Running While Woman - Finding Comfort & Safety Running In New Places
by Crista Valentino @cristaa_v
One of my more unflattering traits is that I’m wildly skeptical of the perceptions or opinions of others. This is especially true when someone attempts to advise me on what is possible or what I should (or shouldn’t) be doing alone. Over time, I’ve begun to anticipate other’s immediate hesitation when I mention my plans to go it alone. I get it - we want to keep the people we care about safe and alive. But, if you are like me and have a hard time living within the confines of other’s conceptions, it’s necessary to learn how to decipher where these concerns fall on the actual-risk vs. perceived-risk scale. Should I not take a cab from the airport because it is truly unsafe? Is their hesitation of me running that route alone because they themselves have never explored the wilderness self sufficiently?
Here’s the crux, though: what if the advice was right and I chose to ignore it? The consequences could be final.
I also can’t live in fear.
Whether I’m exploring a new country or a new trail, I’ve adopted a few habits that have allowed me to consider friendly advice and respect local culture while still going safely out on my own.
Scout it during the day
Whether it’s a road or a trail, if it’s going to be somewhere I want to be early in the day or late at night, first I’ll travel it in the mid-day hours when it’ll be most busy. I pay attention to how people move on the trail, how cars respond to seeing a person running on the road, and look for areas that may be potentially dangerous or could be safe havens if I happen to need it. I check to see if I have cell service, and if not, where I can get it. If I want to eventually run a trail in the pre-dawn or post-dusk hours, I’ll work my way closer to that time hour by hour to see how the people and environment changes as the time changes.
Engage all of your senses
I normally pump through podcasts while I run, but for those first few outings when I am getting settled into a new place, I go without my headphones. The sound coming through the speakers allows me to zone out and that’s the last thing I want to do when being somewhere for the first time. Whether I’m listening for people, cars, or wild animals, I want all of my senses alert to pick up on the nuances I might miss once I push play.
It’s an unfortunate fact that running while woman means you might (ahem...often will) garner unsolicited stares. Hopefully, they’ll be harmless. Yet, until I can get the feel for a local culture, I always dress conservatively. In my experience, the less attention I can draw to myself, the better.
I used to think that putting my head down, averting my eyes, and ignoring those around me was the best tactic for projecting a feeling of “leave me alone.” Recently, I’ve noticed the effectiveness of doing just the opposite. Now I’ve turned to offering a big smile and emphatic wave to anyone I pass, especially on those early mornings when the world is just waking up. In the right instances, I’ll stop to say hi to people I routinely see. This can include the person experiencing homelessness on the street corner or the early morning truck drivers who, in return, seem to give me a wider berth as they pass. I find that engaging with the people I pass also ensures I have my head up and am aware of who is around me.
Do as the locals do
As soon as I land in a new place, I begin to pay attention to what others are doing. Are there other people running? When and where, and, more importantly, where are they not going? In some places, outdoor activity isn’t part of the norm so, instead, I look for how people may be moving through the area at different times of the day. Are there places I would get in the way if I passed through? Is there a type of ‘flow of traffic’ that seems to naturally occur? Just like being in the wilderness, I try to create as little disturbance as possible.
I’m a minimalist at heart, so taking my running pack for a 10 k seems overkill. But, when in a new place and exploring new trails, it has proven to be surprisingly beneficial. Weather patterns in new regions take some time to get used to, so for the first few outings, I always pack additional layers, food, water, a small bit of cash (especially in rural places) and a credit card. If I won’t have cell service, I take screenshots of the GPS, maps, streets, and route I intend to follow. I scour the internet for any information I can find, I give myself more time than I need, and I begin by choosing something fully within my ability to start with.
Over preparing includes carrying whatever is necessary for me to protect myself. Sometimes, in the wilderness, that means bear spray. Other times, it might mean a small switchblade. Whatever you decide to carry on you, there are two important rules: know how to use it and it MUST be within reach. This means that you should know how to unholster your bear spray AND that it isn’t stashed deep in your pack. Chances are, if you need to use it (whatever it is), you’re going to need it immediately and under pressure.
Learn a few phrases
I need help. This is one of the first phrases I memorize when spending time in a place where I don’t speak the language. Knowing a few key phrases in the local language makes navigating basic needs much simpler when in a pinch. The Notes app in my phone is filled with translated phrases, addresses, and numbers that I can quickly pull up and point to when necessary.
Communicate your plan
No matter where you are going or what you are doing, let someone know. Share the coordinates of your trail head, your intended route, how long you anticipate it should take, and when you will be home. If you don’t return, who should be notified? Then, make sure to check in during your outing (if possible) and when you get home. Don’t shy away from sharing this information with people who are located in the area, like a colleague or the front desk staff at your hotel.
Know when to say no
Sometimes, the concern for safety is real. Be willing to not go, to change your plans, or to turn around. Trust your instincts: if something feels off, it probably is. Teton County Search and Rescue has a saying: Heading out is an option, coming home is not. Weigh the options, mitigate the risks, and trust your gut.