Women typically have different experiences and perspectives from our male counterparts in most facets of life and trail running is no exception. I think it comes as a surprise, or at the very least, a novel idea for most men to even consider the thought of being cat-called on a run or harassed in any way but for any woman runner, this is a daily concern and unfortunate reality. As a professional runner, I run a lot (who would have thought!) and thus have had my fair share of negative encounters while running and can totally relate to the fears of safety while running alone that many women voice.
While there are plenty of safety concerns to consider when running alone on the roads, there is a whole menagerie of other “what-ifs” and “worst-case scenarios” to consider when out on the trails. Listen to any true-crime podcast and pull up a list of animal encounters in your area and any woman or man will be sure to have enough fear and terror in their head to rival even the best horror films.
Why is it that our male counterparts can go for a run on a trail without thinking twice while women are far more likely to perceive a greater risk of encountering predators (both animal and human alike)? Why are there far fewer women in trail running races as compared to road running races? What is the biggest roadblock for women to get into trail running that men may not face? In discussions with other runners as well as from surveys on social media I believe that the answer is: safety (or perceived safety).
Far and wide the most popular question I get on social media from other women is “How do you feel safe enough to run alone on the trails?” or “How do I get started in trail running when I don’t feel safe/competent enough?”.
While I expect this to be an ongoing dialogue, and we have a ways to go in our society in the manner in which women are treated, I have come up with a list of my top pro-tips and precautions for women who are looking to get into trail running. Below are the answers to the most frequent questions I get as a female professional trail runner as well as some ways to stay educated, as knowledge is empowerment and thats the best tool I could ever give to women stay safe out there:
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times = no earbuds!- I know that tons of people love to run with music or podcasts via earbuds and they sure do make time fly by. However, when out on a trail or deep in the wilderness, being aware and able to hear everything around you can go a long way in keeping you safe and making you feel safer too. If you need some distraction, try paying special attention to and noting all the different bird calls and other natural sounds. It will leave you with a greater sense of wonder and gratitude for all the mother nature has to offer.
- Pack your pack with intention- Most people think to bring water with them on runs and that is great but take it a step further. In my pack I like to pack things that I help me feel competent and safe in handling just about any situation I could encounter. Now that I live in Montana, bear spray is a must, however even when I live elsewhere I generally carry a small pepper spray bottle with me in the event that I encounter a human or animal predator. Additionally, I pack an extra outerwear layer as well as more food and water than I intend to use should I find myself lost, stuck in inclement weather, and/or out on the trail longer than I anticipated. If you are going into a super remote area alone, I would suggest packing a beacon, satellite phone, or other communication method with you should you need to call for help in an emergency.
- Research the wild animals in your area- Knowledge is super empowering. Learning about the wild animals I am likely to encounter when out on the trails has given me a sense of control and safety. It is also very important as you would treat an encounter with a moose very differently than you would treat one with a mountain lion or bear and snakes are a whole different can of worms *pun intended*. Knowing how to react in such situations will make you feel safer when you are out on the trails alone and could also save your life.
- Research the trails in your area- More knowledge! I tend to get a lot of comments from people saying that they don’t know where the trails are in their area and/or they don’t know the conditions of the trails and if they are safe. It is always great to stay up to date on trail beta and locations and some of the tools I use for gathering this sort of information include the trail finding app called AllTrails as well as searching for segments on Strava. Additionally, you might check Facebook as many areas have groups where local trail runners share information on trail conditions, updates, and reviews that can be very useful in preparing for your trail adventures.
- Am I good/strong/fast enough for trail running? - YES! No matter who you are, the answer is yes. The only thing you need to be for trail running is respectful of nature and ready for a good time. The great thing about trail running is that it doesn’t have to be fast (I straight up HIKED in both the National and World Championship races that I won). You also don’t have to be strong right away, you just need to be open minded to learning a new skill. The trails have a lot to teach us and you will improve your strength and ability to handle technical terrain naturally the more you practice. So have some patience, give yourself some grace, and get out there and start adventuring.
- How do I start trail running?- Have you ditched your earbuds, packed your pack, and done your research? Then I would say you are ready to start trail running even if you are a woman who is running alone! The more you practice the more comfortable you will be on the trails both in dealing with different types of terrain as well as being able to handle the myriad of situations you might face out in the wilderness. So throw on your shoes (trail shoes if you have ‘em!) and grab your pack; adventure is out there, even for us ladies!