10 crucial safety tips for runners in South Africa

Running is a great way to get your endorphins pumping and keep your mind and body in top shape. Running outdoors makes you feel good, keeps you fit, and gets you out into the fresh air but also comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is personal safety.

With the horrendous crime rate in South Africa, safety while running has to be prioritised.  Whether you’re a seasoned runner or are just starting out the tips in this article will help you avoid becoming the victim of a crime or serious incident.

Prevention is preferable to the cure. Invest in the tools that will keep you safe so that you can focus on the enjoyment of your chosen form of exercise. Criminals are not the only danger you will face on your run.  Taxies, cyclists, bad running surfaces, and conditions must also be taken into account.  Good planning and common sense will also keep you safe.

  1. Map your routes

Planning is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe. The route you chose should be based on the time of day you’ll be running.  If you enjoy running early in the morning before it’s light out, you need to make sure your chosen route is well lit.  You want to be visible, and you want to be able to see where you’re running.  Choose paths that won’t force you to run in the road.

A routine allows predators to track you more easily.  Vary your routes and times if at all possible.  Avoid secluded areas.  If you get into trouble, you want to be in an area where people will hear you call for help.  Muggers are usually opportunistic and will target you if they think they’ll be able to get away without witnesses.

  1. Be aware of your surroundings

Engage your senses and trust your instincts.  Be attentive to your surroundings and don’t give in to the lure of a narrow focus. Your sight will be the first sense to warn you of danger.  Avoiding a stranger on your path or a driver who isn’t paying attention hitting you will depend on you recognising the potential accident and acting swiftly.  Make sure that drivers at a traffic light have noticed you before you cross a road.

Your ears will warn you of dangers coming up from behind you.  Running while listening to music can be a fantastic motivator.  Not being able to hear someone approaching from behind is needlessly dangerous.  This is not to say you can’t listen to music, just be smart about it.  Your device’s volume needs to be turned down low enough that you can still hear ambient noise or only use one earbud.  Listen out for emergency vehicles so that you can stay out of their way.

  1. Stand out

Sometimes drivers find it difficult to see runners, especially at certain times during the day.  Dressing in bright colours will make you more visible and so decrease the likelihood of an accident. Running gear usually has some kind of reflective markings. Tagging your tights or running shorts with reflective tape will also work.  Mark your water bottle and shoes with this tape for extra visibility.

The recommendation is that you tag the parts of your body that move while you’re running with reflective material. Wearing a reflective jacket or vest will allow motorists to recognise you more easily as a pedestrian.  For running at night, you could also add a headlamp and or led strip lights to your clothing.

  1. Make use of the buddy system

Running with a friend is an excellent way to bond. Aside from that, it’s also safer.  Your running buddy will share the task of keeping an eye out for danger. And if you fall or twist an ankle, there’s someone there to help you get home.  Joining a running group is even better. There’s true safety in numbers, and a group of runners is less likely to be targeted by opportunistic criminals.

You could join the park run in your area to meet other runners.  It’s a great way to find a group to run with and possibly find new routes to run.  This may be difficult for you if you enjoy running solo, but your safety has to come first. Find a group of likeminded people whose company you enjoy, and you’ll find the benefits outweigh the discomfort.

  1. Carry a pepper spray or gel for quick self-defense

Use self-defense tools to stun, temporarily blind, or disorientate an attacker.  They give you a non-lethal distraction that’ll give you time to run to safety.  Pepper spray or gel sprayed into the eyes of your attacker will make it difficult for them to breath and temporarily blind them.  Make sure your pepper spray or gel allows more than 20 bursts so that it can be used on more than one attacker.

Runner’s pepper gel with adjustable hand strap is a good choice.  Wear the hand strap around your wrist or the palm of your hand.  Whether you take it in pink or black, the grip is comfortable, and the twist lock prevents accidental deployment.  It allows you 35 bursts at a range of 4 meters.  It also contains UV dye that can help the police identify your attacker.  Pepper gel will not blowback.  All Sabre pepper sprays are strenuously tested to give you a reliable high quality product.

  1. Leave your phone at home

Let your best friend, mom, or partner know where you’re going and when you’ll be running but leave your phone at home. This way if no one has heard from you by the time you should have been home, they will know where to start looking for you.

Don’t carry your phone with you.  If you need to defend yourself or break your fall, it will only hamper you. You don’t want to make yourself a target for opportunistic criminals. Running and texting also means you’re not paying attention to your surroundings so just leave it at home.

  1. Try out a self-defense class

Physically defending yourself should always be the last resort, but you still need to be prepared for it to come to that. Children are taught that hurting others is bad behaviour.  As adults, this translates to a hesitance that you can’t afford in a physical altercation. Self-defense classes teach you how to overcome this.

These classes will help you train your body to act instinctively when threatened.  You’ll learn the best way to put an attacker down quickly while not sustaining significant injuries.  You could be fighting for your life, so make time to learn the most effective way to do it.  You’ll be more confident, and confidence in your body language will also deter predators.

  1. Modify your body language

The way you walk can indicate whether you are an easy target or not.  Criminals read your body language. If you appear to be likely to fight back or make enough fuss to draw attention to them, you’ll be judged to be too much trouble.  When running alone, you shouldn’t act distracted, weak, or afraid.

Adopt a fluid and balanced running style. Chin up, shoulders back, and run with confidence. Running when you’re injured or sick makes you vulnerable.  Your stride, bodyweight distribution, and the swing of your arms are all indicators of how easy or hard it would be to subdue you.  Keep your body language natural and relaxed, and you’ll be a harder target.

  1. Avoid unnecessary risks

Don’t react to catcalls or verbal harassment. A group of people approaching you may be nothing, but if it makes you uneasy cross the road and put distance between you. Trust your instincts if they warn you that the situation is potentially dangerous.  Assume any stranger approaching you as a potential threat and avoid them.

Stick to the rules of the road. Don’t risk running through a gap in traffic.  Wear a pair of snug-fitting anti-glare dark glasses when running during the day. Sunlight reflecting from the road, cars windscreens, and white paint will distract you at a crucial moment. Don’t take short-cuts you’re not familiar with, especially in the dark.

  1. Carry an ID tag or medical bracelet

If you get hurt and medical assistance becomes necessary, it’s best to have some form of identification on you.  A bracelet, tag or a simple laminated card describing any existing medical condition you have is also a good idea. Pin your ID tag on the front of your shirt or tie it to your wrist. Make it easily visible to EMTs, in case you aren’t conscious.

I personally love the runners ID tag that you canslip onto the wristband of your Smart or fitness watch or any wristband. You can order a runners ID tag from Wantitall.

When running outdoors you can significantly decrease the risks by being prepared. Don’t let fear stop you, if running is your passion, arm yourself with information, find a running buddy and enjoy the experience. Know what you may face and take steps to protect yourself.

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