Runner Safety

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Running solo – especially as a female – in a big city like Chicago is exhilarating with endless route options and sights to be seen, but can also be particularly dangerous. Think of the number of routine things runners do that put their safety in jeopardy: tuning out street noise with music, “zoning out” mentally, running in predawn darkness, savoring the solitude of the unbeaten path. Personally, I typically feel I have my safety in mind, but you can’t get enough advice on this and a refresher is helpful to drill it into your mentality. Aside from that, I’ve been interested in some physical protection instructions since I started running longer distances and earlier mornings, often alone.

So I found myself at POW! on a Tuesday night with a group of other female runners, all there proactively taking a step towards safer running. My mom was in town and came as well, since these are tactics that any female can use; runner/big-city dweller or not. The studio is on Washington at Morgan and looks small from the front, but as soon as you enter you catch a glimpse of the large boxing ring and open space towards the back of the gym.

We signed our waivers, took off our socks (and coats and hats and scarves and gloves and snowboots…) and gathered in a second studio space just off to the left of the large open gym with a wonderfully soft floor. The room we were in was even squishier and I now want my home to be outfitted with said flooring. The owner, Katalin, welcomed us and got right down to business. We spent the first half hour simply discussing ways you can avoid putting yourself in harms way. I liked the way Katalin described violence as a continuum. For example; running down a dark ally alone is on the very front end and being violently carted off in a car is at the other. The more you can do to prevent things on the font end, the less you delve into the continuum.

Here’s a few things we discussed; the more you do these things, the quicker they will become habit and soon you will be operating – without thinking about it – as a safer runner:

  • If used, music should be background music. Don’t drown out your surroundings; you should be able to hear people conversing as you pass them.
  • Run during the daylight if possible; avoid dark/unlit and desolate areas especially when it’s dark out.
  • Do head-checks to avoid staring at your phone or completely zoning out. Look around you every few car lengths and be aware of passersby.
  • Don’t be afraid of offending someone. Cross the street or turn another direction if you get a weird feeling about an individual or group.
  • If someone is walking towards you in anyway that seems aggressive, immediately change your path.
  • Avoid wearing hoodies/anything with an attached hood. Someone can easily grab it and yank you back.

To download these and other tips, click here: Runner Safety.

For the second part of class, we partnered up and grabbed a thick pad with handles for kicking drills. The first thing we learned was to kick between the legs and up, so the top of your foot or lower shin will connect in a swift motion to the pubic bone. She advised us that attempting to kick a guy in the balls is not as easy as one would hope. There’s fabric, winter coats and most likely not that large of a target area to consider. Fortunately we did not practice this on one another, but held the aforementioned pad for our partner to practice kicking and very quickly resetting to a staggered stance. From there we learned to get the hell out of the way after that first kick. It’s like poking the bear; you don’t kick once and stand there. They will come at you and now they are angry so get “outside the elbows”, out of their path.

The second – and probably most practical – thing we went over was getting up from the ground. If you are attacked, and especially when running, you will  likely be thrown to the ground. Katalin emphasized that it will hurt and hurt a LOT, but to not lay there stunned. You can even practice falling at home (on a bed or thick yoga mat) and train yourself to instinctually put your forearms in front of your face so you don’t get knocked out. From there, look up (this makes it easier to get up quickly), hop your legs into a squat while popping up and into a fighting stance where you can immediately kick and get out of the way. This was easy to practice on my favorite flooring, but it’s certainly something you should be practicing or at least mentally prepping for on your own.

My favorite part of the class was when we got to yell. We were instructed to ball our fists into rocks. Letting no air or light in, and rapidly striking the pad in a flurry with our forearms. The bonus was yelling, “GET THE F@$& AWAY!!!” as we did it! Not only will this empower you, it will draw attention from people even across the street and freak your attacker the f@$& out.

The biggest takeaway from this class was that you have control over the situations you put yourself in, and if you unfortunately find yourself in a violent one, take action. Pleading won’t stop a violent person and relying on something or someone else is no guarantee. Be aware of your surroundings and notice people who simply don’t sit right with you.

I highly recommend taking some type of self defense class, runner or not. To have these tips in the back of your head and take note of the things you do that could be modified to keep you safe is the easiest way to keep yourself from being in a situation where you need to defend yourself. Take your safety as seriously as your parents take your safety! For more information on POW! and the classes they offer, check out their site at: POW! MMA & Fitness

Run safe and run happy, my friends!

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