Running has enormous appeal: it's cheap, accessible and doesn't require an expensive gym membership. But while it's the perfect budget-friendly workout, it can be difficult to ignore the potential safety hazards that come with it.
Training near busy roads brings the danger of traffic, acquiring a sudden injury can lead you stranded and, unfortunately, runners have been targeted as victims of crime.
This guide is aimed to help you get prepared for any eventualities that could pose a risk while running. We're not trying to scaremonger because β let's face it β most of us run regularly and absolutely nothing goes wrong (aside from maybe not hitting our goal pace).
But just in case, here are a few steps you can take to gear up, protect yourself and stay safe on the run.
Plan your route
If you're running somewhere new β like if you've just moved house or you're on holiday β make sure you know where you're going. Yes, we sound like your mum, but nothing kills a runner's high like finding yourself lost in the middle of nowhere with no idea how to get back.
Map My Run is a godsend β simply find your map location and click along the roads to build a route. You can download this as a GPX file and upload it to your phone or running watch so you'll have directions to follow.
- Check out our favourites: The best running routes around London
Another bonus is that you can check out the elevation of your route and adjust accordingly β if it's very hot then you'll probably want to avoid any strenuous climbs.
Similar route planning tools have been created by Strava and Garmin, however those tools will allow you to build a route based on other people's own runs, so you know you're not going to end up on a dual carriageway.
Also, take your route planning time to check out the local public transport links. Things go wrong sometimes, and if you have an injury flare or stomach upset then you'll be grateful to know which mile markers will take you past a train station so you can make a speedy exit! Which takes us on to our next pointβ¦
Take money and your phone
On the off-chance you need to grab emergency transport, you'll need to be able to pay for it. We know, Captain Obvious here, but it's easy to forget when you're rushing out the house. Take a bank card (which can also stand in for an Oyster card if you're in London) or some cash in case you need to grab a bus or cab home.
Also, stash your phone so you can Google a local taxi number or call an Uber, or even use it in place of a contactless card if you're that way inclined.
You don't have to use it on the run or listen to music, but just having it somewhere accessible can make all the difference when you're caught short.
Let people know where you are
Obviously, you don't need to give your next of kin a play by play of your entire run, but tell your partner/family/flatmates that you're off out and roughly how long you'll be. It's highly unlikely that you won't turn up, sweaty, dishevelled and desperate for a shower, but if you don't then at least they'll know to raise the alarm.
If you're out somewhere new and want some peace of mind that someone close to you will know your whereabouts, try Strava Beacon. Using the Strava app, you can select up to three contacts and send a message to them with a live tracking link. Beacon is part of the Strava Safety Pack and prices start from $2 per month.
Run in groups
The old classic 'safety in numbers' tactic. If you don't know the area well or you just feel more comfortable running with other people, try seeking out a running club in your area.
- Essential reading: The best free run clubs in London
The England Athletics and Good Run Guide both allow you to search for clubs in your area, or if you're based in a big city try the myCrew app to find informal running groups you can join.
Many of us find it hard to stay motivated on long runs without the help of a decent playlist or podcast, but if you're blasting tunes at max volume then you won't be able to hear what's going on around you. That could be oncoming traffic, other runners looking to overtake, wild animals or even all of the above (unlikely, but you never know).
- Essential reading: The best headphones for running
To stay aware of your surroundings, try using just one earphone so you can listen out for hazards. Alternatively, try bone conduction headphones like AfterShoks Air. Instead of plugging into your ears and aiming sound towards your eardrums, they sit on your upper cheekbones and send vibrations through them, so you can hear your music or podcast clearly but still take in the environmental noise around you.
Carry an alarm
In a worst-case scenario where you've fallen and injured yourself, or are being pursued by someone, it can help to carry a personal safety alarm so you can attract attention from passers-by or deter an attacker.
According to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the key features of a personal alarm are that its sound is continuous, as loud as possible, lightweight and easy to set off. This Sabre alarm has a Lycra band so you can strap it around your wrist as you run, and is activated by pulling the ring attached.
