Author: Holly J Coley
Earlier this month, Karina Vetrano of Howard Beach was murdered while jogging close to her home. You may have caught this on the news but just in case, you can read more about it here. A few days later, Vanessa Marcotte, who worked in Manhattan, was murdered while jogging near her mother’s house in Massachusetts. Though I didn’t know either of these women, I was upset when I heard the reports. I identified with them. They were both New Yorkers, close to my age, and like me, runners.
When I first started my fitness journey my workouts were outside. I was seventeen and looking to lose a few pounds before my senior year of high school. I would speed walk around my neighborhood in the city of Poughkeepsie, headphones on, head down. At first, I hated it. I hated the heat, the sweating, the cars that always seemed to have a passenger who found my huffing and puffing interesting. But after a month I started looking forward to grabbing my Walkman (whoa, I’ve just dated myself) and going outside. Physical results aside, I found that exercise helped me focus and quelled my stress.
When the fall came my dad started joining me. Unwilling to give up my workouts just because school was back in session, I started waking up early to squeeze a walk in. I liked to go down a main road best and since I always wore dark clothes, my dad feared I wouldn’t be visible to cars. Before I knew it, he was getting up before dawn too and making the four mile trek, two miles one way, another two back.
We’d spend the entire trip talking about things we never seemed to have time to talk about once our official day started. Relationships, religion, dreams, even past resentments. Working out gave us a chance to connect and fed our bond. When one of us would ask the other, Are we going for a walk in the morning? we were really asking, Can we spend some time together?
We still talk about those days and I find myself thinking about them more since I read what happened, especially to Karina. She usually went running with her father, you see. I can’t help but think that maybe like my dad and me, exercise was a means of furthering their own bond. I also can’t help but think of how guilt ridden and heart broken my dad would be if I had never returned from one of my walks. On the day that Karina didn’t, Mr. Vetrano was home nursing an injury. He hadn’t been able to go with her but when police recovered her phone they found worried text messages from him. Why hadn’t she come back yet?
I rarely run outside anymore. Thanks to my dad (who bought me a gym membership when winter came), I discovered the glorious world of fitness centers. I’ve been going to them ever since. On the occasion I do workout outdoors, I’m usually with my boyfriend. If I do run solo it’s not much different from how I started out. It’s me on a street somewhere with my iPod, zoned out, enjoying the endorphin rush. Being outside has its own set of challenges (wind, uneven terrain) and rewards (fresh air, scenery). I admit, I’ve been more reluctant to go out since the news of Karina and Vanessa’s deaths.
But that shouldn’t be. We can’t let events, though horrible, stop us from enjoying life and doing something good for ourselves. That’s why over the weekend I took myself for a run, outside, by myself. Before I went I did some research on extra steps I could take to stay as safe as possible. See what they are and make sure you incorporate them into your routine when you explore the great outdoors.
Run During Daytime
The best times to go running is in the early A.M. and the evening during twilight because temps are cooler. But it’s also darker with less people. The danger in this is that you’re less likely to be seen or heard if something bad happens. If you can’t schedule your exercise for a better time pick a route that’s not desolate, even at these hours. A main street, for example, is a good option.
Change Your Routine
Make sure to switch your routes up and the hours you go out. This can be difficult but safety experts often recommend varying your routines to make it difficult for others to track your whereabouts. Try exploring places that have a lot of foot traffic but also offer different courses. College campuses are one of my favorite places to exercise because of this. They’re large, spacious but not desolate. Some of them even have emergency phone systems on paths just in case you need to call security.
Don’t Run Deserted Trails Alone
You may find yourself drawn to woody trails because they’re scenic and private. I get it. You feel like you’re running with nature. That’s cool, just don’t run solo. Seriously, don’t do it. There are too many unknowns. The trees and bushes that make these paths pretty also provide predators great coverage. Furthermore, reception tends to be unpredictable in the woods. Even if you bring your phone there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to maintain a signal when you really need.
Skip The Headphones
This is my least favorite tip but it (in my opinion) is the most helpful. You can’t hear other joggers, bikers or really anybody coming up behind you when you’re blaring the latest Beyonce track. I know music is motivating but running without it can be done. In fact, some experts recommend going without it from time to time as it gives you a chance to focus on how your body feels and fine-tune your movements.
Tell Someone Where You’re Going
If you’re going for a run, let someone know. Make sure to include when you’re planning to be back. This way they’ll look for you if you don’t return around the allotted time. I like to send a quick text message to my boyfriend when I run outside. I tell him how far I’m going and that I’ll text him when I return home. If I fail to do so, he’s quick to reach out to make sure I’m safe.
Don’t Place Your Whereabouts on Social Media
We all like to brag when we workout but for your safety, avoid placing your location or other telling tidbits that let people (particularly strangers) know where you like to run. Don’t give someone the opportunity to follow or worse, wait for you.
Carry Your Cell
Exercise may be one of the few times lots of us ignore our phone but if you’re running outside, don’t. You may need it to call for help. If you feel holding your phone will be a hindrance, get one of the arm bands which allows you to strap it on your bicep. There are also lots of cute jackets with pockets designed to keep your phone snug and secure while you workout.
Even if you’re running in a populated well-lit area, please stay alert. There’s no shame in looking behind you from time to time and if something seems squirrely, don’t hesitate to hightail it out of there. Trust your instincts.
Do you have more tips? Let me know them. Share in the comments or on our Facebook page.