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Trail Tips

Ask the Coach: Longing for Safety

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I run on trails that are not heavily populated and, as a woman, worry about my safety. How should female runners protect themselves on solo long runs in the deep woods?
—Sara Minsk, Mendon, MA

Coach polled a number of regular-Jane and elite runners for their input. Nearly all said, don’t do it. Dangers from creatures such as mountain lions and even two-legged predators, unforeseen weather, wrong turns or injuries are too high a risk. Find a partner, they advise, and Coach agrees.

But, if you must do a solo run, make sure somebody knows where you are (leave an exact route description of your run) and when you will be back, and check in when you return. Also, leave a note with your route and an emergency contact in your car at the trailhead (police find lonely cars worth investigating), don’t deviate from the route, don’t wear ear buds and carry a little extra food and water, as well as a jacket, a light, a map and, of course, ID.

In cougar country, also avoid dawn and dusk runs since—gulp—that’s feeding time. Coach advises practicing basic navigation skills, too, such as reading the sun for direction, topographical markings on a map and staying aware of trail landmarks such as distinct trees or rocks.

“Safety is your number-one priority on any run,” says California’s Way Too Cool 50K race director Julie Fingar, who does not run alone, “but especially in the ‘deep woods.’”