“Self-Defense Suggestions for Female Joggers?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Kevin Wolf

“Dear PoPville,

The news of the female jogger being attacked near Meridian Hill Park has been very upsetting for the female jogging community. Do you think you could ask the community to throw in their suggestions for staying safe while running in the city? In particular, I’d be curious to hear whether anyone has taken a self-defense class they found helpful. I was only able to find one while searching the internet, and their next “basics” class isn’t until July. I’m also curious about registering mace/pepper spray and whether others have found “personal alarms” (noisemakers) helpful.”

26 Comment

  • I live in Maryland, but DC is part of my usual running route. I started carrying pepper spray on my runs after an incident involving a dog bite and another one with a guy following me a little too long. If I’m by myself, I’m normally on busier streets and only out in the daytime. Frankly, I’d prefer to get in trouble for carrying it than getting attacked. I purchased it on Amazon.

    According to the dc.gov website, it looks as though you only have to register your pepper spray if you purchase it from a seller in the District (?): http://mpdc.dc.gov/page/mace-pepper-spray-and-self-defense-sprays. Is this just worded incorrectly?

    • That wording and interpretation is correct. You can purchase pepper spray out of state (or online from somewhere like Amazon) and legally have it shipped here without the need for registration. Registration is only for purchase from a DC retailer. Carrying it is always legal, as long as it isn’t used inappropriately or carried into a secure facility.

    • Wondering if you carry the pepper spray in your hand the whole time you are running

  • I have been very concerned about this issue as well since I live very near this latest attack and I’m often out earlier – between 5-6am. Some things that I do: try to run in a group, yes I know not everyone wants to get up and run at 5am but check out some of the local groups (Striders, Pacers, Potomac Runners, etc) and see if anyone wants to form an early morning group. Always be aware of your surroundings: I never run in the wee hours with headphones, not even on low. I’m always looking around and looking directly at people I pass – making eye contact – and yes, sizing everyone up to figure out if they trigger a “suspicious” alarm. Don’t run in secluded areas – not sure what I can say about that park since it certainly isn’t secluded nor empty at 6:30 in the morning. A friend of mine runs with a 3″ blade (anything under 3.5″ is legal to carry she says in the District). I have pepper spray that I sometimes run with – no it isn’t registered, but I’ll take that to a jury any day over not taking precautions to protect myself. I’m not sure about self defense classes, but I don’t see a downside in learning how to protect yourself. I’ve read some articles that state if you resist even a bit with a would be attacker, they are more likely to back off because they don’t want to prolong their “interaction” nor have to deal with a fight. I don’t know any statistics on that, but I’m fairly sure I’d rather risk more injury than not resist.
    Then you could do everything “right” and still end up a victim because people suck and that’s why I like animals better than humans.

    • Like almost any weapon, that knife might not only create a false sense of security, but actually be just as dangerous to herself unless she’s been thoroughly trained how to use it.

      • Which is exactly why I choose to carry something I can use from a little further away rather than up close. My friend works for an agency in which she has been trained on how to use such weapons.

        • Even for those who have been trained to use a knife, unless you are running somewhere that you are very likely to be attacked (say, Iraq) you are much more likely to somehow injure yourself with the knife than to successfully fend off an attack.

          • I’m pretty sure if you are trained to use a knife, you aren’t going to randomly hurt yourself with it. That’s kind of the point of training. I’ve carried a pocket knife for years and have never randomly hurt myself. And I imagine if my dog isn’t a successful thief deterrent, a knife in their face (or somewhere else) would be.

  • As a female runner, I’m always a bit nervous when people talk about self-defense classes, or carrying mace. I think both create a false sense of security. If you wouldn’t run in a place if you didn’t have mace or self-defense training, don’t run in those places with mace or self-defense training.

    For myself, If I’m running in the early morning, and can’t find someone to run with, then I stick to sidewalks of areas that I know will have some activity, even in the early morning. I think the mall is one place that is fairly safe. I would not run on trails (like the MBT, Cap Crescent, or Towpath) in the early morning by myself.

    • Be careful on the Mall, there have been muggings and attacks there in the past and it is fairly desolate (and dark) until at least daybreak when other runners come out.

  • Also – I think nothing screams “victim” or “target” like listening to music or carrying a cell phone on you in one of those arm things.

  • In the past, PoPville regular poster MPinDC has recommended self-defense classes done by DC Impact.

    • gotryit

      If you’re interested in a longer-term self-defense training path, I recommend Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The focus is on grappling (plus choke holds and breaking joints), which is good in case someone does try to restrain you, and the moves can make up for a pretty big difference in size / strength. It’s also a killer workout – you will be in great shape if you train consistently.

      My favorite quote from one of the big names: “The ground is the ocean, I am the shark, and most people don’t even know how to swim.”

