Tips for Staying Safe When Exercising Outdoors

We all know the biggest downside to working out in the winter is the lack of sunlight. It’s a struggle to wake up in the morning and work out when it’s still dark outside. It’s a struggle to have the motivation to go to the gym after work when it’s dark outside.

Saturday I was feeling inspired and went for a six mile run outside. It was 50+ degrees so I thought I’d take advantage of the remaining warm days in 2011. The sun set halfway through my run so on the way back, I made sure to run in well lit areas.

Long story short, a man followed me for a few blocks. He was walking and I passed him. As I passed him he said hello, which I ignored as most women do in NYC, and then shortly began to run. Not just run, but run right behind me. Step by step with me. I could his his step in sync with mine. His shadow was right next to mine.

I didn’t confront him. What did I do instead? I ran into traffic and stood in front of a car and waited for him to pass. If this guy was going to do something, I was going to make him do it in front of countless others. He ended up cutting through a few other cars and ran into obscurity.

Whether this guy really was following me or intending to scare me, it got my thinking about safety precautions when one is exercising outdoors. NYC is not a dangerous place. Any New Yorker will tell you they feel safer on the streets of NY than when walking a dog in the suburbs. Wherever you live, here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

  • No Headphones – I realize that it’s painful running in silence for many of you, but it’s also quite peaceful not having noise constantly in my ears. You can hear yourself breathe, the pounding of your feet, the wind blowing, etc. There’s a rhythm to running. Discover yours! Actually, I would strongly encourage you to stay from anything that obstructs your hearing.
  • Cell phone – pretty self explanatory but learn to not be dependent on the cell phone. In a really emergency, you may or may not have a chance to call anyone.
  • Have a game plan – tell someone beforehand where you’ll be going, how far you’ll be running, and how long you expect it will take. If you’re out longer, have him or her check in on you. If you run the same route each time, mark “Safe Zones” where you know you can turn to for help. Perhaps it’s a cafe or deli, or a friend’s apartment you run by each time.
  • No shortcuts – Stay on the path, always.
  • Identification – I  wouldn’t suggest carrying your license or passport with you, but carry something that identifies you. I’m a big fan of the company Road Id. They offer plenty of products that’ll give you some peace of mind when hitting the pavement alone.
  • Buddy Up – it’s hard finding a work out buddy who is at the exact same fitness level. But it’s better to be with someone you know, rather than finding yourself with someone you don’t know.
  • Wear Proper Gear – When working out in the dark, don reflective gear. Really loving this Nike Vapor Flash Jacket but wish it wasn’t so expensive!
  • Response Required Words – In a self defense class, I learned that screaming “HELP” or just plain screaming is not always effective. Opt to yell “Fire!” or “Call 911, I’m being attacked.” Don’t hesitate to be descriptive: “I’m being attacked by a tall man with brown hair, wearing a blue t-shirt.”  It will help whoever is making the call to 911.
  • Safety Device – I prefer a noise maker over  mace. Why? I’m a person that believes that any weapon you carry can be used against you. But I won’t lie, I do own mace…just never have carried it.


How do you stay safe when working out? Leave a comment and share your tips!



One thought on “Tips for Staying Safe When Exercising Outdoors

  1. I’m so sorry you had to experience that; my heart would have been pounding a million beats a minute! These are all fantastic tips. This may seem a little odd, but I think mixing up your route is also a good idea, especially for a woman who runs alone. Since I run in the morning and it can often be dark, if I run the same route the same two or three days each week, someone might figure it out. So, I like to mix it up sometimes.

    Glad you’re okay!!

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