As I'm sure most of you know by now, my fair city of Cleveland has been in the news lately after the discovery of three missing women who have spent the past ten years in captivity. It is a horrific set of circumstances and as more information about their experiences comes out, I know our knowledge of the situation will grow more gruesome. I live near by. I drive past Seymour Avenue every single day. I've stopped at the McDonald's where Charles Ramsey was eating. Michelle Knight is my age. Amanda Berry is the age of my sister.
This is my city and I love it with all of my heart. But, as Connie Shultz pointed out in an interview with The Takeaway, we are also a city with a history of missing women.
In a piece written in 1983 about Writing the Male Character, author Margaret Atwood related the following story: "Why do men feel threatened by women?" I asked a male friend of mine. "I mean," I said, "men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power." "They're afraid women will laugh at them," he said. "Undercut their world view." Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, "Why do women feel threatened by men?"
"They're afraid of being killed," they said.
So now you are probably wondering why I'm bringing this up. The fact of the matter is that when you pay attention to the news and media, this might be an extreme example, but cases like this exist all over the United States. All over the world. Abductions. Kidnappings. Trafficking. And those are the ones lucky (and I use that term loosely, of course) enough to stay alive. This is our reality and women especially need to be aware. Which is why I've decided now is the time to finally write a blog post I've been meaning to tackle for awhile now.
While this is specific to running (because that's what I do), everything in this guide applies to walking, whether it's for recreation, fitness, necessity, whatever. Some of these tips are of the Don't Get Hit By A Car variety, but some are also for your personal safety, too.
This is especially important if you are headed to an unfamiliar area and running alone. Let a friend or family member know where you are going and when you should be back. Heck, let your social media network know. I've done that before, even telling them where my car is parked. Then, of course, I let them know when I'm done and back safely in my car.
Safety In Numbers
Cliched, but true. Admittedly I don't follow this one myself. Running is my me time. My therapy time. I prefer running alone. But I also follow the other items on this list. That being said, a running partner is good if you plan on heading to heavily wooded or less populated areas.
Use Common Sense
I love my city but I will be the first to tell you that I do not live in the safest part of town. I am also not an idiot. One reason I am so glad that dawn is breaking earlier and earlier each morning is because it means I can run outside before work. Some nights I even get home earlier enough to run before sunset. When it's dark out, though? Oh hell no. I might hate the dreadmill but, like I said, I'm not an idiot.
My point is be smart. Don't take unnecessary risks for the sake of fitness.
Some of you are fortunate enough to live in an area where you feel safe enough to run outside either before or after the sun has made its appearance for the day. If that's you, make sure you run in well lit areas and always wear reflective clothing. Regardless of time of days it's always best to pick bright clothes that will make you stand out. Pick areas you are familiar with and when running alone make sure to find routes that are well populated with people and cars.
Which brings me to...
Assume All Drivers Are Idiots
Harsh? Perhaps. Necessary? Absolutely. I mean, do you really want to trust your life and safety to the person driving the thousand pounds of metal and steel that could crush you in an second? Drivers get distracted. I'm guilty of this myself when behind the wheel. So when you see a car, assume the person has no idea what they are doing and respond accordingly for your own safety. When at a crosswalk, make eye contact with the driver before crossing as they may not see you standing on the corner.
Along with this goes the advice that you need to run against traffic. Always. No excuses. I don't care what your instinct tells you, always always always run towards the cars. They might not see you coming up around the bend or down the hill. But if you are running against the flow of traffic you can guarantee you will see them and can move or jump out of the way if necessary.
There's no need for bling when you are going for a run. So only carry the essentials: phone, some form of Identification, even an In Case Of Emergency list with names and medical information. For longer runs consider snack, water, and perhaps a small amount of cash. Female runners might want to consider arming themselves with mace
Vary Your Route
Don't fall into a routine where you take the same route at the same time every dy. This is what crazy stalkers are hoping for: if they know you always pass this particular corner around 9 am every Tuesday morning it makes it so much easier for them plan something nefarious. (Plus, I don't know about you, but I get super bored running the same route all the time). If you get a sense that you are being followed, change direction and head towards a more populated area or open business.
Don't let yourself become too distracted. Ditch the music if possible. If not, keep it low or do what I sometimes do and only have a headphone in one ear. That way my other ear is constantly in tune with what is going on around me. I can hear people or cars approaching. During winter, pay attention to the sidewalks and roads as ice patches can sneak up on you. If a car stops you to ask for directions and you choose to help them, stay at least an arms length away. Keep an observant eye on strangers. Acknowledge with caution: keep your distance and keep moving. I've flat out ignored people I knew were trying to flag me down because I just got a weird vibe. Which is why you should always...
Trust Your Instincts
If someone or something is creeping you out, there is probably a reason. Keep calm and get away as quickly as possible from the situation. This is why it helps to run in areas you are familiar with as you can head towards a restaurant or store you know is open.
I know, I know. Running (and walking) are supposed to be fun and fabulous activities. And they are but they can also put you into dangerous situations if you aren't careful and don't use caution.
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