Self-Defense For Runners: How To Stay Safe On The Road

It is a grim reality that, on a regular basis, runners get attacked while out running. In fact, a 2021 Runner’s World survey found that sixty percent of runners have been harassed, either verbally or physically, while out running. Tragically, some runners have even lost their lives or disappeared. This is why it is paramount to learn self-defense for runners.

Runners can take steps to elevate their safety while running, including where we run, when we run, with whom we run, and what we run with. Unfortunately, running itself is not a self-defense tactic and we cannot assume we can outrun our attacker. Our fitness and adrenaline cannot be counted on in these situations. 

We want to keep you safe, so in this article, we are going to go through: 

  • The top self-defense for runners products
  • Essential self-defense for runners tips
  • 5 self-defense moves for runners, and
  • Ways to escape an attacker

Let’s get started. 

Related: How to Boost Your Immune System Through Running

Self-defense for runners class: a woman hitting a man in the face.

self-defense For Runners: What should I use?

In a best-case scenario, you have taken self-defense for runners classes to learn key moves to disarm an attacker so they are able to run away. Many local YMCAs, gyms, and even local police departments offer self-defense for runners classes. A quick google search can help you find classes offered in your area.

Runners may also run with items such as pepper spray, mace, a sharp object, an alarm, or even a stun gun. It’s important to check state or local laws to see which safety devices are legal in your area. 

A close-up of a pepper spray bottle.

Should I run with pepper spray?

Yes, it is a good idea to run with pepper spray if you are a runner, as long as you know how to use it. If you are attacked, you won’t have time to fidget with your pepper spray, trying to figure out how to use it on the fly. You may even accidentally spray yourself. 

Learn how to use your pepper spray in advance by reading the directions and practicing what you would do if you were attacked. 

By the way, pepper spray and mace are not the same things. Chemical mace “is classified as an irritant similar to tear gas. Pepper spray is classified as an inflammatory agent and will immediately incapacitate an assailant.”

Related: What to Eat Before Running in the Morning

A close-up of a taser.

Should I run with a knife?

It is not advised to run with a knife as you may inflict harm upon yourself, or it could be used against you by an attacker. However, you can run with a sharp object specified for self-defense, such as this ring knife weapon.

Self-Defense For Runners: What is a runner’s most Useful weapon?

Pepper spray is a runner’s most useful and common tool to protect themselves. Here is a list of some more popular products to use as self-defense for runners: 

  • Mace
  • Pepper spray
Two people running during the day.

When is the safest time Of Day to run?

The safest time to run is when it is daylight, and there are people around. Typically, that is after work during the weekdays and late morning and afternoon on the weekends. Aim to run in well-lit and well-trafficked areas.

Related: When is the Best Time to Run: Morning, Afternoon, or Night?

How do you run safely?

Running safely means being aware of your surroundings and not putting yourself in harm’s way. Here are some essential safety tips for runners.

13 Safety Tips for Runners

  1. Run when it’s light outside
  2. Run with other people (especially if you must run when it’s dark outside). 
  3. Don’t listen to music (or run with only one earbud in or use bone conduction headphones) so that you can hear what’s around you. 
  4. Stay vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings, constantly scanning the area around you. 
  5. Make eye contact with others, so they know that you have seen them. 
  6. Cross the road or turnaround if you see something or someone that makes you uncomfortable. 
  7. Run in areas that are well-trafficked by runners. 
  8. Run with your phone and keep it easily accessible. 
  9. Keep your dominant hand free.
  10. Consider carrying a self-defense for runners tool like pepper spray, a lipstick taser, or a personal safety alarm.
  11. Avoid texting, talking on the phone, or doing anything that distracts you from what is going on around you. 
  12. Take a self-defense for runners class. 
  13. Call the police if you need help.
A woman kneeing a man in the groin.

