Runners Safety 101: Safety Precautions Every Runner Should Know

Runners Safety 101: Safety Precautions Every Runner Should Know

This is Part Two of a Two-Part Series articles and the perspective of Pam Berg, a long-time runner:


In an ever-changing world, it is important for people to always be aware of what is going on in the surrounding area. Sadly, the days of being able to go about your personal business without regard to others have long gone by the wayside.

Although it resonates to our very core that we should not have to always have safety thoughts in the forefront of our brain, the reality is that is the world we live in.

In order to ensure that our running friends are safe when they lace up, whether to hit the pavement, track or trail, here are some tips on how to stay safe while running.

 Run Against Traffic

If running on the road, always run facing the oncoming traffic. This gives you the best vantage point for safety as you can see any cars as they approach you. If you are rounding a blind corner and there is no sidewalk, consider moving way over to the outermost edge of the road. On rural country roads, there may even be a gravel edging on which you can run.

True, you have as much a right to the road as automobile traffic does; however, a driver taking a fast corner may not see you in time if you are running in the road. Sliding over to the far left puts you in the safest position against oncoming traffic.

 Look Both Ways When Crossing

This seems like an easy piece of advice that we should always follow, but when you think about it, there are many instances you might not necessarily think before stepping out into potential danger. If a driver is at a stop sign turning right, they will often peek right before turning their head and attention to the left.

Since they are making a right hand turn onto a road, many drivers will watch the left for a clear path prior to turning. Many runners neglect to look right again before turning.

Sure, you may have the right of way. After all, the car has a stop sign. However, right of way doesn’t matter when you are a pedestrian battling with a car. If you see a car, have your radar up and pay attention. Just because you see him does not assure he has noticed you.

 Always Stay Alert To Your Surroundings

There are many ways to be sure you are always alert. One primary way is to not wear headphones. Sure, listening to music is an excellent distraction and helps time pass quickly. Note the word used there: distraction. Just like music distracts us from the pain and discomfort of the run, it equally distracts us from the environment. Running safely is more important than your habit of listening to music while running.

In addition to that, look around you while you run. Notice what is happening. Is someone approaching you? Are there others on the road or sidewalk? Does someone appear to be approaching you in a way that seems awkward?

Even though running is an excellent escape from the world, don’t become so engrossed in your run that you become careless.

 Trust Your Intuition About a Person or an Area

According to the Road Runner’s Club of America, you should always trust your instincts. This piece of advice leaves me a bit uneasy as it sounds a bit like we are profiling or making assumptions about people that may be unfair. However, making a snap decision to change course because you feel uncomfortable about someone approaching you costs nothing and hurts no-one.

If someone or something has you feeling unsafe or vulnerable, just make an adjustment.

Having said that, another point is not to engage with someone who is harassing you. Whether they are making sexual innuendos or just trying to get your attention in a way that makes you uncomfortable, try to resist reacting. It does not make you a victim nor does it make you weak to simply walk away from someone who does not deserve your attention.

 Familiarize Yourself With New Areas

As a runner, I love exploring new places on my feet. However, I also know that when I don’t know an area, I am more vulnerable. When I am traveling, before I head out for a run I ask questions.

A few minutes with a hotel employee can give you some guidance. Better yet, pick up the phone and call a local running store. I have a setlist of question:

  • Is there an area where area runners tend to congregate?
  • Is there a local running group and, if so, do they have group runs open to anyone?
  • Are there parts of town that are safer?
  • If I run “this way,” what can I expect to encounter? Does it get quiet? Is traffic heavy? Can I expect to lose cell service?

When visiting a new city if a concierge hesitates when you ask about running in the area, ask if he or she would venture out alone. If the answer is no, don’t go.

 Tell Someone Your Running Plan

It is always a good idea to tell someone else about your plan. That includes a route and how long you plan to be gone. Someone should be waiting to hear back from you.

