Self-Defense for Runners


Fall is a great time for running. Running is a great way to remain fit and healthy. Stay safe by using your common sense and your instincts.Reprinted below is an article from my archives that appeared in a slightly different version in the 2012 summer issue of Outside Bozeman magazine.

Running with Wolves

In Montana as in many other places, attacks on runners are rare. Most women are assaulted by men they know in places they consider safe, but statistics are no consolation. Why not increase your safety through basic risk management and knowledge of violence dynamics?

Increase Awareness – De-crease Opportunities

Nature is a valuable guide – just think of wolves and elk. Wolves are opportunistic. When hunting, they assess cost, benefit, and risk. Human predators are similar. You can’t control predators but you may be able to de-select yourself as a target and decrease opportunities. Your goal should always be avoidance and escape. Practice situational awareness. Enjoy your run but don’t be oblivious. Remain alert to your environment and other people. Remember, predators need physical proximity. Humans have two options: ambush or charm to lure you close enough. Elk don’t fall for charm. You shouldn’t either. Opt for risk reduction when hitting the trails by avoiding isolation and choosing a companion. Humans are good; dogs can also be great deterrents. If you decide to trade safety for solitude, use your senses. Wear headphones only on populated trails. Avoid predictability. Don’t run the same trail at the same time every day. Be aware of ambush points – like blind corners or dense brush. Think like a predator. What ambush points would you choose?

Be a Bad Target

Wolves select vulnerable, timid, and weak targets. During the chase, wolves observe movement, posture, and demeanor to identify low-risk prey. According to prison interviews, many human predators hunt the same way. Cow-elk display specific trotting, head, and neck positions to appear strong and deter wolves. Your alert, confident, and assertive demeanor, even eye-contact, can discourage human predators. Good posture may not only improve your running but also increase your safety. Be alert to “charm predators” or “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Generally articulate, they may first “interview” you to determine how well you set verbal and physical boundaries. The “interview” may occur off the trail, at the mall or in a downtown bar. Besides boundary testing, the “interview” seeks to extract information, like running routines. Predators often try to build trust and pseudo-familiarity to facilitate distracting, isolating, and ambushing their targets. Watch for these tactics. Many predators quickly shift to more approachable targets.

Use Common Sense and Gut Reactions

Charm predators may approach you on the trail, asking for directions or help, preying on your social conditioning to be helpful and polite. Use common sense and instincts. Elk don’t stick around wolves to be polite. If you feel uncomfortable, remember, you don’t owe strangers any answers or explanations. Notice “trouble patterns”- unusual, unnecessary, or potentially threatening behavior. For example, if a truck passes you, turns, and stops next to you. Be on guard. Trust your gut reactions. Absorbing as much as eleven million pieces of information simultaneously and quickly categorizing and filtering this input, your survival brain instantly assesses threats. You may not be able to articulate why you suddenly feel afraid or uncomfortable, but remain flexible. Change your course, turn around, or get back into your car if that’s what your instincts tell you. Intuition may save your life.

Stay Relaxed – Avoid Paranoina – Choose Preparedness

Avoid constant low-grade paranoia. It causes ulcers. Instead, use common sense and vigilance. Stay relaxed, using slow breathing. It improves general awareness, reaction time, and decision-making in stressful situations. If your avoidance strategies fail, basic self-defense skills can increase your survival chances. You’ll need to focus, snap out of your freeze, and decide what the attacker wants. Don’t risk injury to protect your “things.” But if you sense that he wants you, and you decide to fight, use 100% commitment. Overcoming the shock, panic, and possible injuries of a sudden attack is challenging. But an immediate, decisive counter-attack to vulnerable targets like eyes, throat, or knees, paired with yelling, may save your life. Use your hammer-fists, palm-heels, “claws”, elbows, or knees, or “weapons of opportunity” like a handful of dirt, rocks, or your water bottle. Train in self-defense, stay fit, and your natural weapons can become very effective. Keep running. It’s good for you. More women die from heart attacks than from stranger violence. Be aware, trust your instincts, and, if necessary, counter-attack like a wolverine – ferocious and determined to survive.

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