Shining a light on personal safety: thoughts after finishing Liza’s run

Liza Fletcher, finishing the 2022 Princess Half Marathon

Liza Fletcher. She was one of us. She was a runDisney runner.  Last week she was out for a training run early in the morning last week, and never made it home.  The elite runner was abducted and murdered, and the running world has been shook.  Long distance running is often a solo sport, and for those of us with day jobs, training for marathons or half marathons usually requires us to find time to train in the impossibly early morning hours.  I generally opt for treadmill running in the dark, but it’s a dismal choice when training long distances.  There’s only so much that House of the Dragon can do to take my mind off the monotony. 

Liza Fletcher, mother of young children and educator, made the same choice that many of us would make in order to meet her goals and commitments, but a deranged individual took her life and reminded us all that we live in a world where we can never take our safety for granted. I wish it weren’t so but this sad moment is an opportunity for us to think about what we can do to stay safe while running. 

There are plenty of social media sites touting that women should be able to run at any time of day and wearing whatever they want.  Of course they should, that was never in dispute.  But let’s be honest about this for a moment.  No matter how gentle and tolerant the world becomes, there are always going to predators in our midst.  As runners, it’s our own responsibility to take as many precautions as possible to protect our safety.  Any other position is dangerously naïve.

The hashtag #finishelizasrun has trended exponentially this week.  Runners around the country, in groups and solo, donned pink shirts to honor the late runner and create solidarity within the community.  Some runners ran her exact route, some ran her exact mileage or the mileage she had remaining when she was abducted, and some did what they could.  This sad moment brought us together out of care and love for a sister most of us never met.  Perhaps the movement can bring about some change that will save another runner’s life in the future.  For sure it has raised the collective awareness of safety while running.

I wore pink to #finishelizasrun

My heart was full as I embarked on my long early morning run yesterday.  I ran on my normal trail and passed countless other women in pink and purple.  It was comforting, but also sad.  The peace of mind I normally enjoy on the trail was diminished by more frequent checks over my shoulder, and my mind wandered to Liza and her final moments.  The world changed a bit for all of us last week.  RIP Liza.

There have been a lot of great pieces of advice surrounding safety that have been crowd sourced in the days since Liza’s abduction.  I’ve collected some of them here, if you have more ideas, please leave a comment and share them.

Personal Safety Guidelines

Don’t run alone at night:  I know this sounds very obvious, but it bears repeating

Make sure someone knows where you are: Always let someone know where you’re running and when you expect to return

Carry your phone with you: You can call for help, you can take a picture of anyone who is acting suspicious around you.  Yes, you will have to deal with stowing it somewhere accessible, but it might be your most valuable tool in terms of defense.

Smart watches: Some of the newer smart watches have built-in safety capabilities – incident detection, live tracking, and emergency contact notification.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but Garmin and Apple make the some of the most popular watches used by runners.

  • Garmin: Several of the newer models of smart watch come with incident detection.  While performing an outdoor activity, if watch sensors determined you might have been involved in an incident, messages will be sent to up to 3 pre-selected emergency contacts with your location information.  Read more about these safety features on the Garmin website.

  • Apple: Apple Watches come with an SOS feature and fall detection.  You can read about the SOS feature on the Apple support site.  The just-announced Apple Watch Ultra takes safety a step farther, with an 86-decibel siren, which might be enough to frighten a predator or help others locate you if you are lost.

Pepper spray: A small portable aerosol can of capsaicin oil can be sprayed in the eyes and nose of an attacker, temporarily disabling them.  Popular brands are Mace and Sabre and these types of products are widely available at sporting goods and running stores.

Personal Alarms: These are small keychain devices that pack a big sound at the click of the button.  Help alert others around you that you need help.

Of course, the foundation of safety is awareness of your surroundings. Stay alert, watch for suspicious activity, and don’t hesitate to act if you feel threatened. Stay safe, my friends.

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