How to Be a Defensive Runner

We recently moved to a new town and I’ve noticed that several runners in my area don’t seem to know which side of the road they’re supposed to run on.

I think sometimes that we get so comfortable on our running routes that we get lax about safely measures. In a day and age where there are more distracted or tired drivers out on the roads it’s really our responsibility to be defensive runners.

So, let’s talk about some ways you can protect yourself.

11 Rules for Being a Defensive Runner

Early a couple Saturday mornings ago I was traveling to Maryland for a coaching class. It was mostly dark as I drove along some rural roads and I reminded myself to look for deer.

Not long afterward a glint reflected off my headlights and I slowed down and moved over, only to see a runner out with absolutely no reflective gear or lights on his person. If I hadn’t seen the glint of his eyes it might have been a bad situation. Don’t be that guy!

1. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Run with a partner if possible.

2. Wear some form of ID like the RoadID or put your driver’s license in your pocket. Carry your cell phone.

3. Be visible. In low light conditions things like white, yellow, and florescent orange are best. In addition, a reflective vest, arm/leg bands, headlamp or hand/show lights can be helpful.

4. Vary your route and routine. Predictability can make you an easy target.

5. Run against traffic (in the US that would be the left side of the road). Be prepared to move over for traffic. Try to make eye contact with the driver to make sure they see you. Don’t assume cars can see you, they could be texting, picking something up, putting makeup on, or any number of distracting things.

6. Stay alert and aware. Notice your environment and the people/cars around you. Follow your intuition—if your gut is tell you that something is wrong, it probably is. Run clear of parked cars, bushes, dark areas and anything else suspicious.

7. Don’t wear both earphones– if you have to listen to music keep the volume down and don’t put both earbuds in. Consider the AfterShokz which are bone conduction headphones or Sudio Sweden (use the code MTA15 to save 15%) which allow sound transparency so you can still hear road noises.

8. If the same car drives past you more than once, get the license plate number and car description, make it obvious that you see the car, but keep your distance.

9. If you are confronted: run toward a more populated area (generally there is safety in numbers), ignore verbal insults and harassement, don’t panic and keep running.

10. Do not stop to approach a car to give directions– try pointing or shrugging your shoulders, keep moving. Give unfamiliar animals a wide berth.

11. Consider carrying a self-defense product (after checking state and local laws) and know how to use it. This could include pepper spray or mace, I sometimes bring this one which is small enough to carry while you run.

Tiger Lady, Go Guarded Ring, Guardian Whistle, a handheld or wrist security alarm, mini stun gun, Booby Trap Bras, and Kuba Kickz Self Defense Control. There are even gun holsters targeted for exercise.

There are some good safety apps like the Road ID app with the “smart crumb” feature, Strava Beacon App, and Glympse, RunRaegis. The Timex One GPS watch has a feature that broadcasts your position to chosen contacts.


This post was featured in the quick tip segment of MTA Podcast Episode #222.

Question About Pepper Spray

What I Carry

I’ve been bitten by a dog while out on a run before, it’s a scary experience. Now if I’m running in an area where there are strange dogs roaming around I carry this pepper spray, which I found on Amazon for 10 bucks.

I wrote about my dog bite experience here.

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