Winter running throws up many challenges, gone are the long summer days and for many this means training after dark. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I have to think about (or in this case write) about staying safe when running in the dark, we should be able to run and be safe, but the sad reality is that safety is paramount as the days get shorter. This winter will bring extra challenges of balancing social distancing and safety. So if you’re already thinking ahead to winter running here are some of my top tips:
Tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be, this could be telling a housemate or partner face to face, or messaging or texting a friend (be sure to update them when you’re home too). Give them an estimate of when you expect to be back and a latest cut off point you expect to be back. Stay in touch when you’re out there if you wish- if i’m running an out and back I tend to send a quick ‘i’m turning round now’ message.
Keep your phone charged in case of emergency, and keep it in an easy to access pocket- not on display, don’t make yourself a target if you have a flash phone on show. If you do need to use it, be vigilant to your surroundings. If you’re heading a bit further afield take a bank card, travel card or emergency fiver with you should you wish to abandon your run and travel home. At the moment its also essential to carry a mask in case you need to use public transport.
Many people opt to wear a headtorch which is great for poorly lit areas, you can also add lights to shoes or wear wrist/arm lights to make yourself more visible. However my best advice is to stick to well lit areas wherever possible. During winter nights I prefer to run along the footpaths of well lit main roads. It isn’t picturesque, but in terms of safety areas where there are more people are my preferred option. The footpaths also tend to be much more evenly surfaced, to avoid any trips and also for those cold winters nights these are the ones that tend to be gritted. I would strongly advise against using unlit, remote trails.
I carry a personal safety wearable- my run angel. This is a small wrist worn device that when triggered emits a 120dB alarm, an LED beacon and sends a text of your location to your guardians. There are quite a few personal alarms available on the market and for piece of mind I highly recommend considering using one. Alternatively, if you’re a Strava user set up Strava beacon or similar apps for example find my friends on iPhone so loved ones can track you.
Go headphone free. Running in the dark often limits your sense of sight so you need to rely upon your sense of hearing more. Its a bit like turning down the radio whilst looking for a car parking space! Go headphone free, or if that is a massive challenge and you can’t run without music try a pair of over ear headphones such as aftershockz which allow you to still hear what is going on around you.
Check the weather, if it’s in the minus figures and the footpaths look icy you might want to rethink your run. Slips, trips and falls are amongst the hazards of winter running.
Invest in high vis, remember when your parents told you to be safe be seen when you were kids? It still applies as an adult! Avoid all black, whip out those in your face leggings, reflective kit and accessorise with an ankle light. Even if you’re running in a well lit area you may need to cross a road and high vis will ensure you’re seen by other road users.
Make the most of mornings and lunch hours– night running isn’t your thing? Try catching the early morning light or switching it up for a lunchtime run. Lunchtime running got me through London and Manchester marathon training and the early stages of my half ironman training. Alternatively don’t be afraid of the treadmill- it might be dull but its warm and dry!
Avoiding running alone can be one of the best ways to ensure you’re safe, however this is a little trickier at the moment given the COVID restrictions. If you’re able, and feel safe to do so, running with a club whilst maintaining adequate social distancing can be a good solution or try running with members of your household. You can pick a well lit lap and keep your distance whilst staying within sight of each other. Whilst safety is important it is also essential to follow the guidelines in your local area.
Tie your hair in a bun at the top of your head, a ponytail is easier to grab. It is a horrendous thing to think about, and I feel shocked/angry that I even have to give this kind of advice, but after speaking with other women this was one of their top tips.
Report anything suspicious or untoward to the non-emergency police line 101. Were you approached, followed or made to feel at risk? if you can-report it (although I appreciate this may feel extremely tough, frightening or daunting). Even if you were simply passing by. You could be preventing other incidents. The 101 line connects you to your local police force and you can speak directly to a trained member of staff, who will log the details of what has happened and assist you with the next course of action, if necessary. Calling 101 isn’t scary and you’re not wasting anyone’s time. If you witness or are subject to a serious emergency situation always use 999. If you are victim to any form of attack, physical or verbal remember it is not your fault, get yourself to a safe place if you can and report it.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t fancy heading out in the cold or the dark. Winter running isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Find what works for you and most importantly stay safe!