Running Safely: 8 Things Every Runner Needs to Know

Eight smart tips to help you keep your running workouts safe

Generally speaking, running is considered a fairly safe sport. For the most part there isn’t a high risk for things like broken bones or concussions due to collisions like with contact sports (unless you’re like these girls) and it’s certainly not as dangerous a sport as something like base jumping or stand up paddling on white water rapids.  (And people say runners are crazy!)

Yet, as simple as it seems, when you don’t consider all of the unknowns, running can sometimes be more dangerous than initially perceived.

When you’re new to the sport you’ll likely hear all the typical advice like, get good shoes, start out slow and make sure to always stretch. But what you don’t often hear about is how to keep your outdoor running workouts, especially the ones you do on your own, safe and danger free.

To find out exactly what precautions all runners should be taking before they step out their front door’s each time, I got in touch with Sara Turner, an avid runner who has finished two marathons and is currently gunning for a Boston qualifying time. Sara blogs about running on and says that running safely is an aspect of the sport that’s just as important as any other.

Below are eight safety tips that ever runner absolutely needs to know.

1. Map your run ahead of time.
“I always make sure to map out where I am going ahead of time that way I can make sure if I am running before it is light out that there is plenty of light and that it is in a safe area,” Sara said. “I do this for all runs because I don’t want to get caught it a rough area. While I do wear headphones I keep the volume relatively low so I can still listen and hear what is going on around me.”  

“I never go too far away from my home. Even if I have to run down side roads or a parking lot I like to be in a 2- to 3-mile radius of my house for my personal safety and in case something were to go wrong while I’m out.”

2. Tell a family member or friend where you’re going and how long you will be gone.
“I always make sure my husband knows roughly where I am running. He knows how long it takes me to do things so that if for any reason I didn’t show up in time he would know here to go and find me,” Sara said. 

Sara said she doesn’t run with her phone because she hasn’t found a comfortable way to carry it, but she does recommend taking your phone with you if you can so that you can get in touch with someone if you need help.

3. Hydrate.
“In terms of personal health safety, the first and most important to me is proper hydration,” Sara said. “I make sure that I am drinking throughout the day and always have a 32-ounce water bottle with me throughout the day so that I am constantly drinking and I don’t get busy and forget.”

4. Stay alert and run with a friend when you can.
Aside from paying attention to the ground (in case of uneven terrain), other runners around you and traffic, maintaining your awareness is important for personal safety, too.  Sara says that she thinks women need to be even more aware of their surroundings. It’s an unfortunate reality but as a female runner who has personally experienced questionable encounters and heard stories of solo runs gone bad, it’s the honest truth.

“Even though it’s great to ‘check out’ and relax we always have to be aware of what is around us. Always make sure someone knows where you are going and has an idea of when you will return. If you can, run with your phone!”

Sara shared the following story as an example.

“I was out on my Saturday morning long run. It was about 7 a.m. and I was running down a road a couple miles from our house. As I was running a truck pulled up next to me and I noticed that they were slowing down. The gentleman rolled down his window and began talking to me. He was asking me questions about where I lived and where I run. He said he had seen me running several times. While this could have been a completely innocent interaction it put me on high alert. I don’t normally have people stop me and ask me about where I live and such. As I was talking (and running) I made sure I was far enough away from the car. I also looked around at my surroundings and eyed a few houses that I could start running towards should it start to feel uncomfortable. While nothing happened it did make me feel nervous and for the rest of the run I was very focused on what was going on around me.”

5. Scope out your routes.
This especially applies if you’re running in a new area that you’re unfamiliar with.

“I always make sure that I am running in a light area.” Sara said. “I live a bit out in the country so this can be difficult, but sometimes I will drive around a day or two before at night and make sure where I want to run is well-lit. Sometimes if I don’t feel particularly safe I will just find a 1 to 2 mile loop and do that over and over. That way I am close to home and I know the area that I am running in.”

6. Make an emergency plan.
As Sara mentioned in her story above, when a strange car approached her she immediately started thinking about what she would do and where she would go if she started to feel threatened. Be prepared to think on your toes and consider using an app like Yank, that will instantly call an emergency contact in your phone if the plug to your earphones is removed from the jack.

7. Run with the sun.
As Sara mentioned earlier, she likes to run in well-lit areas as much as possible, and the best way to ensure this is to plan your workouts for times when it’s still light out. If your schedule only allows for running when it’s dark out be sure to wear bright clothing and reflective accessories, run with a buddy if possible and make sure you are familiar with the area and that if feels safe for you.

8. Don’t trust traffic.
This is tricky because there are so many different types of drivers out there. Some will easily move over for you and others it seems like they are trying to run you off the road,” Sara said. “In fact, I have been run off the road several times.”

When it comes to dealing with traffic, Sara offered the following tips.

  • Always make sure you are running facing traffic so that you can see the cars coming at you. That way if for some reason the car does not see you, you have time to react.
  • Don’t ever “zone” out too much so that you aren’t aware of the cars around you.
  • Try to stay on the far side of the road, sometimes if it is really busy I will even run on the edge in the grass. This is easier on your legs as well.
  • You never know what drivers will do so I always make sure I am paying attention. My husband and I have differing opinions on crossing the street. He just goes and expects cars to stop while I am little more timid. I usually will turn off my music and listen for cars and keep going if none are coming. If I see a car in the distance I will stop and let them pass before going. It just makes me feel better.