Running Self Defense: What to Worry About and What Not to Bother With

Running self defense

Running self defense seems to be a rather hot topic.

Of course, when we see in the news that a runner was actually abducted, this topic heightens our emotions and causes a little bit of hysteria. This abduction happened right as I started my first half marathon training plan. I’m not going to lie…I got the chills when I heard about the college student in Iowa, and I was significantly more paranoid for weeks.

But does this paranoia do anything for us?

Is it better to just not risk it and stay safely inside, on a treadmill?

Of course not.

On any given day, there are likely to be at least 26 million people running alone in the U.S.

Yet, it is rare that we hear of an abduction case from an adult who was running. It still happens, but it is rare.

Harassment is far more common.

Even so, should we just stop running?

I think you already know…I’m addicted to running. So I’m not going to let a few potentially rude people stop me.

There are so many amazing health benefits to running, both physically and mentally. I wouldn’t give it up for a day. Therefore, I have a plan for my running self-defense.

While your mom might tell you stereotyping is wrong, I’m going to stereotype a LOT in this article.

Stereotypes are beliefs that we’ve built because of patterns we’ve seen. In many cases, stereotypes hold up. Stereotypes tie into our instincts, and sometimes, they set off that Spidey-sense that makes your stomach turn-over and tell you to go a different direction.

Use your spidey senses for running self defense

When your Spidey-senses go off, please listen to them. Your instincts are a feature built-into your being, meant to defend you against danger. You have a natural tool, so use it.

Here’s my stereotype:

I am a blonde, female, in my twenties, and fit.

 Somewhat surprisingly, I haven’t experienced any harassment while running.

I live in a nice quiet area, and I usually only pass a handful of people while running. I usually run along relatively busy roads though, so I’m sure there’s plenty of potential to become the subject of sexual harassment.

But have I experienced it? Nope.

Therefore, I can conclude that the people where I live have great manners and nothing would ever happen to me.

While I would love to believe that…I’m not about to leave my fate in someone else’s hands.

I will always be ready and prepared to defend myself, if needed.

But how? How would I defend myself? It’s one thing to say you’re prepared, it’s another thing to be prepared.

I might be in the military, but I have *VERY* minimal training in self-dense. I’ve only had a few hours of basic, standardized instruction. Since I work in an office every day, I am no more able to flip some dude on his back than any other lady walking through the mall.

I am very aware of the reality that 95% of men are stronger and could overpower me in a struggle.

My guess is, you’re in about the same situation as me. I’m going to go through a few practical tips of what you could do for running self-defense, and then a few tips of what I actually do.

What You Could Do for Running Self-Defense

Carry a Gun

This is the most extreme choice. I love guns, so I’m going to get up on my soap box for a minute…

If you would like to take this route, be sure to abide by all laws and regulations.

  • Get a concealed carry permit.
  • Be sure to educate yourself on the laws related to using a deadly weapon for self-defense.
  • Take lessons, become familiar and comfortable with how to operate your weapon.

I’ve tried this method. I grew up in a family where hunting was a family activity. My dad helped me become familiar and comfortable with guns at a young age. I have a concealed carry permit, shoot my gun regularly, and know the laws in my area. I’ve even tried several different holsters for running.

I have stopped carrying a gun as running self-defense for two reasons: it’s too cumbersome and it’s unrealistic.

Carrying a gun while running is cumbersome.

In those several holsters I’ve tried, my 9mm is still just too bulky and heavy to carry while running. It bounces and drives me BONKERS. The most comfortable option I tried was a tank-top with an under the arm holster. Except the only way it was comfortable was if I put an extra sports bra over the top of it to keep it from bouncing…but that makes it harder to draw if needed. Not to mention, it would be under too many layers in any season other than summer.

Carrying a gun is unrealistic.

One of the most beneficial training classes I’ve been forced to attend in the military is referred to as “Arming and Use of Force”. Law enforcement professions are also familiar with this knowledge.

Here is the run-down on “Use of Force”:

A gun is a deadly weapon. It is considered deadly force.

You can only use a deadly force if your LIFE IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER. If you kill someone in a situation where your life is not in danger, then you can be held responsible to the full extent of the law. This probably means you’ll go to jail…this is also something I prefer not to mess with.

If you only feel safe carrying a gun, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE seek out thorough education on proper use of force. 

Ok, I’ll step down from my soap box now.

The reality is, most potential situations that could happen while I’m out running could be resolved with less-than-deadly force.

Carry pepper spray

Use pepper spray when running for self defense

I haven’t bought pepper spray yet, but you could totally carry pepper spray. If you are going to have it with you, carry it in such a manner that you could quickly use it when needed.

Carry a self-defense ring or some other nifty self-defense device

There are tons of products out there, designed specifically for runners. Here are a few products you could try:

Run in a group

Nothing turns off harassment or a potential attacker better than a group. If you feel safer running in a group, go for it!

Occasionally I can convince my husband to head out for a run with me, but I usually end up heading out for my miles alone. I haven’t really explored joining a running group, because I have a busy schedule and prefer to schedule my runs when it works for me.

