The tragic death of Laken Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student killed while jogging on the University of Geogia campus last February, put a bright (and sadly, recurring) spotlight on runner safety.

As the epicenters of running culture in their local communities, run specialty shops play an important role in educating the public about safety while working out, whether it’s safety from personal attacks, traffic, nature or other hazards. 

“I hate to be alarmist, but I also want to be proactive and the more we can help runners be equipped, aware and safe, the better,” says Genie Beaver, owner of Atlanta-based West Stride.

Beaver calls safety a big part of West Stride’s mission as a female-owned store. The 16-year-old running shop has hosted self-defense clinics, stocks its showroom with safety-oriented products and promotes regular group runs as an alternative to running solo. 

Of course, West Stride isn’t alone in championing runner safety. Many other running retail operations embrace a similar mission, particularly, but certainly not limited to, National Running Safety Month in November.

Safety In Numbers

While certainly a marketing vehicle and community-building tool for running shops, regular group runs are perhaps the single biggest way run shops can promote runner safety. Importantly, group runs reinforce the idea of safety in numbers. 

If someone is to get injured or sick on a group run, someone is present to help. A group of runners, meanwhile, is more visible than a lone individual on the road. 

Yet more, many stores design their group run courses with safety in mind, choosing well-lit paths and employing a “sweeper” to monitor the pack. At group runs, retail staff can also broadcast “rules of the road,” such as obeying traffic signals, running on sidewalks and crossing at intersections to stir awareness. 

“In Georgia, our biggest threat is car visibility and awareness of rules of the road,” Beaver says. “It’s important that runners know about being a good citizen on the street.”

Programming and Events

On March 14, City Park Runners in Winnipeg announced it would be holding a Women’s Self-Defense Clinic on April 16. The two-hour event promised to cover simple escape and counter techniques, risk reduction, basic body weapons and awareness tips. The event’s 45 slots sold out in four hours, according to City Park owner Jonathan Torchia. Another 37 joined the event’s waitlist.

“It’s sad and unfortunate that women need to think about these things, but it’s relevant and important and the response demonstrates as much,” says Torchia, who earmarked the City Park event’s $10-per-person fee to a local women’s shelter.

From the Charlotte Running Company in North Carolina to the St. George Running Center in Utah, other running stores have hosted self-defense clinics of late to raise awareness and readiness.

Extending the education beyond potential personal attacks, City Park Runners pushed the safety angle in a different direction with its Women’s Heart Health Event on February 26. At the free, two-hour program, certified personal trainer Amanda Younka presented the latest research on women’s heart health and discussed the preventative measures women could take to reduce their risk of a heart-related event.

Assorted Products To Promote Safety

The running industry is filled with products designed with safety in mind. 

• Reflective apparel and bands to increase visibility and headlamps to illuminate a runner’s path. 

• Bone conduction headphones to allow a runner to enjoy music while still being aware of external noise. 

• Belts and pouches for runners to carry a phone, ID or money. 

In addition, stores can alert runners to safety features on items, like reflective elements on jackets or footwear. 

“Just as we need to think of what footwear runners need to stay healthy and active, we have to think about what our customers need to stay safe as well,” says Nakia Weable, co-owner of Feet First Sports in Columbia, MD.

The Digital Megaphone 

Having safety-related products in the showroom, however, is only half the battle. It’s equally important that run shops let people know what’s available so they can stay safe and active on the run. Here, social media is a helpful megaphone.

Feet First and Runaround Running & Lifestyle in Joplin, MO, have both used Instagram to spotlight safety products available at their respective stores, from hats to LED clips to shoe lights. 

In one Instagram post during National Runner Safety Month, Feet First not only shared a photo of various safety-oriented products at its shop, but also provided quick tips for running amid diminished daylight, such as traveling against traffic, carrying ID, following traffic laws and staying alert.

Running shops, such as Milwaukee-based Performance Running Outfitters and John’s Run/Walk Shop in Lexington, KY, meanwhile, have used their blogs to provide more detailed information on running safety. Both published “How to Stay Safe When Running in the Dark” articles, which included tips like monitoring the weather, sharing the running route with another and wearing reflective gear.

“It’s an admittedly delicate balance because you don’t want to make money off fear,” Feet First’s Weable says. “At the same time, though, you do want to educate and empower people so they can remain safe and active.”