In Ask the Trail Sisters, Community

About a week ago Trail Sisters received a note from one of our readers asking about trail safety. With the recent tragedy of three murdered female runners, we decided to create this post to hopefully provide some info, solutions, and peace of mind.

The question:

Hi There,
I absolutely love this community you are fostering and really enjoy both the posts and photos on IG. With the recent horrific crimes against the women runners in NY, MA and MI, I find myself feeling really afraid to be out on the trails alone. I don’t want fear dictating how I live my life, nevertheless, this IS a scary thing! I was wondering if you could do a post on safety for female trail runners, but instead of just tips, I’d love to know how other women conquer their fears when it comes to trail running solo. I often think of the amazing, elite female ultra trail runners and how they go out alone, seem SO strong and fearless and this brings me comfort, but I imagine they too must have fears they face. 

Bree: 

I think the subject of Trail Safety can mean different things to different people and it really depends on where you live, your view of what’s happening around you and level of personal comfort when it comes to being outdoors. If you are someone who grew up in a rural area with a minimalist mindset then perhaps you will feel pretty comfortable being out on remote trails with wildlife roaming around you.

But if you are someone like me  who grew up in more populated urban developed surroundings this might be viewed differently. Your trails might be littered with PEOPLE. Personally I am more concerned about 2 legged animals than 4. I have had a couple of creepy encounters with some folks who were looking for women to harass. So while I’d like to think I can safely go out into my backyard trails without concern, that’s pretty naïve thinking. In my neck of the woods (Bay Area) you don’t go out without considering time of day, your route and a plan to protect.

I do most of my runs solo but always have a pulse on what’s going on around me without being paranoid. There are some parks on the East side of San Jose and Palo Alto with notable gang activity. I generally don’t run these areas alone or at dusk. But also don’t avoid them. I just run smart. There’s a lot of terrifying stuff happening in the world today. But you can’t let fear of what could happen ruin the opportunity to get out and enjoy the beauty of the world around you.

I had to literally toss myself over the side of a mountainto avoid being attacked by two men following me and my girlfriendin a truck while on a 20mile training run around a reservoir not far from my home (in my early 20’s). It scared the crap outta me.  It shook me up so badly, yet I knew I couldn’t let this incident prevent me from doing what I love.

There are definite precautions women need to take to protect themselves, but to stop running out of fear is no solution.

Krissy:

Bree, reading your story is super powerful to me. You’ve been through it and keep running.  Forever I’ve wanted to take a self defense course, more for my travels than my running. It feels like now would be a great time to create something that would give women confidence out there.
Also, here is a bullet point list of safety suggestions:

* Be aware of your surroundings.
– If you run with music, run with only 1 earbud so you can hear what is coming.
– Look around frequently, take in land marks, make it obvious you are attentive and not spacing out.
– Think of a few “what if” scenarios – what if I had to get out of a situation (like Bree’s story hurling herself over a cliff). What would you do? What are your outs?
* Make eye contact with anyone you see. Smile and acknowledge intentionally.
* Always let a trusted someone know your planned route and intended time to be out. (This isn’t always possible, but even leaving a note or a text message is something).
* If you are carrying your phone, you can take advantage of tracking apps like Find Friends.
* Run strong! Make it obvious that you are not to be messed with. Running is YOUR thing and no one is going to take that from you.

fearful-for-your-safety-gina-runs-in-san-juans

Elinor: 

The reader’s question points straight to the heart of this issue, which is fear.

She wrote: “I’d love to know how other women conquer their fears when it comes to trail running solo. I often think of the amazing, elite female ultra trail runners and how they go out alone, seem SO strong and fearless …”

The murders of three women is a tragic, and yet, what would be even more tragic is for women across the country to stop running. It would be tragic because we don’t just like to run; we need to run.

The fact that we need to be vigilant and ready to defend ourselves is simply the reality of the world we presently live in. Yes, that information is valuable. But what would have the biggest impact for women runners right now? What do they really need to hear?

I think they need to hear that the Trail Sisters keep running even though we are fearful too. Running is far too important a thing to let slip away or play a smaller role in our lives. We all live and breathe running. We’re not going to stop.

Which is why we’re in a position to use our influence to support women who want to keep running in defiance of what their communities, spouses and friends are probably telling them right now: you’re going running?! are you crazy? 

