Right now, in the heart of winter, it's dark when I wake up and it's dark when I get home from work. This means I don't have much choice but to run at night unless I can squeeze in a lunchtime run.
As a year-round runner, I don't shy away from running during the winter months or when it's pitch black outside, especially when I have an event to train for. Truth be told, I enjoy running along the sparsely populated or empty footpaths and not having to jump over zigzagging dogs or kamikaze kids on scooters.
But runners aren't invincible and you do have to have your wits about you to play it safe while running – even during the day. This point was driven home to me recently. In my haste to clock up the kilometres I needed for an upcoming half-marathon, I threw caution to the wind and left home for a 17km run at 7pm.
The weather was foul and I was the only person to be seen for long stretches of pavement. As the wind howled and the rain lashed sideways, I ran along a secluded and very dark track overlooking the beach. I suddenly felt very vulnerable and alone, so I stepped up the pace and made it home safely. But my experience gave me the heebie-jeebies and made me realise I'd stupidly put myself in a very unsafe situation. What's worse is that I hadn't even told anyone I was going for a run.
I've since reflected on the careless mistakes I'd made when I've put the desire to run ahead of my personal safety. From rolling your ankle on an unstable surface, to colliding with a pedestrian, or worse - becoming a victim of crime, there are many hazards runners need to protect themselves against.
Here are my top 10 common sense safety tips to help you stay safe on your next run.
1. Don't run alone
Running alone, especially when it's dark, is not a good idea. Run with a buddy to increase your safety and they'll be able to help you if you get injured or become unwell. If you have a dog, take them along for a jog to deter people from approaching you.
2. Plan your run
Plan your run in advance and choose routes that are well lit, populated and have mobile phone reception. Consider any potential dangers such as uneven or slippery surfaces, secluded paths, heavy scrub and animals.
3. Tell someone
Tell your partner, friend, colleague or housemate, send a text or leave a note at home that details where you plan to run, what time you are leaving and how long you will be gone for.
4. Take your phone and ID
Admittedly, it's cumbersome to carry a smartphone on a run, but you never know when you might need to call for help. There are also several apps available that can help keep you safe. The free Garmin Mobile Connect app features a Live Track function that allows you to share your activity and location in real time with anyone you send an invitation to.
Carry identification with you in case you run into trouble. Road ID sells and a range of products such as rubber bracelets, high visibility wrist or ankle bands and shoe tags that can be personalised with emergency contact and medical information. They also have an app that lets your friends and family follow your digital trail, and it sends them an SOS message with your location if you stop moving for five minutes (and don't respond to the app's alert within 60 seconds).
5. Be visible
If running at night, wear bright reflective clothing such as hats, headbands, vests, arm bands, tops, shorts/pants and shoes. And use a bright LED headlamp or handheld light so you can see where you're going.
6. Pay attention
It's great to get into 'the zone' while running, but make sure to stay aware of where you are, who is around you and where you are going. When running on trails, always look ahead for unsteady ground or obstructions that could cause injury.
A Runner's World survey of 3523 runners revealed that 75 per cent of respondents listen to music while running. If this sounds like you, consider leaving your iPod at home, especially when running at night. If you need convincing, according to research from the University of Maryland, serious injuries to pedestrians listening to headphones have increased by 300 per cent in the last six years and 70 per cent of the people in these accidents were killed.
7. Run against traffic
This makes you visible to cars, buses and trucks. When possible, run on footpaths away from traffic and don't run in designated bike lanes.
8. Mix it up
If you're a creature of habit and like to run the same routes, consider changing up your routine so that you're not predictable to someone who may be watching you. Mix up the days and times you run and run the opposite way around a course.
9. Mind your manners
Remember to keep left and overtake on the right, obey traffic signals, cross the road at pedestrian lights, stop at stop signs, alert pedestrians when you are passing them by saying "passing" or "on your right" and never run more than two abreast on a footpath.
No one likes to think that they might get attacked, but it's best to be prepared. Consider taking a self-defence course or watching a video on basic self-defence moves to help you defend yourself if attacked. While capsicum spray is illegal to carry and use in Australia (except in Western Australia), personal alarms are a good way to scare off would-be attackers.
What are your top tips for running safely? Let us know in the Comments section.
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.
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