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