It's also audible for a distance of up to 300 metres to attract the attention of people in the surrounding area. The alarm measures 130 decibels β to give you an idea of volume, that's louder than a concert speaker (110 decibels) and a chainsaw (120 decibels).
Sabre Personal Runner Alarm
Buy now: Amazon | $19.99
But DON'T carry pepper spray
Pepper spray, also known as mace, causes immense pain when sprayed into the face of an attacker. However, while it sounds like a useful deterrent, pepper spray and similar products are illegal in the UK under the Firearms Act 1968. That means that you could face conviction if you use pepper spray on another person, or even if you have it in your possession.
Stay on the right side of the law and stick to using an alarm if you're going to invest in self-defence products.
Run against traffic
The old Highway Code is your friend here, especially on country lanes. Obviously, it's safest to run on pavements or traffic-free areas, but if there's no pavement for you to use run facing oncoming traffic β that's on the right-hand side of the road in the UK, or left-hand side in most of Europe and the US.
If you're approaching a blind bend, cross the road so any vehicles will be able to see you as clearly as possible.
On the off-chance you end up injured or in an accident, carrying ID means those helping you can easily track down your next of kin and find out any essential information. At the most basic level, pop your driving licence in your pocket or the back of your phone case so helpers can find out your name and address.
If you fancy going a bit more technical, ICE ID sells customisable tags that come on their own bracelets, or fit onto your Apple watch or fitness tracker. Enter your name, your next of kin's phone number and any essential medical info and gear up with your tag before going out so people can get hold of your emergency contact if anything goes wrong.
Prepare for the weather
Too hot, too cold or too rainy β any of these can cause drama on an otherwise successful run. Prior to going out, check the weather and make sure you're fully prepped.
Hot weather: Stay hydrated by taking a full bottle of water, and consider adding a hydration tab if you're a salty sweater. Pile on the SPF β Riemann P20 is an absolute lifesaver for long runs and will prevent painful burns. Wear lightweight clothing and a hat to keep the sun off your head.
Cold weather: Wear a number of thin layers to trap heat close to your body. When you've got a mile or two in you may start to feel too warm, so multiple light layers that can be taken off tend to be more effective than one giant heavy coat. Gloves and a warm hat will keep your extremities snug, plus a buff worn over your lower face can help avoid the chill of frosty air.
Rainy weather: Watch out for slippery surfaces β if you're running off-road or in parks, consider wearing trail shoes to help you get a better grip, and a lightweight running jacket can help keep you dry. Remember that in particularly bad weather, visibility may be reduced and therefore drivers may find it harder to see you β pile on the high-vis gear and be extra cautious on busy roads.
If you're running in low light, like in the early morning or at night, you'll want to make yourself as visible as possible so you can be seen easily by drivers. This is particularly important if you're based in a rural area without pavements or street lights β country lanes get very precarious in the dark.
There's tons of reflective and high vis apparel out there. Not all of it is very stylish, but then neither is getting hit by a car. Here are a few of our favourite pieces of kit for running in low light.
Buy now: FlipBelt (UK) / FlipBelt (US) / Amazon | $35
FlipBelts are the ultimate running storage solution, ideal for stashing your phone, gels and keys safely. This version comes in high-vis neon yellow with reflective stripes, and worn around your waist it'll glow brightly under approaching car headlights.
Safe Reflections Brilliant Reflective Strips
Buy now: Runners Need (UK) / Amazon | $10.66
If you don't want to splash out on a whole new reflective wardrobe, upgrade your kit with these stick-on reflective strips. Each pack contains eight strips of varying lengths which attach easily to your backpack, shoes or any other accessory.
Proviz Reflect360 Running Cap
Buy now: Proviz (UK) / Proviz (US) | $40
Whether it's hot, cold or rainy, this cap from GripGrab will protect you from the elements and help you stand out from your surroundings with ease.