Imagine all the women who live in the cities where these attacks took place: no doubt they are all being to told not to run, or not run unless with a group of 10. Understandably so when there are murderers on the loose. But today’s media can spread and amplify that message to women all across the country until women everywhere feel scared, disempowered and unsure about what the right choice is.

I suggest we start a social campaign with one clear, simple message: don’t stop running  #dontstoprunning  Anyone looking for motivation and support can search the hashtag to see all the women pushing onward.

We will not stop running even though we’re fearful. Even though it’s dangerous. Even though women have been killed.

I can imagine the power of our Trail Sister voices rising together and above the media “noise.” Our strong and brave community will hear “don’t stop running” instead of “it’s too dangerous to go alone.”

Heidi:

I’m very relaxed about trail fear + personal safety…but I have a friend [my safety squirrel] who is the exact opposite. She focuses on making the right choices + having a back up plan while I’m all about doing what feels fun at the moment + accepting whatever consequences I end up with, adjusting my comfort zone as I go.

Obviously two very different perspectives on trail safety — whether safety from other people or from the elements.

Hopefully these insights will provide you with more confidence to continue running outside (solo or in a pack), as well as inform you on some safety tactics.

Call for comments!

We’d love to hear YOUR suggestions, and encourage YOU to share with the TS community on what you do to keep safe when out on the trail? Let’s keep this conversation going!

 

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Showing 8 comments
  • Janice

    Do any of you run with a ID bracelet or something like that?

    • Heidi Kumm

      I do. I have a RoadID I wear all the time with my name + my mom’s phone number on it.
      When I was in Europe last year a few people poked fun of it as being "very American"…then a few huge tragedies happened in big cities + they put it all into perspective discussing how it would be useful in every day life. A very sad reality. I have earned a very predominant tanline from it since then, never taking it off.

  • Julie J

    Great discussion ladies! I’ve been running on the trails West of Denver for 18 years, mostly alone. I’ve run into more animals than scary people but there are a few rules I follow.-No music. You need to be totally aware of your surroundings.- Head on a swivel. See potential problems before they surprise you.- Run STRONGLY by suspicious people while giving them a full look in the eye and checking out what they are doing. Look back a couple times after you go by if needed. Think of an exit strategy based on where you are in your route.- Trust your gut feeling! Turn around or get out of an area if something or someone seems odd.-Text a friend when you start and give location and latest return time.-Don’t explore a new area alone, bring a friend.-Your attitude says a lot about your vulnerability. Be confident and show your toughness when you run. We are courageous!-Don’t let fear stop you from living and enjoying this beautiful world!

  • Mindy Kane

    I ordered this: http://www.werd.com/35595/trak-titanium-runners-anywhere-knife/Even though the chances of needing it are slim, I feel a lot more secure and confident knowing I have a weapon to defend myself if needed.

  • Baltina

    Living in the PNW its hard to not run isolated trails, but as many of the TS suggested I always let someone know where I’m headed, when I’ll be back and my exact route. I never listen to music and always look everyone in the eyes I pass and run strong and confidently. I always try to have two exits available if I feel I need to bail. Running strong is the very best thing we can do, thank you for this very empowering conversation starter. #dontstoprunning #wontstoprunning

  • marian

    being told as a girl that i should not do many things, made me learn martial arts more than 35 years ago. i taught self defense for many years.when i go for a run, i am aware of the risk, but don’t let it stop me. i tell someone where i go and when i will be back, and i have a plan. i am ready to defend myself.then i go and enjoy my run.

  • Des

    I usually tend to feel safer on the trails than in town running. I know there’s still risk, but in the big scheme of things is probably more likely I’ll be hit by a texting driver than abducted on the trails. I have taken self defense and was told the two best tactics are staying alert and running away. Every woman needs to make decisions that she is comfortable with, but I would hate to see anyone give up what they love over fear or because someone else judges what they do as "unsafe".

  • Maia Holmes Smith

    Always more terrified of 2 legs than 4 legs. Always carry small pepper spray with me and try to tell someone where I’m going. On trails, I play music but the leave the buds at home. In the city, one bud only and I always make direct eye contact no matter how uncomfortable…sometimes I smile, sometimes I just give them the same creepy stare they’re giving me.
    Thanks for talking about it! #dontstoprunning

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