Self-Defense For Female Runners
We all know it’s safer to run with a buddy, on a heavily-populated trail, during daylight hours or, when push comes to shove, on a treadmill if none of the previous options are viable.
But who among us hasn’t bent those rules just a little bit? Maybe we need to get in an important training run and before sunrise while our partner is home with the kids is the only time we can do it. Or perhaps we just moved to a new place where we don’t yet know anybody. Honestly, it could just be because we’re surrounded by people all day long and our soul is positively screaming for a few solo miles in the woods.
We’re aware that none of these scenarios are our smartest options, but we’re runners—we’re known for pushing our bodies and sticking to training plans. Runners are not necessarily known for making the best decisions, especially if the wiser choice interferes with our training.
So what’s a gal to do when she simply must run, but her options aren’t ideal?
Alexandra Allred, a motivational speaker, former competitive fighter in martial arts and fitness instructor who’s been teaching women self-defense for three decades, believes strongly in three things: the power of awareness, the importance of listening to your intuition and the effectiveness of using your voice. Although Allred will always suggest sticking to safe routes in daylight hours and running with a partner (or at least making sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back), even she’s found herself in uncomfortable situations, so she knows that it can happen to literally anybody. But she has solid advice to help you avoid a scary situation before it becomes an issue—and can help you get out of it safely if the situation escalates.
Increase Your Awareness
Allred stresses that awareness of your surroundings in any situation, whether it’s during your actual run or the 10 minutes you spend winding down, stretching and checking your phone once you finish. This means keeping your head up, playing your music at a low volume (or leaving the tunes behind entirely) and taking note of who you see around you. Try making a game of it, counting how many people you see around in shorts versus leggings, or how many runners are wearing hats.
It’s also wise to make a point to truly see the people you pass—and to let them know you see them. “Bad guys rarely pick the person who is uber vigilant and aware,” she says. You don’t have to scowl at these strangers, but try something less welcoming than a smile. Eye contact and a nod lets any would-be attacker know that you know he’s there (and could identify him if needed), but it’s not offensive to any innocent parties just getting in their daily miles.
Tune Into Your Intuition
It’s one thing to ignore a gut feeling about someone in a safe group setting, but if you’re running by yourself in an isolated area and someone is giving you creepy vibes (even if you can’t put your finger on why), pay attention. You might have been taught to be nice to everyone, to make everyone feel comfortable, to smile—but if you’re alone and potentially vulnerable, is it more important to make sure a random stranger thinks you’re friendly or for you to keep yourself safe?
(The answer is to keep yourself safe, in case that wasn’t clear.)
Again, utilize that curt nod with eye contact and get yourself to safety at your earliest opportunity. Finishing your workout might seem important, but it’s more important to give yourself the chance to keep doing your workouts.
Use Your Voice
Even if you’ve taken a couple of self-defense classes, the sad truth is that it’s not likely you’ll remember the exact moves you learned then in the moment of an attack. But you know what we can all do? Yell—loudly. Not only does a deep, loud yell let an attacker know that you won’t go down without a fight, but it will also get your adrenaline pumping.
This sounds simple enough, but Allred is quick to note that yelling requires practice. Find a space where you can yell as loud as you possibly can without causing alarm and start practicing. As you’re running, practice making guttural noises, like, Hey! You! Hup! No! “Short, clipped words that can be forced from the diaphragm should be done again and again and again,” says Allred.
You can also work on talking out loud (or even singing) while you run to build greater projection, even when you’re out of breath. “Just as you train to take on hills or perform sprint intervals for that kick, you can work your vocal chords and projection. It’s the same principal,” she says. “You can’t wait for a bad guy to be in front of you to practice self-defense, and you shouldn’t wait until a crisis to test how powerful your voice is.”
Speaking of practicing self-defense, you’re probably wondering about the actual physical aspect of self-defense. While Allred is adamant about the previous tips (because, really, we can all practice yelling, and we can definitely use our voices if we find ourselves in trouble), that doesn’t mean she doesn’t advocate for enrolling in classes as well.
“Find a class with some friends, or ask your local police to offer a self-defense class. And then be a repeat customer,” she says.
One of the most powerful moves she suggests is learning how to break a board with your hand. “That seemingly daunting but simple thing is so empowering,” Allred says. “When you know in your heart that you have that ability, breaking a nose, knocking out teeth and throat punching for permanent damage are suddenly viable (and awesome) options for you.”
When it comes down to it, if you are actually attacked, you must be ready to fight—truly fight—for your life. Allred offers a few basic Dos and Don’ts for this worst-case scenario:
- DO: Take a stance, unless you can run away safely.
- DO: Lower your voice, stay calm, be loud, be aggressive and expect to be mocked as your attacker feels you out.
- DON’T: Beg or cry, as this plays into the attacker’s ego and will only excite him. He’s not a rational person—he’s a predator.
- DO: Stay out of his range if possible and remain loud.
- DO: Fight without rules. Bite, headbutt and swing wildly. Be vulgar. Get mad.
- DON’T: Aim for the groin. Try to recall a multi-step defense move you learned a year ago or make a move that will only hurt him slightly. The groin is expected, you honestly won’t remember all the steps needed for a specific, complicated move, and anything that only hurts a little will just make him mad. You must aim to incapacitate him and escape.
- DO: Know that you are likely to get hurt—but do not let this hold you back from fighting hard. A bruise or two is better than other alternatives.
- DO: “Remember that in self-defense, your greatest assets are staying calm, your voice and embracing the notion that this attacker will rue the day he ever picked you—and believe that statement,” says Allred.
If all of this sounds scary, well, perhaps it should—but let it also serve as a reminder that as much as it might pain you to arrange your schedule in order to run with a buddy, and no matter how sick you are of running that same 5K loop after work, those annoyances might pale in comparison to the risks involved in running alone at times when you know it’s not safe.