Safety Tips for Running Alone

Running alone can be an empowering, joyful refuge, as well as a great form of exercise. A solo run also provides numerous benefits such as a solitary time to think, a healthy way to blow off steam, and a peaceful space to enjoy your own company. But running by yourself can also be lonely, unsettling, or even scary.

There are certain safety tips you should follow when running alone. Runners are at risk for traffic accidents, trips and falls, animal attacks, and personal assaults.

While there are no statistics compiled specifically for runners, the National Safety Council estimated that approximately 7,680 pedestrians died in traffic or non-traffic incidents in 2018. Most of these deaths occurred at non-intersection locations and in urban areas more than rural areas.

Taking small steps can help to make your run more enjoyable, and can secure your wellbeing so that your running practice stays on track.

Safety Disparities

While running alone is generally safe, it is not without risk. Those risks might be higher if you are a woman or a person of color. There are unique challenges that these runners may face—and a different set of rules that they may follow in order to protect their safety.

Runners who are Black face increased safety concerns. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 brought to light the challenges that Black runners have faced for years. Ahmaud Arbery was an unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was pursued and fatally shot while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. His assailants said that Mr. Arbery looked like a burglar.

Even though Ahmaud Arbery's death put safety issues on the front burner, some Black men have long reported taking extra steps to compensate for color. These steps may include wearing college alumni t-shirts or being sure to smile and say hello to other pedestrians in an effort to appear less threatening. Some Black runners have also reported that they choose to run in parks rather than on neighborhood streets. 

Women also express legitimate concerns about running alone. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Runner's World, 43% of women report being harassed, 30% have been followed, 18% have been sexually propositioned, and 3% report being physically assaulted while running alone.

Jay Ell Alexander is the owner and CEO of Black Girls RUN! an organization dedicated to making fitness and healthy living a priority for all women but especially in Black and Brown communities where obesity rates are higher. She says that being Black and being a woman makes her vulnerable to certain situations.

"I think about (safety) often especially as I am running more often alone. I am careful to not have my music too loud (or one ear out), be aware of my surroundings, and have some type of running protection on me for those just-in-case situations."

—Jay Ell Alexander, owner and CEO of Black Girls RUN!

She also says that she makes a special effort to speak or wave to everyone that she sees along her route—out of respect, but also to establish eye contact. And she adds that she always carries a self-defense tool.

Communication and Change

Alexander notes that the death of Ahmaud Arbery has amplified the voice of Black runners in the community. She says, "We have created partnerships because his murder really made the running industry start talking about something we have been preaching for a long time."

John Honerkamp agrees. Honerkamp is a well-known USATF-certified running coach, founder of RunKamp, and of The Run Collective (TRC). The Run Collective organizes an annual Runner Safety Awareness Week to teach runners how to stay safe while running outside. Through the organization, he promotes awareness, education, discussion, and activism.

Honerkamp says that the running community has rallied around the Ahmaud Arbery tragedy and the seeking of justice for Ahmaud and his family. He acknowledges, however, that more work needs to be done.

"The Run Collective brought in experts who work with marginalized communities and groups that are more at risk, but we need to do a better job of discussing and bringing to the forefront the specific risks that the BIPOC community runs into on a daily basis."

Through TRC he encourages runners to be safe and conscientious while looking out for others. Alexander also continues to teach safety and inclusion at Black Girls RUN! But moving forward she says that communication and representation are essential.

"In order to learn from each other, we have to actively listen. Representation is key and we need to make our best efforts to make sure that all feel empowered and included."

—Jay Ell Alexander

Safety Tips for All

Most running experts, including Alexander, suggest that running with others is usually the safest strategy. However, there are times when running alone is the only option. The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, put many more solo runners on the streets. If you head out the door for a solo run, follow these guidelines to protect your safety.

Trust Your Instincts

two sporty young runners

 Getty Images

Listen to your inner voice and always trust your gut instincts. When in doubt, prioritize your safety. If you sense danger, balance politeness with bravery, but err on the side of caution.

Trusting your instincts is perhaps the most important guideline for keeping safe while running alone. Don't worry about being wrong. If you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable, act to protect yourself. This may include turning around, going another way, crossing a street, calling for help, screaming, or running away.

Inform Others

Before you head out the door, let someone know your intended route and the approximate amount of time you'll be gone. Check-in with them once you return safely.

If you bring along your phone or another trackable device, you can enable location sharing and let your loved ones follow you on your run. There are even apps, like Kitestring, that can help your loved ones track your location.

Vary Familiar Routes

Running by yourself is not the time to try out a new, unfamiliar running route. Stick to your tried-and-true running spots so you don't have to worry about getting lost or running into an unsafe and/or unfamiliar situation. Choose a few routes that are well-traveled and well-lit and stick to those when you need to run alone.

Also, when possible, vary the time of day and route that you run. Running the same route, the same time each day can make you a target.

Carry ID and a Phone

Run with a cell phone, and be sure that your in-case-of-emergency numbers are up to date. Many phones also allow you to input your physician information and other key health data that can be accessed in case of an emergency.

You can also put your driver's license and your medical insurance card in your pocket. Some runners also wear an ID tag on your shoe or ankle (such as Road ID) that includes an emergency contact number and health data.

Be Visible and Loud

Run in daylight, when possible. If you're running in the early morning or at night or even at dusk, dress in light, bright, and/or reflective clothing. Choose colors like white, yellow, orange, or neon green, or blue.

Some items (such as running shoes and jackets) may already have reflective elements, but it doesn't hurt to add more. There are reflective bands, harnesses, and shoe accessories that can make you more visible. Some runners run with a small flashlight to make sure they're seen by oncoming traffic.

Avoid secluded paths or dark streets, and run against traffic for added visibility from drivers. Lastly, bring a noise-making device, such as a whistle. A loud noise may be a life-saver in the event of an attack.

Listen

In addition to keeping your eyes on the road (and looking around for any signs of danger), be sure that you can hear what's going on around you. You'll want to listen to your surroundings to monitor the traffic, people, and animals along your path.

Avoid wearing headphones when running alone. If you choose to listen to music on a familiar route where you feel safe, still set the volume to low or only listen in one ear.

Run With Your Pet

You may want the convenience and solitude of running alone but don't let that stop you from recruiting a furry friend to tag along. Running with your dog provides security, companionship, and an extra deterrent to people who might consider bothering you. If you don't have a pup, you could borrow a friend or neighbor's pet to bring along with you.

Take Self-Defense

Consider taking a self-defense class. You can even take a class online and learn kickboxing or another empowering skill. You will learn skills to protect yourself, study general safety principles, and boost your confidence and comfort-level for running alone.

A Word From Verywell

Running alone should be a time to enjoy challenging yourself and being on your own—not stressing over safety. So, take all the necessary precautions to lower your risk of something negative happening (from getting lost to harassment or assault), then focus on putting one foot in front of the other—and claim your place on the road.

But if running alone still doesn't feel safe to you, particularly if optimal routes aren't accessible, trust your gut and consider finding a running partner or group. Don't let safety concerns keep you from running the open road.

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Article Sources
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  1. Road Users. Pedestrians. National Safety Council.

  2. Frazier, Rozalynn S. How to Be an Ally to the Black Running Community. Runner's World. June 4, 2020

  3. Petrzela, Natalia Mehlman. Jogging Has Always Excluded Black People. The New York Times. May 12, 2020

  4. Hamilton M. Running While Female. Runner's World. Published August 8, 2017.