Running is not exactly an extreme sport, but it has its risks nevertheless, and sometimes it’s easy to forget how vulnerable you are running along country lanes, or running alone in potentially risky areas, especially at night. Here are a few tips, and some products to consider.
Plan your route
This is relevant for both avoiding traffic accidents and for avoiding the (very low, to be fair) risk of being the victim of crime while out running. It’s sort of a shame to have to plan ahead, rather than just run freely, but it’s worth it so that you don’t find yourself blindly running into a more dangerous area. That might be somewhere where you could be seen as a target for crime, or an area that may increase your vulnerability to traffic, such as narrow windy roads with high hedges.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t run in such places, but it’s important to do it knowingly, having considered the risks and mitigated them if you can, rather than unknowingly because you just went for a plod with your headphones in and didn’t think about where you might end up.
Take a phone
I never run without a phone anymore. Fortunately, the pockets in my favourite Nike dri-fit running shorts are the perfect size for an iphone, and I don’t even notice it’s there. A smartphone will help you find your way if you get lost, it’ll allow you to call for help if you get injured, it’ll let you call a friend if you get stuck or have to abandon the run, and it’ll give you a chance of calling the police if you get into real trouble. For the minor inconvenience of having to find a pocket to put it in, it’s crazy not to take a phone. If your running shorts don’t have pockets, I’m a big fan of the Y-Fumble arm pouch, which is simple, lightweight, non-slip and the perfect size for an iPhone. If this doesn’t work for you, though, there are plenty of other options out there.
Light yourself up
It’s not just cyclists who need to be lit up at night. If you’re running exclusively on the pavement in a well-lit city then you might be alright, but for anyone else you need to make yourself visible. I use a headtorch, mainly to see where I’m going but also of course to make myself visible from the front, as well as a flashing red light clipped to the back of my running shorts, and sometimes if I’m going somewhere really dark, a yellow reflective belt or even running top. It’s worth having a few bits and bobs like that so that if the only time you have to go running is when it’s dark, there’s never that feeling of “oh, I should go, but I don’t have a torch/red light/reflective top, so it’s better if I don’t”. Having the right kit for any circumstances always makes you more likely to run, and that’s a good thing (I take the same approach with weather, which is why I have a set of yaktrax in my running cupboard…)
Plan for the worst
Especially on long-distance runs, don’t assume that just because you’ve planned a lovely circular route, or a run from one train station to another, or to be met by a friend 20 miles down the road, doesn’t mean that something won’t go wrong. Being stuck with a minor injury a few miles from home can be inconvenient. Being stuck with a twisted ankle ten or fifteen miles from the train station on a freezing cold day could be more than just inconvenient, and actually dangerous. Relying on being able to run home isn’t a good idea; assume you might have to hobble, and plan for what you would do if that happened. If it’s a city run in an area you’re familiar with then it might be enough just taking a mobile phone (see point 2) and perhaps a £5 note so you can buy a drink in a warm pub while you wait for rescue, or get a bus home (or in London, just take your oyster card). On the other hand if it’s a long run in the countryside where phone signal might be ropey then take a warm jacket (a down jacket is extremely warm and light and squashes down to a tiny ball) and £20 or £30 in case your only option is to call a taxi from a payphone.
All this might seem unnecessary, but the one time you do end up stuck in the middle of nowhere you’ll be glad you listened to me.
Keep emergency contact an medical details on you
I always used to be a bit paranoid about the idea of being killed or seriously injured out running and no one knowing who I was. It seems a bit morbid to think about too much, but if something does happen, you might want emergency services to be easily able to get in touch with someone, and potentially to be aware of anything that might affect your treatment such as allergies or medications. Some people also like to have their blood type somewhere visible, although in the UK they will never give you blood without checking your type anyway.
There are various options for this sort of thing, whether it is snazzy custom wristbands, old-fashioned military-style dog-tags, or just writing some details on one hand in permanent marker as I used to do.