In Honor of Mollie Tibbetts

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This week, the running community was rocked once again by another senseless murder of yet another beautiful human being. Like many of you, I followed the story of Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance closely, only to learn the devastating (and unfortunately, expected) news that Mollie was murdered while out for a run.

I don’t pretend to have known Mollie or anything about her besides what was reported to us on the news. She was a 20-year old student at Iowa University. By all accounts, Mollie was a beautiful girl with a bright future ahead of her. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s classmate, someone’s friend. Mollie went missing while out for a run on July 18, 2018, and after an unrelenting search, was found on August 21, 2018, after her murderer led authorities to her body.

Mollie’s disappearance and the eventual discovery of her body reminds us once again of the dangers inherent to running solo. It’s an unfortunate reality of our time, and while both men and women are vulnerable, women are at far greater risk. According to a survey in this telling article from Runner’s World Magazine, women are at least 10 times more likely than men to be harassed while running.

Harassing behaviors might include rude or lewd comments, following the person, flashing, or worse. Even an unwanted/unsolicited compliment is a form of harassment. Luckily, physical assaults are rare. Still, the fear is real. Sexual harassment knows no age and no certain physique, but it does know gender. According to a recent article by Rhitu Chatterjee, 81 percent of women report having experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime, compared to 43 percent of men. It’s a sad reality that as women, we’ve come to expect harassment as a fact of life. From a ‘simple’ cat call to what was the most terrifying experience of my life (you can read about The Incident here), I personally have been harassed while running on too many occasions to count.

But does sexual harassment necessarily lead to murder? Of course not. But for many women, any unwelcome comments or behavior can induce fear. Mollie’s murder reminds of us the stark reality that we (in general), and women (in specific) never are completely safe.

Here are a few ways to help you stay safe while enjoying your run:

Run in populated areas and if possible, run with a friend (including the four-legged ones). You are far less likely to be harassed or attacked when other people are around.

Be aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye out for escape routes along the way. Should someone approach you on your run, you will want to get to a more visible, populated area as quickly as possible.

Trust your gut. If you feel unsafe for any reason at all, get out of the situation immediately. Don’t second guess your instincts. Better safe than sorry is not just a cliché.

Avoid distractions. That includes running with ear phones with music loud enough to block out any outside noise. If you enjoy running with music or listening to podcasts, consider putting only one bud in your ear, or try some of the newer headphones that use bone-conduction technology and transmit sounds from outside of the ear.

Image result for aftershokz air
These wireless headphones sit in front of your ears and use bone conduction technology to transmit sound

Carry a cell phone with you at all times, but don’t let that give you a false sense of security. A cell phone allows you to call for help or let others find your location using your phone as a tracking device, but it doesn’t protect you from an attacker.

Carry a canister of pepper spray when you run (be sure to check individual state and local laws regarding its use).

Sabre Pepper Spray with Quick-release Clip
Sabre Red Pepper Spray 2-Pack—Police Strength—Pink Case & Finger Grip—Quick Release Key Ring—5X More Bursts—10-Ft (3 m) Range
Sabre Red Pepper Spray Two-Pack in a fun pink color!









Carry a loud whistle to help attract attention should you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

Trust me, it’s loud!


Consider a hand-held device such as a kubaton or stun gun to help ward off attackers (again, be sure to check state and local regulations regarding the legality of these devices). I carry a kubaton on many of my runs.  I loop the key ring around my thumb and carry the kubaton in my hand. There are literally YouTube tutorials on how to use and where to strike with these devices. I’ve studied them well.


Hand-held kubatons.




Small stun-gun









I realize all of these seem cumbersome and a a bit of overkill. I don’t carry all of these items with me all of the time, but I wear a SPIBelt on all of my runs, and I keep the pepper spray and whistle clipped to the front, so I have those two things with me whenever I run. It took a little getting used to, but I truly no longer even notice they are there (you can save 15% on SPIBelt products using code SPIAMBASSADOR). I will carry the kubaton on longer runs or runs where I may be less familiar with the area. I don’t own a stun gun, but I have considered buying one of those as well. The one in the picture is the one I have been eyeing.

My SPIBelt with pepper spray and whistle.

And if you do find yourself in harm’s way, be sure to prioritize your actions:

1) Get yourself to safety. Yell or whistle for help along the way, but keep moving.

2) Call for help, but not until you are in a safe spot. Don’t stand still fumbling with your phone.

