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!



Monday Motivation: Santa Claus, marathons and other magical things

I thought of you. Yes, you.

Sunday, Oct. 9, was the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

To say I am not a runner would be an understatement, but I know many of you Lean Girls are. Running 26-plus miles does not sound like fun to me. In fact, it sounds unnatural. I cannot think of one thing that would compel me to run a marathon.

Or, I couldn’t, until I heard Chicago attorney Brenda Russell’s marathon story that Monday morning on Chicago Public Radio.

Russell didn’t run the Chicago Marathon. She ran the Santa Claus Marathon in Rovaniemi, Finland, a place I previously was familiar with only from my favorite childhood Christmas movie, “I Believe in Santa Claus.” The poorly-dubbed VHS version I had actually was called “Here Comes Santa Claus” and came, courtesy of my mom, from some Christmas movie bargain bin. It’s about a girl and a boy who travel to Rovaniemi to appeal to Santa Claus to bring back the boy’s parents, who were, like, murdered in Africa or something. Anyway, the point being, Santa Claus lives in Rovaniemi. So does The Blue Fairy.

Russell’s story is every bit as crazy and magical.

The Chicagoan challenged herself to run a marathon on her 50th birthday, she told Chicago Public Radio’s Eight Forty-Eight. And the only marathon on her birthday was the Santa Claus Marathon, she said. So she traveled to Rovaniemi, alone, to run the marathon. Only… well, she found out she wasn’t really alone.

You’ll have to click here to listen to the whole story.

And then, tell us, what’s the craziest place where you’ve found encouragement?

This ‘New Girl’ ROCKS: Zooey Deschanel

This week was Fall TV Time! Or whatever it is it’s called. TV premiere week. Or the start of the new TV season, I guess.

You can tell I don’t watch that much TV. I don’t even have cable — just Season Two of Mad Men on DVD and a fondness for Saturday morning cooking shows on PBS.

But I did tune in for one premiere: New Girl, 9/8 Central Tuesdays on FOX.

It was a little awkward, as most pilots are, but it had some good lines about “reverse Mormons” (I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t used that one before… don’t ask why…) and a “stripper with a heart of gold.” That last one hit me funny because I’m pretty sure one of my former roommates owns the domain name Or she did at one point, at least. I’m also pretty sure another of my former roommates is actually Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jess. Which, considering the premise of the show is Jess moving in to an apartment full of men, might actually make me a man.

While we’re on the subject, how do I love thee, Zooey Deschanel? Let me count the ways…

  1. Deschanel acts on TV in New Girl. She acts in movies, like (500) Days of Summer and Elf and that Our Idiot Brother movie that just came out that didn’t look all that great aside from the fact I adore, like, everybody in the cast. But who didn’t love both (500) Days of Summer and Elf, The Best Christmas Movie Ever Made? She also is the “She” half of the band She & Him. And she and her friends just launched the blog Oh, AND she is the face of Rimmel makeup. AND! And, in her “free time,” she bakes, according to her personal Tumblr, Zooey’s Miscellany. Clearly, she is a girl after my own heart, a heart strained by the life philosophy that I will sleep when I am dead. Or, at least, she knows her passions, and she pursues them, a very Lean Girl thing to do.
  2. Also, have you visited HelloGiggles? The site bills itself “the ultimate entertainment destination for smart, independent and creative females.” Its Illustrated Tweet of the Day feature is genius, and how badly do I want to make my fingernails look like THIS?! It makes my day, every day. And happiness is good for your heart, according to Science.
  3. Thanks to the New Girl premiere, the Internet is a veritable primer on how to be as “adorkable” as Deschanel right now. There’s how to get her hair (via HelloGiggles). And how to get her face (read: makeup) (also via HelloGiggles) (also, I will warn you, none of the shades of Rimmel makeup mentioned in this post are available yet in stores — I checked). AND all her fashion and beauty secrets, spilled (via Refinery29).
  4. Earlier this summer, Deschanel also talked to SELF Magazine about, most importantly, how to get a happy and healthy life. I won’t give away all her tips — you can visit SELF for that — but my favorite, probably, is her approach to exercise: Do things you enjoy, and do them because you want to be healthy, not skinny. That, and “everyone needs a theme song.” Yes. You heard me: A theme song.

