Self-Protection for Outdoor Exercisers
from The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book
by Joan Price and Lawrence Kassman, M.D, © 2003
It's horrible to think that you have to anticipate protecting yourself against people who want to do you harm while you're exercising outdoors, but it's reality. Better to think out your strategies ahead of time and never need them than to avoid the subject and be unprepared when you're in danger.
John Martin, president and co-founder of Combat Arts Institute in Palatine, Illinois, cautions you to stay aware of your surroundings--not just traffic and terrain, but also the people. Be wary of people behaving strangely or showing facial expressions or mannerisms that aren't right--clenched fist, sweating while standing still, or furtive glances, for example. Stay clear of any person who makes you feel uncomfortable or fearful, even if there's no logical reason for your feeling.
Think before you stop to answer questions or offer help. Usually someone who asks the time or directions is another well-meaning person enjoying the trail or park--but someone who means you harm will often use this ruse to make you stop and get you off guard. Assess before answering, and answer without stopping.
If your gut feeling is that something isn't right, trust it. If anything makes you queasy or uneasy, don't stop. Your brain is capable of receiving signals that something is wrong before you can analyze the reason. "Acknowledge that your gut instinct is an indicator light--sometimes it will be wrong, but the higher risk is ignoring it when it's real" says Martin.
Martin offers these additional tips for staying safe:
- Know where you're going and what to expect. Know your environment before you go.
- Leave a way for someone else to track you. Let someone know your plan and your schedule. If you live alone, record a memo on your answering machine or leave a note at your front door telling when you're going, where, and when you expect to be back.
- If you carry your cell phone so you can call for help, practice using it without looking at it.
- Do not rely on defensive strategies--like pepper spray or other self-defense device--that you haven't been trained to use and practiced many times. Make sure anything you're carrying for defense is accessible--in your hand or ready to grasp in an instant, not in your back pocket or fanny pack.
- Know your escape route. What would you do if you were being chased? Where would you go to find safety? Run through this mentally.
- Don't wear a headset that either blocks outside sound or sends you into your zone where you're not paying attention. Stay receptive to warning sounds.
- Look at people's faces, but not directly into their eyes, which can be perceived as challenging. Look at their chins, noses, hands, feet, and clothing. Look for a second or two--don't stare. If you don't look at all, it's a sign of fearfulness. If you look too long, it's a challenge.
- Scream "NO! NO! NO!" if attacked or threatened. Don't yell "Help!" because many people are not willing to risk their own well-being to put themselves in an unknown danger. Yelling "No!" conveys that something bad is happening but doesn't sound as threatening as "Help!" and people are more likely to come out and see.
- Take some sort of training in how to break away from attacks.
- Walk with a few friends. It will make the walk more enjoyable and safer.