Running, walking and hiking are great ways to get in tune with the outdoors and your inner self. But for women going it alone, fear can accompany these outings. An assailant could be lying in wait, ready to pounce, or that guy you just passed might turn and start following you back to your car or home. It’s hard to fully experience the sanctuary that exercise offers with anxious thoughts like these swirling in your head.
Lauren Jordan of Columbia, Ill., has found a way to “feel a little more in control” while running on the road or trail. She carries pepper spray and a personal alarm, and on occasion a stun gun. Jordan is a single mother of 6-year-old twins and a 3-year old, and often brings them along in a double stroller. Sometimes they go cycling together, the twins on their bikes as she pulls the little one in a trailer.
“Any time I’m out with my kids, I’m more paranoid, so one of the twins always has an alarm with him,” she said. Jordan trained all three kids on how and when to operate the alarm, which she described as a “high-pitched squeal.”
Heidi Williams of St. Louis has been trail running since she was a teenager and now competes in ultra-marathons, so needless to say she spends a lot of time training. She is also a certified personal trainer and owner of Real Nutrition and Fitness, LLC.
“I feel pretty safe on trails,” she said, although she’s seen “some pretty strange characters” on the Katy Trail and sometimes in Forest Park.
Williams enjoys running by herself, but if she runs at night, she always goes with a partner. She also carries her cell phone with her. She often listens to NPR podcasts while running but says the volume isn’t cranked up, so she can hear if someone approaches.
“I’m more afraid of animals or getting hurt than I am of other people,” she said. A friend told Williams to be on high alert if she smells cantaloupe while on a trail, as that’s the odor a copperhead emits when it feels threatened. Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in Missouri.
Safety Products for Women
Dava Rogers of St. Louis is a sales consultant for Damsel in Defense, a company that offers safety products for women. For runners, she recommends the Hot Lil’ Hand, a glove that has a pepper spray bottle adhered to it so you don’t have to carry it. The company also carries stun guns and “strikers,” tools you can use to ward off an attacker.
Rogers says a personal alarm is ideal for women who don’t feel comfortable with something more aggressive. “It’s very loud,” she said. “It’s so loud that dogs will run away. If there’s anyone around, they’re going to look and then you’ve got a witness.”
Rogers knows of only one customer who used a stun gun. “She was at an ATM and someone grabbed her arm. She used the stun gun, and he fell to the ground. It will put a large man on the ground; they lose all muscle control.”
Whether or not you actually use a self-protection product is not always the point, Rogers says. “The empowerment of having it helps so much. The purpose of these products is to put them [the assailant] down so you can get away, they can’t pursue you. Many women have a problem with inflicting pain on someone. But with these products you’re not going to permanently injure someone.”
SafeTrek and Other Apps
Technology that allows you to quickly send an alert to an emergency service is another useful tool for runners or hikers who are feeling threatened. St. Louis-based SafeTrek has gained a large following in the four years since its app was first launched.
Here’s how it works: Simply open the app if you feel you might be in an unsafe situation. Hold your thumb on the safe button and release it if you are in danger. Local police are then notified of your name and location. If there is no danger, and you still trigger the alarm, you can simply type in a four-digit pin to cancel it.
You need to be connected to the Internet, either through a cell service (data) or a WiFi connection. “This can sometimes be a problem for more remote areas that have limited to no service,” said Aaron Kunnemann, one of the founders of SafeTrek. “On the other hand, if there is service, SafeTrek can prove really helpful. It’s pretty hard to tell someone where to send help in an unfamiliar area or when in the middle of the woods on a trail.”
SafeTrek works anywhere in the U.S.
Very few women know what to do if they are attacked, but self-defense lessons can give you the confidence you need to protect yourself.
Runners are most susceptible to the “bear hug” attack in which the perpetrator grabs you tightly, likely from behind, and immobilizes you. This move is particularly dangerous because the attacker could easily lift, drag or slam you onto the ground.
Instructors at the self-defense training program Krav Maga Worldwide, which has locations in St. Louis, say you should fight back immediately. In class, students learn how to drop down to make themselves as heavy as possible, create space between themselves and the attacker, and turn the tables on the aggressor. They also learn how to keep fighting until the perpetrator loses their grip on you.
Fleet Feet stores in St. Louis offer self-defense classes for runners through Xtreme Krav Maga. Women-only classes, not exclusively for runners but for any situation, are available directly through Xtreme Krav Maga, as well as at martial arts studios throughout the area.
Tips to Stay Safe
1) Run with a Friend. Two people are harder to control than one, so an attack is less likely if you’re with a pal. Don’t have a running partner? Get a medium- to large-breed dog. This makes you a less attractive target, plus dogs can sometimes sense danger before we can.
2) No Earphones. With loud music in your ears, you won’t hear a potential attacker come up behind you. When you dull your senses, you are less effective in a surprise attack.
3) Alter Your Route. Running the same routes day after day makes you an easier target. Switching up your route makes you harder to track and keeps you more alert during your run because you are navigating unfamiliar terrain. The more alert you are, the more likely you are to escape an attack.
4) Carry Runner’s Mace or Pepper Spray. Runner’s mace is a small can with a Velcro strap that fits easily around your hand or wrist. Mace is a weapon, so be sure to practice using it before you take it with you on a run or hike. Pepper spray is milder but still can be very effective.