Um, yeah. Can she join the club? Because I think it’s pretty clear this “New Girl” rocks!

Question: If you had a theme song, what would it be? (Deschanel said hers would be “Friends of Mine” by The Zombies. And, of course, Jess from “New Girl” has her own, “Hey Girl,” sung by guess who?)

Follow Em on Twitter at @mcemilywrites and everywhere else at

Running with UGS and Athleta – Part 1

New York City has seen so much rain this past week that I thought I would need to start building an ark. (Bada-ching!) It rained so much that my first run with Urban Girl Squad and Athleta was postponed to … Continue reading

Leadership: Skinny Is Not A Requirement

For years I’ve lead “growth” groups for my church, The Journey. Growth groups are small groups in which people meet during the week to build friendships and study the Bible. I’ve met some of the coolest people through these groups and still keep in touch with many of them. While I originally joined these groups to learn something and grow deeper in my faith, I was asked to be a leader nine years ago. I don’t know why. I was always the youngest person anywhere I went (and somehow nine years later, still am) and felt that I was the most inexperience in…everything. This summer I’ve been leading a running growth group. This isn’t my first running growth group. Two years ago I led a running growth group but it was for leisure. No one was a marathoner. We all stuck together. This time, I’m leading a group of runners who are definitely faster, stronger, and leaner.

Recently I was also asked to volunteer with the Urban Girl Squad (UGS) running groups. If you are unfamiliar with Urban Girl Squad, it is a networking group for women in their 20s and 30s that offers fun activities for women in NYC (fitness classes, cocktail nights, volunteering, etc) and you should definitely check it out!! UGS and Athleta, the premiere active apparel line, have partnered up and are offering free coached runs and then afterward the women are heading over to the Athleta store for refreshments. I’m NOT a running coach for these events. But it’s also intimidating to be a volunteer because of the pressure of setting a good example and wanting to encourage these women.

There is nothing I can teach either of these two groups of runners. I’m not the fastest, strongest, or skinniest. Who would want to follow my lead or my example?

Leadership and being a leader doesn’t mean you’re the best or the most skilled. One of my biggest insecurities in participating in any sort of fitness group or fulfilling any sort of leadership position is not being skinny enough. I know it’s wrong, but I judge fitness instructors who don’t have ROCK HARD bodies. Leadership is less about ability and more about attitude. It’s a willingness to encourage people, challenge them and help them. If ability has anything to do with it, it’s the ability to move people, to stir emotions deep within them that s/he would want to improve themselves and improve the world.

I may not be a great teacher, but I want to be a great leader. I want people to see how happy it makes me to run. I want people to run and exercise because it makes them feel great, not because they have to do it. Being skinny has nothing to do with it. It’s not the fat that’s weighing you down and holding you back, it’s your attitude.


What steps do you need to take to be a leader in your field?

Get Involved With Faith And Fitness!

In the two months (exactly!) since my wedding day, I probably can count the number of times I’ve been to the gym on my fingers. That’s not to say I haven’t been active: My husband and I honeymooned in Seattle, … Continue reading

Race Recap: Run for Central Park

Happy Monday Lean Girls! I hope you had a wonderful weekend filled with great work outs, sun and delicious fruits. This weekend I ran race #4 of the 9 I need to qualify for the 2012 ING NYC Marathon. I ran … Continue reading

BeFit(NYC) – Free and Low Cost Fitness Activities

 photo credit: gracekelle I love this photo from my LA trip- it’s currently my desktop photo. Doesn’t this view make you want to jump in the water? For many of us, this just reminds us that we have to be … Continue reading