Keeping Safe and Running in Strange Places

Keeping SafeThe combination of running for exercise and traveling for work means I’ve found myself outdoors in many places I don’t know well. Sometimes those places end up being wonderful areas to run, with wide sidewalks and bright lights and beautiful scenery. Sometimes they end up being giant industrial office parks.

One thing that is constant though is that it’s important to stay self-aware and safe when running in a new place. Specifically, you want to avoid being hit by a vehicle or falling victim to an interpersonal crime, both of which are risks for runners, especially in areas they don’t know well.

Here are some tips for keeping safe:

  • Scope out your route on a drive. This tip was offered by @ShellDSmith, and is a good one. When you’re planning to run in an unfamiliar place, drive the route first so you can check it out. If you don’t like what you see, find a new plan.
  • Use a map app to guide your run. I don’t typically run with a GPS app, but when I am in a new place, I do. An app like Runkeeper not only tracks how far I’ve gone, but it produces a digital trail of my route that I can follow back to my hotel. This was particularly important when I ran in China, where I could not read any of the street signs.
  • The running map I was given on a recent stay at a Hyatt in New Jersey.
    The running map I was given on a recent stay at a Hyatt in New Jersey.

    Ask at your hotel for a recommended route. Many hotels, especially nicer ones, keep maps at the front desk of running routes in the areas. Hyatts and Westins seem particularly good about this. Usually a route that the hotel recommends will be safe and well-lit, although you can’t assume this will be true. Once in New Jersey (not the map pictured, a different trip) I followed a route recommended by a hotel that had me crossing a highway entrance ramp. I ended up doing laps in a parking lot eventually rather than see where that route led.

  • Look for campuses, downtowns, or other populated areas. If you aren’t familiar with your location, try to run around areas that are likely to have a crowd. College campuses are often a good bet (and as a bonus, may have car-free paths for running), as are downtowns (which may have pedestrian-clogged sidewalks, but are safer than more rural roads).
  • Try to run during daylight. This isn’t always possible, especially if you’re traveling for work, but if you can, sneak in your run while visibility is high. Even if you do manage to run during daylight . . .
  • Dress in bright reflective clothing. It’s always important to be visible to drivers when you run outdoors, and especially so if you’re running before dawn or after dusk. Pack your most neon brights and consider accessories with blinking lights to add additional visibility.
  • Leave the headphones home, or turn the music low. I listen to music when I run, but always keep the volume low enough to hear ambient noise. When I don’t know where I am, I crank it even lower. I can easily hear my own footsteps, and more importantly, approaching vehicles, bikes, and other runners.
  • Bring a pal. I am almost always a solo runner, but a few times I’ve run with coworkers when we’re traveling someplace new. I may give up my precious alone time, but in return I get the safety of a group and a bonding experience with my coworkers.
  • Be open to a change in plans. Listen to your instincts and don’t continue if a route you planned looks dark or dangerous. Turn back, go a different way, or even do my least favorite but sometimes necessary Plan B, run laps of an office park. Bored is better than hurt.

I’d love to hear from others how they stay safe when running in new areas. What are your best safety tips for road running in an unfamiliar place?