and falls, due to less visibility.

Reading these statistics, you may be thinking that this piece is convincing you to not run in the dark. However, to increase our safety while running in the dark, it is important to know what we’re up against. Running at night or in the early hours of the morning can feel liberating, and we should all be able to access that experience. Below are some tips for how to keep yourself safe while running in the dark.

Tips for staying safe while running

  1. Run with a partner or furry friend. When going out for a run in the dark, you may feel safer if you have some company. Running with another person will create space for communication about potential dangers like unexpected pot-holes. A running partner may also keep a potential harasser at bay. If you do not have a friend, a sizeable dog may be helpful as well. Most people looking to harm another person will probably fear an animal that can cause damage like a dog. Only you have to know that Zola is a total sweetheart that loves getting pets.
  1. Run without music or with one headphone in. Increased safety comes with increased awareness. While I totally love the feeling of blasting Carly Rae Jepsen while doing a tempo workout, my music eliminates my ability to hear what is happening around me. If you are unable to go sans-music, keep the volume down low. Or, use bone-conducting headphones so you can hear your surroundings.
  1. Run in a well-lit area and wear a running light. Visibility issues are a large contributor to accidents and injuries on a dark run. I have had my fair share of spills on a crack in the sidewalk when I have full visibility, so I can’t imagine how I would do if I couldn’t see. Poorly lit streets can also make it harder for someone else to see you if something were to go awry. If you want to increase your visibility, get a headlamp or running light. These tools will help you see and will help others see you.
  1. Carry a phone and ID with you. It can be exciting to run without feeling your phone buzz with a way-too-late e-mail from your boss. However, running without a phone or ID in the dark can lead to safety concern. If you find yourself in an unsafe setting, you may feel immediately safer if you are able to contact someone. While carrying a phone, put it somewhere that’s easy to access, but not visible enough to make you a target. If you do experience an injury or accident, it’s important to have an ID with you for emergency responders.
  1. Share your route and location with a trusted friend or family member. Before leaving for a run, let someone know where you are going. It can be particularly helpful if they have your location, so they can see if you’ve gone off course or need to locate you. A useful application for this purpose is Find My Friends. You can set it up to only be on temporarily for the purposes of run tracking. 
  1. Vary your routes and running times. While this is scary to think about, we never know if someone is following or tracking us. Varying the times that we run can keep a potential harasser away. Also, if you use Strava or other fitness apps, set them to private or disable start and end point tracking to add a layer of protection. 
  1. Take a self-defense class. Sometimes part of increasing safety is feeling empowered. One way to do that is to take a self-defense course. Google “self-defense classes for runners” in your area to find courses that are accessible to you. Some courses may be virtual or in-person. I’d recommend attending an in-person class if able to get practice engaging in self-defense techniques.
  1. Trust your instincts. The human brain and body work in mysterious ways. Sometimes our subconscious can identify danger before our conscious mind notices it. If you begin to feel uneasy on a run, there’s no harm in changing your route – but there may be harm in keeping it.  

At this point, I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel as safe running in the dark as I do during daylight.  That said, I will never feel safe if I do not practice safer running behaviors. I will end on this note: being attacked while running is never the fault of the runner. Hopefully, someday thinking about safety while running in the dark will be a thing of the past.

Let us know!

Endurance Move

About Sarah Kelly

Sarah Kelly is a licensed social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor. Sarah received her MSW from Loyola University and Chicago and currently works as an individual and group therapist for Clarity Clinic Chicago with an emphasis in addiction and trauma work. While Sarah believes that therapy is a significant and often necessary tool to foster personal and community wellness, Sarah believes in caring for the whole person and whole community. Sarah works towards this value by engaging in Chicago’s running and yoga communities, tapping into several book clubs and indulging in the bachelor. Sarah hopes to support you in the process in discovering what brings you value in yourself and your community.

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