8 Self-Defense for Runners Tips

Before we get to our essential self-defense for runners moves, here are some self-defense tips:

  1. Take a self-defense class. Research shows that people who take self-defense classes feel more confident in protecting themselves. If you can take a self-defense class like Krav Maga, you will not regret it. Practice your moves regularly. 
  2. Get a self-defense tool. Get familiar with it by practicing how to access it and put it to use quickly.
  3. Hit where it hurts. Avoid the chest and knees when attacking your attacker, which is an ineffective target. Go for vulnerable areas like the groin, throat, or ear. 
  4. Yell and use all your force. Draw attention to yourself and show your attacker that you are not someone to be messed with. 
  5. Keep your dominant hand free. 
  6. Use something hard to hit your attacker. You can use your keys or phone to hit your attacker in the jaw.  
  7. Recoil quickly. If you hit or kick, bring your arm or leg back quickly so it can’t be grabbed. 
  8. Turn into your attacker. If held, turn into your attacker to break their grasp while hitting, elbowing, and kicking.
A woman elbowing a man in the throat.

5 Self-Defense Moves for Runners

#1: Hammer Strike

If an attacker comes at you, hold a hard object like a key ring in a tight fist as if you’re holding a hammer with the keys sticking out of the side of your hand. Thrust your hand down at your attacker like you were hammering something. Then run. 

#2: Groin Kick

Another move you can use if someone is coming at you from the front is to kick them as hard as you can in the groin. This should paralyze your attacker so you can run away. 

If you don’t have enough space to wheel back your leg and use your foot, use your knee and drive it upward towards your attacker’s crotch. Keep a wide stance, so you don’t fall over. You can also kick your attacker in the shin, another sensitive area, and then run away.

A woman elbowing a man in the temple.

#3: Ear Strike

This move assaults your attacker’s equilibrium by hitting the temple, which is a pressure point, and hurting the eardrum. Have your feet in a staggered stance, and with your elbow locked out of your strongest arm, swing your arm at the ear with your palm flat. Do this with all your might. 

#4: Heel palm strike

This move can do a lot of damage to the nose or throat. With your dominant hand, flex your fingers back. With your palm, jab up toward your attacker’s nose or under their chin at the throat. Pull your arm back and run!

#5: Elbow strike 

If your attacker is too close for you to use your whole arm or leg, you can use your elbows. Have a wide stance with a strong core. Bend your arm and lean forward. Use your elbow to strike your attacker’s neck, chin, temple, jaw, or ear. Hopefully, this stuns or disorients them so you can escape. 

A woman hitting a man in the neck with her palm.

Ways to Escape an Attacker

There may be times when an attacker jumps out and grabs you before you can react with a kick or punch. If you are being held, these three moves will help you escape. 

One thing these moves have in common is that you counterintuitively turn into the hold (kind of like turning with the skid when driving on ice). This will help break their grasp and create enough space for you to fight back and wiggle free.

Escape a Bear Hug

If you are grabbed from behind, bend forward as much as possible. This makes it hard to be picked up and gives you an angle to elbow your attacker in the face and ears. 

Then turn into the attacker, using one of your elbows to continue elbowing. You should then have space to turn all the way around and get momentum to use one of the above moves to injure or disarm your attacker. 

A group taking a self-defense class.

Escape with hands trapped

If the attacker bear hugs you from behind while trapping your arms, shift your hips to one side, so you have access to knee them in the groin. 

Then bring your hand back into your arm. Raise your opposite elbow and turn into the wrap with your arms close to your chest. Knee your attacker repeatedly until you can free yourself.

Escape from a side headlock 

If your attacker locks your head with their arm, turn into the attacker’s side to avoid getting choked. With your outside hand, hit their groin with your palm until you can wiggle free. Then run. 

Staying safe is our number one priority, but if you absolutely must run at night, check out our tips to do so as safely as possible: Running At Night.

If you need guidance training for a race, check out our training resources from beginner to ultra-marathon distance.

A group of runners running during the day.
Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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