Take self-defense classes

Like I mentioned earlier, I have taken a few hours of basic, standardized self-defense classes in the military, but I honestly don’t feel like I could fight someone in a brawl. In the little experience I’ve had, I would need to take many, many classes for this to be effective.

One or two classes would give you some of the basics and help you get in the mindset to defend yourself.

What I Actually Do for Running Self-Defense

While I have tried some of the tips above, not everything has been practical for me. Now I’m going to discuss what I actually do, because these things make sense for me and my situation.

You should try a few different things and do what works for you.

I carry a personal alarm

Earlier, I mentioned that I don’t buy stuff I don’t need. This item out wasn’t something I sought out to buy, rather someone in my family gave it to me. I figured as long as I have it, I might as well use it.

My alarm is a small, light device that slips easily into the inner pocket within my running jacket. I can easily grab it through my jacket and pull the chain if needed. When it gets warmer outside and I shed my jacket, I won’t have a convenient place to put this, so it might fall by the wayside until next Fall.

Keep one earbud out and monitor surroundings

Whether it’s dark or light, I only run with one earbud in. The other stays out so I can hear what is going on around me.

At night, I only run in well-lit areas. Around my area, this usually means I’m running on sidewalks.

There is an amazing running and biking trail just a mile from my house that I LOVE to run on, but it isn’t lit at night. There are half-mile stretches of trail between roads that don’t have a single light. It is DARK.

I ran on the sidewalk towards this trail one dark morning this summer, intending to run on the trail before I knew that the trail itself was unlit. I turned to head down that trail and as I turned, I saw nothing but black nothing-ness. My stomach flipped over a few times, and I promptly jumped back onto the side of the road to continue my miles in a well-lit area.

If your instincts tell you something isn’t safe—it probably isn’t safe. Just don’t go there. Your instincts are an important component to your running self-defense plan. Listen to them.

I turn on my RoadID app before I head out the door

This app is awesome and free to download.

When I turn on the app, it sends my husband a text where he can track me on my run in real-time. It makes him (and me) feel better about my running outside on my own.

It sends him an alert if I am stationary for more than 5 minutes (I have to remember to turn it off when I get back to the house!)

This is a really great feature because if I got hurt and couldn’t move, or if—heaven forbid—someone did nab me while I was out on my run, he would know about it and could be at my location in minutes. If anything happened, he could alert the authorities and be hot on my trail a helluva lot sooner than if I didn’t use this app.

I’ve also been able to send the tracker to friends instead of my husband. You can send it to multiple people. For example, when I was halfway across the country for work, I sent the tracker to one of my friends who was also on the trip with me, let her know where I was going and that it was a “just in case” safety feature. She was totally cool with it.

This app is free. So download it and use it when you run.

Alternative: Garmin LiveTrack

After I bought my Garmin Vivioactive 3, I found Garmin LiveTrack. You can set it up in the left-hand menu of the app to start tracking you every time you start a run workout on your watch. I have mine set up to send my husband a link with my location every time I run.

Mental Rehearsal

mental rehearsal running self defense

While this might sound silly, this is the single most important thing you can do for your running self-defense. No gadget will do you any good unless you know how you will use it.

The three reactions to an attack are: fight, flight, or freeze.

Plan ahead and mentally rehearse your reaction, so vividly in your mind that it feels real. If you fail to rehearse and plan, your reaction will probably be to freeze.

Think about different scenarios for your running self-defense. I honestly do this all the time when I’m running. If something happened right here, what would I do first? Second?

I urge you to do the same.

What would I do first?

As soon as I felt like the situation was not a friendly one, I would reach up and hit the button on my headphones and initiate a phone call to 9-1-1. Second, I would try to run to safety (an area with other people, or a busy road where I can easily be seen). If that doesn’t work, I would do everything in my power to disable my attacker. Groin, throat, eyes, nose. Whatever works. Twist their arm so hard and quick that you break it if you have to.

Disable, and run like hell. This is why you train. Either to run away from zombie in an apocalypse, or some punk who decided to ruin your day.

During all of this, I would be giving my location and description of my attacker to the 9-1-1 dispatcher if they’re on the phone with me.

No need to be paranoid, just mentally prepare yourself on a regular basis.

Mentally rehearsing any possible situation will give you the confidence that you can defend yourself if a situation arises.

self defense while running
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Final Thoughts on Running Self-Defense

Don’t be paranoid. Prior and proper preparation can go a long way to making yourself feel safer on each run, and being prepared to defend yourself if the situation arises.

You don’t need to carry all the gadgets. One might be useful if you know how you plan to use it. Avoid carrying too many and having to make a decision on which to use. The moment of hesitation to make that decision could be the difference of your safety.

Tell someone you trust where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

Use common sense and trust your instincts. Nature gave each of us an incredibly accurate tool, for free. Listen to it. You’re always better being a little cautious and safe than sorry.

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Run Happy (and Safe!),


About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>