Top 5 safety tips for runners and walkers

Editor’s Note: This article was co-authored by David Jannetty and Kellie Lambert. 

Running and walking are popular forms of exercise, and many prefer the outdoors instead of the treadmill for the benefits of sunshine and fresh air. With the wind in your hair and the earth at your feet, it’s a great way to add miles to your weekly workout totals. However, when taking to the streets, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Preparation can help you face any situation which could arise when you are pounding pavement. November is National Running Safety Month, the perfect time to educate oneself on how to be safe when hitting the road.

Here are the top 5 safety tips for runners and walkers:

Woman running on a dirt path. 1. Share Your Route

Tell someone where you will be going for your run or walk; a quick text to a friend is fast and easy. Share your starting point and final destination, including what route you will take in between both points.  If you do not return when expected, your friend can tell authorities where to look.  Avoid advertising your route on social media. You may inadvertently let a criminal know your house is empty or, even worse, be vulnerable to a criminal attack. If you want to share your workout details on social media, wait until you have returned home. And if possible, really “share” your route – run or walk with a buddy! Having a partner will reduce the chances of a criminal attack compared to if you run or walk alone.

2. Know Your Path

Plan out your walk or run, and drive the route in advance to note traffic conditions, road hazards and other dangers. Are there aggressive dogs? Does the route have desolate stretches or dark corners? Perhaps there is a better path to take. Consider mapping out a few exercise routines in advance: Having a few planned routes can make your commitment to fitness easier, and allow you to vary your location to avoid predictability for anyone who is paying attention to your exercise habits.

3. Carry Protection

Be prepared! At the very least, carry a cellphone to call 9-1-1 in case you run into trouble.  Also, consider carrying Mace or pepper spray, preferably a canister with a handle to make it easy to hold while running.  Know how to use it and be informed of the effects if you should accidentally spray yourself or encounter back spray. Consider testing how to use it outdoors before carrying it with you. If you are uncomfortable with carrying Mace or pepper spray, carry a portable air horn to make noise with should you be confronted by someone wanting to cause you harm.

4. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

It’s important to maintain situational awareness while you exercise.  Try playing “what if” games in your head.  What if someone jumped out of the bushes just ahead of me? What if a dog runs after me? What if a car drove up on the sidewalk?  In addition to wearing bright, reflective clothing to be seen by drivers, run against traffic to keep your eyes focused on possible traffic hazards. Consider carrying a small flashlight to signal oncoming traffic when running at night.  Always think of an “out” to get off the road if necessary. If you wear headphones to listen to music, keep the volume low enough to listen to your surroundings or only use one earbud. Think of how you can prevent something bad from occurring or fight off a potential attacker.  Be mentally prepared: This way, should you actually be faced with a similar situation, you will be more apt to act.

5. If Necessary, Act!

If you do see something or someone suspicious, don’t hesitate to take action. Should you call 911? Call a friend?  Tell a passerby?  Stand and fight?  Run away?  Whatever you do, don’t hesitate, as hesitation could get you hurt.  Always choose action over inaction.
Running and exercising should be an enjoyable experience. A little advance thought and preparation can give you peace of mind when taking to the road for your health. By keeping these tips in mind, you will be ready for any emergency should a situation arise unexpectedly.


David Jannetty is the Academic Program Manager for the John P. Burke School of Public Service Emergency Management and Homeland Security program at Post University, and is a retired assistant deputy police chief with the Waterbury, CT Police Department. Jannetty has over 22 years of experience in law enforcement, school and workplace safety, and emergency management.  He is a recreational runner and avid hiker.

Kellie Lambert is an Associate Faculty member at Post University, and a freelance journalist with more than 22 years of experience writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and other publications.  She is a recreational runner and loves being outdoors.

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