One of the beautiful things about running is its simplicity. But, as with nearly any activity, it comes with inherent risks that can keep you on your toes. From inattentive drivers on the road to unexpected obstacles on the trail, there are a number of potential hazards that runners of all backgrounds and skill levels can fall prey to.
“It’s important for everyone to use common sense and practice safety,” says Nancy Hobbs, founder and executive director of the American Trail Running Association. “Be alert, be prepared. Weather is not gender-specific, nor is running out of food or water, encountering an animal, or tripping over a rock and breaking an ankle.”
Brian McPherson, an endurance athlete who lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado, competes in major marathons and trail races year-round and all over the country. He can confirm that one key factor—awareness—is important for all. “I believe safety tips are helpful for any runner, even if it’s just a refresher,” he says. “We all get complacent at some point, especially as training ramps up and fatigue starts to set in.”
Here are several practical safety tips that can help you avoid dangerous situations on the road or trail.
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Bring Your Phone Along
Your phone isn’t just good for taking sweaty selfies or Instagrammable pictures of your running route—it can also be a valuable tool in case of emergencies. “Always Five Actions To Make Your Running Community Safer, and make sure the battery is charged,” says Hobbs, adding that it’s best to run in places that have good cell signal. Enabling the medical ID function or downloading GPS tracking apps are some easy and effective ways your phone can help to keep you safe.
Maybe you hate running with your phone, or it’s not always possible to have a buddy along with you on a run. In these cases, McPherson recommends sharing your plans—where you’ll be and how long you expect to be out—with a friend or family member. “Be proactive to let someone know you are out on a run, or leave a note just in case something unexpected happens.” Also, don’t forget to text your contact when you’ve finished your run and are safely back home.
Consider the Weather
Whether (no pun intended) you’re planning on racking up miles on the roads or tackling the trails, it’s wise to check up on any precipitation predictions so you know what’s in store during your run. (Here are some top-rated weather apps that can keep you up to date.) “Be prepared for the conditions as they are and what they might become,” Hobbs says. “If there is lightning, find a trench or some place low and covered. Better yet, don’t go out if lightning is threatening.”
A peek at the weather forecast can also help you determine how to gear up appropriately, particularly when running surfaces are slick. “Always be sure to wear appropriate footwear for the terrain you are running on. For example, opt for a nicely treaded sole on a rainy day,” McPherson says.
In areas frequented by potentially dangerous wildlife, Hobbs strongly suggests carrying appropriate gear, such as bear spray or loud whistles to scare off predators. However, the same could be used in encounters with human assailants—ignore verbal harassment and avoid confrontation if possible, but have mace or some other type of self-defense spray easily accessible for worst-case scenarios. As mentioned earlier, it’s also ideal to have your phone handy in case you need to dial 911. (If you are on trails frequented by wildlife, Race Times Predictor.)
Be Mindful of Dogs
are some easy and effective ways your phone can help to keep you safe dog owner, use a leash out of consideration for fellow runners who aren’t keen on being jumped on, knocked off balance, or potentially frightened. (Keep in mind that not everyone is a dog person.) Conversely, those running without four-legged friends should try to keep a wide berth around leashed pets so as not to trip over a long lead or the dog itself.
Worried About Your Surroundings? Ditch the Headphones
Not only do headphones make you vulnerable to approaching traffic or potential attackers, they often make for unpleasant interactions with others who are out on a run. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come upon a headphone-clad runner who is clueless that I am coming up behind them (even when I say hello),” Hobbs says. “If the person can’t hear me, they also can’t hear a rattlesnake in the bushes.”
Can’t go without your headphones? Consider a brand like Aftershokz, where the speakers wrap around your ears instead of going directly in, meaning you can still hear loud noises right around you.
Running while facing traffic is generally the best course of action, but McPherson suggests using your best judgment for which side of the road is safest to run on based on shoulder space. “I will oftentimes switch sides of the road on dangerous blind corners or hills,” he says.
And, while pounding out those miles in the cool of the morning or night is a great way to avoid overheating in the warmer months, it also makes it harder for runners to see—and to be seen. McPherson urges runners who are out on dark roads to wear brightly colored or reflective clothing and a light source. “Always have a headlamp when it’s dark so you can see clearly and prevent injuries. Plus, it helps commuters to easily identify you as a runner.”
Need more help to maximize your safety? Here are some other tips that always work.
- On trail runs, bring food with you. Even on short runs, you never know if you’ll be in the woods longer than expected.
- New to an area? Join a running group or recruit a training partner to run with you.
- Always assume drivers cannot see you. Also, remember that most drivers are distracted—texting, talking, or dealing with kids in the back seat of the car.
- Run a variety of routes so your routine is not predictable.
- If you track your runs on an app like Strava or MapMyRun, check your privacy settings to make sure only those people who you want to see your runs have access to your routes.
- Studies show flashing lights are more eye-catching than solid lights. Use them!
- Maximize reflective gear and accentuate moving parts like your arms, legs, and ankles.