Health & Fitness

Running from danger: How women can stay safe while training

Alexandra Brueger was shot and killed while running on Fish Lake Road in Rose Township outside Detroit on July 30.
Alexandra Brueger was shot and killed while running on Fish Lake Road in Rose Township outside Detroit on July 30. Facebook

In recent weeks, the running community nationwide has been shocked by the slayings of three avid female runners — all of whom were partaking in their daily training in broad daylight.

In order:

July 30: Alexandra Brueger, a nurse in Detroit, was shot and killed during a 10-mile run on a dirt trail.

Aug. 2: Karina Vetrano was raped and killed while running on a trail in a Queens, New York, park.

Aug. 7: New York City resident Vanessa Marcotte was found dead, burned and possibly sexually assaulted after not returning from a run in her parents’ hometown of Princeton, Massachusetts.

As Gabriel Paiella wrote in New York Magazine, “These murders are notable because they’ve shattered the perception that this particular violent crime only takes place under certain circumstances, which was always a subtle way of suggesting that the victims were somehow complicit in their own attacks.”

In other words, despite following all the common-sense precautions — not being out late at night, not being provocatively attired, not being distracted by headphones — tragically, these women were violently victimized anyway.

These incidents have served as a reminder for female runners how vigilant they need to be.

If I get a weird feeling in my gut about a white van passing by me too many times, I turn around and run home.

Whitney Cherner, Lake Worth runner

Delray Beach resident Melissa Perlman is one of Palm Beach County’s most decorated distance runners and an assistant track/cross country coach at Spanish River High. A former Florida high school state champion, collegiate cross country runner and European Maccabi Games silver medalist in the half marathon, Perlman tries to train in group settings whenever possible.

However, when circumstances dictate she run alone early in the morning or in the evening, she admits, “I definitely have a healthy fear, so I try to trust my intuition when I am somewhere that potentially is unsafe.”

As a single woman, she says it’s important to always “inform someone (friend, spouse, neighbor, roommate) of the route you are following and your expected return time.”

Whitney Cherner of Lake Worth expresses the frustration so many female runners feel in needing to take precautions that male counterparts rarely, if ever, think about: “As a woman, it makes me angry that I have to think about safety so much when I run. I want to just go out and enjoy my run. But as a mother of four, I value my safety even more because I have to be there for my kids.”

Cherner notes that “now if I get a weird feeling in my gut about a white van passing by me too many times, I turn around and run home.”

At Fleet Street Sports in Delray Beach, husband-and-wife owners Nick and Mackenzie Stump counsel their customers about some of the best strategies — and products — to ensure their safety.

“Running safety, for me, is about communication,” Mackenzie says. “It’s important to unwind when you run, but a wave, a smile, the runner’s nod and a ‘hi’ make you a familiar face that people look for on your routes.”

“We are all about the ‘buddy system’ for both training and group runs,” Nick says. “But when you can’t be with a partner or group, awareness is the most important aspect of running safely.”

Among the safety gear that the Stumps recommend for all runners:

▪ Mini-clip strobe lights for nighttime reflectivity.

▪ High-visibility running vest for nighttime reflectivity for others to see you.

▪ Handheld flashlight with siren.

▪ Handheld pepper spray.

▪ Waist belt to easily carry cellphone and other emergency gear.

In addition, safety experts recommend downloading a free safety app such as bSafe to your cellphone. With the bSafe app, you can activate an audible alarm that immediately starts broadcasting to your contacts video captured by your phone, as well as your GPS location. This data is continually collected, updated and recorded, and can be shared with authorities if the need arises.

Safety tips for female runners

▪ Avoid running alone in the dark.

▪ If running in the dark, stay on populated, well-lit streets.

▪ Be sure someone (friend, relative, spouse) knows your intended route and when you should return.

▪ Change your route periodically.

▪ Always run with your cellphone and identification.

▪ Don’t wear noise-canceling headphones.

▪ Wear reflective clothing.

▪ Carry pepper spray.