If you have an iPhone, you can quickly tap the on/off button (on the right side of the phone ) five times, which allows you to make an emergency SOS call without having to get to the keypad to dial in the digits. Here is a nice little news report showing how it works. My version of the iPhone requires me to drag the slider across to make the call. You should also set up your emergency contacts and information in your phone as mentioned in the video. That way if you are incapacitated, emergency personnel can access this information without knowing your phone’s pass code [every ER nurse knows (or should know) this!]. Here is an excellent article from USA Today showing how both work.

3) Report what happened to the authorities, even if you were able to escape unharmed. You might just save another person’s life.

My original post about The Incident links to five great websites with loads of additional safe running tips. While it saddens and angers me even to have to write this post, it’s a good reminder for all of us. Share it with your friends.

Runners across the country are dedicating their runs to Mollie Tibbetts and posting them with the hashtag #MilesforMollie. Let us all honor her memory by taking these simple steps to stay safe while doing what we love.

Share your safety tips with me! What else do you do to stay safe on your runs?


  1. I hate how we can’t feel as safe as runners anymore. I always carry pepper spray now. I wish this wasn’t something we all had to even think about

  2. Honestly, my biggest safety tip is never to run alone. It’s unfortunate that the world has come to this but better to be safe than sorry.

    1. Author

      I agree with the not running alone part. Since I mostly do, I stick to main roads and almost always stay away from the beautiful trails that surround my neighborhood. It’s really a shame.

  3. I also followed the story and was so saddened by the outcome. As women, we shouldn’t have to take all these precautions when running but unfortunately we do😢

    Some things I do to stay safe are running during daylight, always telling someone my route and running with a group when I have to cover a long distance

    1. Author

      All good ideas. When I am out on my long runs I intermittently stop to text my husband to let him know I am still okay and what time he can expect me to get home.

  4. This is a tragedy and it makes me so angry. I hate the fact that by virtue of being born a woman, my safety is something I can’t take for granted.

    I can only hope that one day, these kind of senseless deaths will come to an end.

  5. Mollie’s tragedy is so tough to swallow. My daughter knew her personally, so it’s been a very tough week in our household. All of your tips are great, especially the gut instinct one. We all have that gut instinct and it’s usually spot-on.

    1. Author

      I remember you said your daughter worked with her when you were in town for RnR and she was still considered missing. It sounds like Mollie did all the right things, but this maniac had other plans.

  6. I was shocked to read about Mollie Tibbetts (being in the UK, we didn’t have so much news on her), but I’m not surprised at the stats: it’s a rare run where I’m not harrassed in some way, OK, mainly because I’m a runner, but often because I’m a woman. I brush most of them off but was very shaken when a guy called out of a van “I wouldn’t **** you” in a tone of absolute disgust and then, I think by coincidence, turned down the road I was about to run across and leaned out to shout it again (I was on my way to running club, to run with groups of people, and the lads at club were horrified and furious). I run with my phone, although sometimes I think that’s a magnet for thieves, and in busy areas and/or with friends (we’ve still had abuse and harrassment even in a group, though never if the group has included men has it been gendered harrassment). I’m about to start carrying an attack alarm with a piercing whistle.

    1. Author

      How horrible, and I am so sorry that happened to you! Seriously, WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE???I like the idea of an attack alarm. It’s a shame we even have to think about these things. I have been running with my neighbor for the past several weeks and he says it is something he never has to think about. For us weomen, it is sadly something we always have to think about.

  7. I have so many emotions about Mollie Tibbetts. I’m sad, heartbroken for her family and angry this has to be an issue, especially for women. Great tips and self-defense options here.

    1. Author

      It’s just another sad reminder than no one is safe. Such a horrible story and a stark reminder for all of us to be deligent about out personal safety.

  8. Great tips! I’ve debated about carrying pepper spray. I def agree about being aware of surroundings – I find myself scanning the area and looking behind me every few minutes.

    1. Author

      I got the pepper spray and whistle after my scare two years ago. Thank goodness I have never had to use them, but it feels so much better having them available just in case.

  9. Mollie’s tragedy is a great reminder that crime on women is a huge problem in the US. I don’t want to take away from this horrible tragedy but we have to remember that this isn’t an isolated incident. How sad that it took the death of this beautiful young woman to remind people that we never can let down our guard.

    1. Author

      It’s heartbreaking for sure. You know how we worry about our boys. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to worry about girls.

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