Over a third of female runners feel afraid while exercising alone—so they're taking matters into their own hands.

By Ashley Mateo
Getty Images/Szabo Ervin-Edward/EyeEm

Women feel a lot of things while running—exhaustion, elation, aches and pains, and that elusive runner's high. One thing they shouldn't feel? Unsafe.

But scary stories about women being attacked while running have dominated the headlines recently: There's Mollie Tibbetts, 20, who was abducted and killed in 2018 while running through her hometown in Iowa; Wendy Karina Martinez, who was stabbed to death while jogging in Washington D.C. in 2018; Karina Vetrano, 30, was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered in 2016 while running in Queens; Vanessa Marcotte, who was killed during a jog in Massachusetts and later found just a mile from home. Even Trisha Meili, known as the Central Park Jogger after being attacked in 1989, is back in the news thanks to a new Netflix documentary.

And that's only a sampling of cases that have made national news. The reality is, 34 percent of women feel afraid while exercising alone, according to a survey from Wearsafe Labs; 50 percent of women admit to being too afraid to walk or run at night in their own neighborhoods, a Gallup poll found; and 11 percent of women prefer to exercise in a gym because they don't feel comfortable exercising outside, a survey by Stop Street Harassment reported. For what it's worth, only four percent of men experience harassment while running, compared to 43 percent of women, according to a survey by Runner's World.

That fear isn't stopping women from running, but they are going to great lengths—beyond the obvious smart choices, like running without music, alerting people as to when and where they're running, and running where it's light and busy—to feel more prepared and safer while pursuing what they love.

In a recent Twitter thread started by TV and comic book writer Amanda Diebert, women copped to carrying everything from their keys between their knuckles and rape whistles to knives and even guns in certain areas. That may sound extreme, but it's hard to argue against their concerns in light of the headlines.

Erin B., 30, actually started carrying a knife while running in remote areas near her Laguna Beach home. "Recently, I was running in the hills near my office, and a police officer stopped me and said I should be carrying pepper spray or a knife—a 60-year-old woman had been attacked while walking two days earlier on the same path," she says. Now, she always carries protection.

An attack close to home was also what inspired Jenny W., 34, to carry pepper spray on her runs. "I trail run alone, and occasionally you run into weird people on the trails," she says. "I feel like if I were cornered by someone (or an animal!), the spray would hopefully give me a chance to get away."

And remember that trick of putting your keys between your knuckles to create a weapon while walking to your car or front door at night? That works on the run, too. " It sounds aggressive, but my mom taught me to hold my keys like that so I could do a quick jab to the face to give myself time to run away," says Rachel G., 32, from Darien, CT. "I generally only do it when I run at night."

"A family member gave me a keychain that also works as a pair of brass knuckles," says Ali Barzyk, 22, co-founder of Despite the Dark, an organization in Chicago, IL, that sheds light on women's safety running at night. "It's small enough to fit in the FlipBelt that I wear on my runs, so I never leave the house without it. But I hate that I have to carry it and dread the thought of using it."

Some safety tools are actually multi-tasking. "I run with a small but very heavy Maglight flashlight that my dad got me years ago," says Liz K., 38, from Chicago. "It's in a heavy-duty nylon case with a wrist strap, so I strap it to my wrist and then grip the flashlight with my finger on the power button while I run. My dad's thinking when he bought it for me was that I could use the heavy metal flashlight to fend off an attacker (or at least make it harder for them), and I suppose a bright light to the eyeballs would also be quite annoying, assuming I could click it on in time. Fortunately I've never had to use it."

And, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of women responding to Diebert's original thread fessed up to using their dogs to scare off potential attackers. "I feel safer when I run with my dog," agrees Molly, 31, from Seattle, WA. "He doesn't actually stand up for me, but he's a pitbull so people give him space."

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