  • I am a female runner in DC and I usually run around 5:30AM-6:00AM. I have mace but I usually always forget it and as other commenters have stated it can be a false sense of security…I’m always afraid I might mac myself lol… I never run with headphones in and always keep myself aware of my surroundings…if I see someone following too closely behind me for too long I’ll turn somewhere to see if they are following me…I also try to stay in areas that I know have a lot of runners or early morning commuters

    A few weeks ago I was running early in the morning when it was raining when I ran by a guy dressed in non running attire I thought nothing of it until I heard someone running closely behind me and turned around to see the guy…I stopped in front of house so he could pass me by which he did but he then stopped and came back towards me at which point I asked him to please keep his distance at which point he apologized and said he was lost and needed directions. I gave him directions and he took off but I waited until he had gone far ahead before continuing my run in a direction I would cross paths with him again…I don’t know if he was just looking for directions but I prefer to be paranoid and not to take any chances

  • xinbermz

    holy cow i didn’t know it was a fellow runner. i actually just purchased pepper spray earlier this week because of a creepy van full of men STOPPING and following me as I ran down 13th Street between Monroe St and Otis Place Sunday morning.
    i’m grateful that this incident has been the worst thing to happen while i’ve gone running but i agree with the above posters– running down populated streets not too early in the morning is my biggest rule. and when my Saturday morning long runs take me through rock creek park, although i’m one of those runners who can’t not listen to music, i’ve grown an appreciation for the birds chirping there 🙂
    stay safe everyone!!!

  • First off, while the prospect of being attacked is absolutely terrifying it’s good to take stock of the danger. You are, for example, far more likely to be hit by a car running on the street, than to be attacked while running on a path. Similarly while less crowded areas may feel unsafe, I suspect you are much safer in the northern section of RCP than most parts of Columbia Heights. Lastly, while a knife may make you feel safe, you are FAR, FAR more likely to either (a) injure yourself with it, or (b) have it taken from you and used against you, than you are to successfully fend off an attack.
    Be aware of your surroundings, do not wear headphones, and make decisions based on actual risk.
    Dogs are the most likely danger you will encounter. Unfortunately there are a minority of terrible awful people who mistreat their pets and take them in the park without leashes. Fortunately you should be able to defend yourself against most dogs. I suggest calling animal control with a description any time you see an animal off leash.

  • I filled out a pepper spray registration for good measure while I was at MPDC HQ registering firearms a few years ago. I bought a can online and had it shipped outside DC. The registration form was a very small piece of paper. Just filled it out, tore off a carbon copy, and was out the door. It was a non-event.

    I’d recommend researching and shopping online if you have somewhere outside DC you can ship to. There are lots of choices. However there are places in DC that sell it. I noticed Logan hardware had it a couple of weeks ago.

  • I used to carry pepper spray, but I run with a 95lb dog. I’ve never had any problems with creeps while running. Of course, when he knocked me over in pursuit of a squirrel (breaking one of my ribs in the process), nobody came to my aid, either.

  • I’d also suggest making sure someone knows where you are and when you’d expect to be back. My old roommate would have me tap on her door when I’d go out for my morning runs and tap when I got back. Now I tell my husband if I’m running in the morning or my coworker if I’m running over my lunch break.

  • as with any one of these experiences, there are always variables. But the best course of action is to find an instructor who has real world street defense experiences and can give you the most variety of scenarios and the possibilities that b will provide the best outcomes. I myself teach street self defense at HARD TRAINING CLUB on 1726 Kalorama rd. NORTHWEST. I believe self defense classes are the best bet with talking about street safety Because they give you the tools to momentarily incapacitate and extricate yourself from the situation. No one should have to feel as though the can’t an exercise safely in the item neighborhood. but it’s sad that you can’t. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing it. You just need to be prepared.

  • Pepper spray has to be sprayed on the face, and you need to be a few feet away so you don’t get the spray on you
    It’s not effective in evey circumstance (someone on drugs, for example, may not be affected)
    It takes a few seconds to work

    • Be careful relaying on pepper spray and a knife. Remember that these tools work if you are calm enough to employ them effectively and when you are in control of the situation. In the event of an attack, if your assaulter is able to overpower you he (or she) could easily use pepper spray or a knife against you.

      As commenter MM pointed out pepper spray needs to be sprayed in the face. If you hold it out and miss, or he is too far away, while you are standing there the attacker has time to get closure and turn your arm around to spray it in your face.

      If is difficult to know how you will react and how much mental control and calmness you will be able to maintain. A knife or pepper spray if displayed or waved at a stranger or less aggressive assailant might scare them away but they could do more harm then good if you are actually attacked.

  • I recommend checking out Krav Maga as an option. Knowing how to protect yourself with your own body, never leaves you in a position where you will be thinking “if I only brought my pepper spray”. You will get in great shape, gain confidence, and learn how to defend yourself in real world scenarios. Other styles like Brazilian Jiujutsu are great for learning sport fighting, but you do not want to bring a fight to the ground if you don’t have to.

    Check out http://www.kravmagacdk.com. the instructor is great, c the location

    • The location is right of the metro, and there is a full gym.

    • gotryit

      Many times you can’t help a fight going to the ground. Like if someone grabs you. Or if you miss on your first strike.
      Taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with an MMA angle is about as close to practice fighting as you can get – far different from sport type martial arts like Judo.
      Also, you can practice with real moves, unlike Krav Maga… you only have two eyes to gouge out.

      • I agree with you completely. You might trip, get punched or thrown, who knows what. Krav teaches you how to strike from the ground, how to escape different positions safely, and how to minimize the damage you will take on ground. Nowhere near the precision or complexity you gain from focused BJJ. But a street encounter is not MMA. You don’t want to roll against two people or against someone with a knife, you want to be on your feet ready to strike or run. As for practice, sparring is part of the curriculum, both ground and stand up. Weapons defenses are taught as well. So you have plenty of time to practice with real moves.

        Please don’t get me wrong, I love BJJ. I would recommend it to anyone interested. Just my opinion is the Krav is a more complete self defense system.

Comments are closed.