How do we really run safe during a winter lockdown?

Running Tips

If you type “winter running lockdown tips” into google what would you expect to find?

I’ll save you the journey to your google tab – you get a lot of advice on dressing warm and warming up. How to keep motivated. 10 best windproof jackets.

Now, search for “winter running lockdown tips… women”. One key word. And the whole narrative begins to shift.

Spatters of safety seep in. “Avoid running in the dark”, “Don’t run alone”, “No headphones”.

On researching this I was irked.

The gender gap has always been obvious, to women at least.

We’ve never been afforded the same feeling of comfort on the streets as our male running peers.

A sort of comfort where you never even have to consider anyone, perhaps, would feel uncomfortable. No shiver-inducing imagery of what’s lurking down the poorly lit underpass you must use to avoid the still frantic rush hour traffic. No turning back on the Thames Path at the last minute because you realise the street lights stop here. No pre-run safety check ins with friends “I’m running here, I’ll be an hour. I’ll let you know when I’m home”.

Privilege is a funny word.

It refers to luxuries only a few of us are afforded, yet everyone should have.

My issue isn’t with male runners who run fearless and carefree. It’s with the fact we’ve begun to sit, quite comfortably, with the vast majority of fear being bestowed on women.

Why, when I went to my search bar, did the same safety tips not seemingly apply to all runners. Why must I, a woman, think about more than the most comfortable head torch or best stretching tips to ensure I don’t pull a cold muscle.

I would argue those ‘whys’ can be answered with this – We’ve grown up with the priority being to keep ourselves safe, rather than keeping each other safe.

So, winter running tips – for all of us. Practical and longterm solutions, what do you reckon? Including what we can do to keep each other safe in the running community?

Those articles aren’t wrong. In fact, when I’ve been asked by friends I’ve managed to kerang into a running addiction my first tip is usually this:

Hi-Viz is imperative.

I don’t care if you’re sticking to a well lit area. I don’t care that you prefer your sexy all-black nike kit. Yeah, you look hot but you look hotter alive. Wear it. It’s dark, the street lighting isn’t consistent enough to not. First tip of running safely in winter is get home without tyre marks on your back. Looking like a dork in a luminous bib is 10/10 more attractive than dressing for the crossroads catwalk.

Community action;

Alerting other of your presence will help keep them safe too – cyclists, pedestrians and other runners with feel safer with you approaching them if they’re aware of your presence early. No one likes a face bobbing toward the all of a sudden from the shadows!

Speaking of lighting…

Let’s be honest, the best lit areas are the roadside routes. Which is what many of us are stuck running on, especially in London. My favourite daytime running routes are a stark contrast to my make-do nighttime ones! Trees are replaced with lampposts, the river with the flow of traffic. Unfortunately, street lighting isn’t just going to pop up over night and in rural areas there are legitimate reasons, such a wildlife, for the lack of light pollution.

In this case you have three options – you can brave whatever beasties may be lurking in the dark, pound the more polluted pavements near roads and high streets, or avoid running post 4pm completely.

Running in the dark is near on impossible to avoid so:

Ensure you don high-vis, a head torch and, most importantly, let someone know about where you’re heading and how long you’ll be. Yes, I hate this too. I despise the fact that I have to let my housemate know where she might find me should something go wrong. But it’s imperative.

Community action:

Speaking to your local councils about built up areas with a lack of safe pedestrian lighting. It won’t alway amount to anything but it’s worth a shot. If street lights are turned off early in your areas request that they are left on longer. As runners we see the hours only postal workers and milkman see, and they’d probably appreciate the additional safety too.

Location, location location

As mentioned above, I loathe the fact I have to let someone know of my whereabouts. It sets some really dark thoughts festering at the back of your mind. I’m also aware that not everyone has someone who can just check in on them or fetch the at the drop of the hat.

In the absence of an available rescuer there are a few really decent safety features on apps out there. Strava Beacon and Garmin Live track being a couple of examples. Both allow GPS tracking of your location which then is able to be relayed to an emergency contact.

Not everyone will have access to these devices, however, in which case it’s important to have a designated contact you can rely on to know where you’re heading and how long you’ll be. Even if you’re in a densely populated area, it’s just sensible.

Community action:

Input routes you feel comfortable running on route plotting apps like Strava and Komoot. Make the public so other runners can follow your lead in finishing the best, and safest, nighttime routes in their areas. Although, be prepared to lose your Local Legend crown this way!

Ok, scary talk now

Long hair? Tie it up in a bun or in a style flat to your head, or tuck it into your clothes. I’ve avoided talking about attacks so far because I’m not one to want to spread fear amongst the community – I want my work to be about positive awareness. However, in the rare event that you do find yourself being attacked you want there to be as little for the perpetrator to hold on to as possible. Serious talk but it’s important I mention it.

Community action;

Report anything or anyone unnerving or suspicious to the authorities. Even if you weren’t approached there may be a pattern negative experiences in the area. The more accounts that are reported the more likely it is to be investigated. This pre-emptive measure may just save someones life in the future.

Ring a ding ding

I never leave to run without my phone 80% because I’m a millennial with a hardcore screen time addiction, 10% selfies and 10% safety. Ok, maybe the safety aspect is a bit higher.

Phones are a blessing, not a curse. And for the negatives they carry (additional weight, distracting) their benefits for safety vastly outwit any reason not to carry them.

Whether its contacting your partner to come and get your after a crappy run, google maps aiding your poor navigation or contacting the authorities in the worst case scenarios they are bloody brilliant.

On more than one occasion I’ve used mine as a prop to pretend to be having a chinwag with a distant pal when there’s been someone passing who’s let off bad vibes “I’ll be home in 5 minutes, see you then”.

They’re additional peace of mind in every way.

Oh and podcasts, love a podcast. Kept to a low volume in the dark, of course. Got to be aware of your surroundings.

Community Action

Apps such as Safe&TheCity allow you to track and plot safe commute routes, find your nearest emergency services and report action of public harassment. Anywhere from poor street lighting to being harassed by a passer by, you can live time track your experience. By building up a map of areas of concern we are able to help others take the safest route to their destination whilst also alerting the appropriate authorities of any risk or incident. Isn’t technology amazing!

We can’t stop the imbalance in runners safety over night.

It takes graft, time and activism.

But most importantly, it takes action from the community to recognise what makes us feel unsafe and act in the interest of each other.

The smallest actions such as giving each other a wide berth when we pass, making our presence known sooner, rather than later, and being aware of others vulnerabilities will go a long way toward community safety.

As runners we need to incentivise this action ourselves. Until our peers safety and comfort is our priority there will continue to be imbalance and injustice. Speak to each other and listen to experiences other than your own. Educate yourself and act on these stories.

As the evenings creep forward slowly and the days inch longer gradually it’s important not to forget these tips.

Not everyone has the privilege of running in safe, well lit, neighbourly areas.

Be kind and accept that you may not entirely know anothers cirumstance.

Act, speak and run with understanding.

Run with kindness.

Run safe.