It really is best practice for the person to know your route, just in case something happens to you. At the very least, let someone know you’re heading out. If you live alone, this can be accomplished by texting a friend. “Heading out for 4 miles. Will touch base when I’m done.”

There are running apps that signal someone if you stop moving for more than a few minutes. Handy if you are injured. Potentially unnecessarily worrisome if you stop to visit with someone.

Alter Your Running Routes & Times

Sadly, there are people out there watching for others with a pattern of behavior. Altering your running routes is one way to keep yourself safer.

In addition to keeping yourself safer, running different routes, and at varying times helps you to mix up you’re running routine. Find yourself multiple routes of varying distances and degrees of difficulty.

 Visibility: Yours and Theirs

There are multiple ways to ensure your visibility to others. One is to run on the correct side of the road, as previously discussed. The next way is through wearing reflective gear. Reflective gear has strategically placed reflective strips to catch headlights so that those in cars can see the runner or walker.

To take that a step further there is reflective gear that lights up. Vests made by companies like Noxgear help athletes to be visible from up to a mile away.

Running at Night Safety

Runners should also wear headlamps if they are running at night. It isn’t enough to be seen, you need to be able to adequately see in order to be safe. Runners in rural areas need to be able to not only watch footfalls but also to spot wildlife in the distance. The last thing you want to encounter is an angry mama bear crossing the road with her cubs!

Be especially cautious if there is fog present as visibility is low and that makes for dangerous running conditions. Ask yourself how far you can typically see on a foggy day. That’s about as far as a car will see you in that same weather. Even safety gear doesn’t guarantee your safety, much like you can’t see headlights of approaching traffic when you are out driving.

Running Safely during Rain

While running in the rain is therapeutic and enjoyed by many runners, recognize that a driving rain also reduces visibility and a lot of rain gear is not also reflective. Be sure to layer your safety gear over any rain gear you may be wearing.

 Safety in Numbers

A group is a great way to keep yourself safer. Especially if you like to run at dawn or dusk, finding yourself a running buddy or two is an excellent idea for many reasons. First, you always have an accountability partner. It’s tough to skip a run if others are expecting and contain on you! Second, there is safety in numbers.

Many local communities have started running groups for these very reasons. If you are new to an area, inquire about running groups at your local running store. Another avenue for finding like-minded people is social media.

Avoid Desolate Areas

Running trails is wicked fun, but try to avoid hitting the trails alone. The same is true for desolate roads or areas. Running down areas that tend to have more traffic (but not so much traffic that the cars are a danger) is a safer choice.

If you have an affection for trails find local parks that are heavily traveled with walkers, cyclers, and runners. These highly populated areas are a safer bet.

 Carry a Cell

Carrying a cell phone or having a watch from which you can make a phone call is a helpful thing from a personal safety perspective. In addition to being able to alert someone if you encounter danger, you never know when you might stumble or twist an ankle.

In addition to a phone, many runners carry other items:

  • Whistle: A whistle can be used to alert others to your need for help or to scare off a person or wild animal.
  • Pepper Spray: Legal to carry in all 50 of the United States as well as many countries, many runners carry a small vial of pepper spray to ward off a potential attacker.
  • Identification: Whether you carry an ID in your running belt or wear a bracelet like the RoadID, it is good to carry identification in case of an emergency.
  • Fuel: When considering safety, it is never a bad idea to have some type of food on your person in the event of a wrong turn or unexpected lightheadedness. If you wear a running belt of some sort, it takes up very little space and can come in handy.

 Be Alert, Be Proactive, Be Safe

When contemplating running safety it really boils down to a few things. If you are alert and proactive, you help to raise the chances that you can keep yourself safe. Don’t think of it like you are living in fear; rather, consider yourself taking necessary precautions as proactive steps to personal safety.

Certainly, no one’s safety is ever guaranteed, but if taking small steps increases the changes, aren’t they worth taking?

RRCA General Running Safety 
Training Tips for Runners: Staying Safe