Last week, there was a lot of talk about an incident in Midland involving a “suspicious white van” that was spotted in the northwest area of town on two separate occasions by a couple of females who were out running/biking. This incident has brought about a lot of conversation on social media in the comment sections on the story and on several different radio news broadcasts I have heard personally during my drive to and from work. As a defensive shooting instructor, I want to weigh in with some tips for any individuals (women especially) who might be interested in self-defense while exercising.
First, choose a route that is very public and has high visibility such that a “bad guy” wouldn’t likely choose to lay in wait for a victim in that location. Neighborhood sidewalks that are relatively close to major roads or heavily trafficked parks with jogging paths out in the open are ideal locations. Biking/jogging trails with areas that are isolated and out of public view are not good choices unless you have at least one buddy with you. Having a buddy is generally a good idea regardless of the location you choose but is essential if you are going to be moving through places that would provide potential attackers with an opportunity to ambush you outside of sound/sight range of the general public. Do your individual workouts where there are lots of people around and you will avoid putting yourself into the most probable circumstances for an attack. The individuals who reported the suspicious van last week were both in very public places when they spotted it and were able to flag down neighbors or rapidly flee to safety and call the police, which is a huge positive from that story.
Second, picking the right time of day is very important. If possible, you should run during daylight hours for the same reasons listed above. If not, morning is preferable to night time if darkness is your only option or preference. Bad guys are less likely to be “on the prowl” so to speak in the early morning ‘before work’ hours as opposed to night time. Darkness is another circumstance where you are going to want to have a buddy, even if that buddy has fur and bites. Dogs are great running companions unless they are fat basset hounds like mine.
Third, tell someone where you are going and make sure to give a timeline for your expected return. A lot of unspeakable tragedies have unfolded when nobody knew where someone was and didn’t know that they were missing until it was too late. Sending a simple text message could be the difference between life and death if something happens to you while you are out just trying to get a workout. This doesn’t even necessarily have to do with the worst case scenario of a bad man pulling you into his van. Think about what would happen if you injured yourself in some way during your workout. You would want someone to know where to come find you and render aid when you don’t return. It’s also a good idea to take your cell phone with you so that you can make emergency communication if something were to happen. This is another thing that the joggers/bikers in the van story did right as they got to a safe location and called the police.
Fourth, get a defensive tool and learn how to use it properly in context. There are a wide variety of lethal and non-lethal defensive tools that you can have on your person while working out such as pepper spray, blades, firearms, or all of the above. I’m a gun guy so I’m going to recommend you get your concealed handgun license, some quality defensive shooting instruction, and carry your gun even when you go for a jog. There are small frame semi-autos and holsters that work very well for runners. When I run, I carry the I.C.E. Belly band from Crossbreed with my Springfield XDM or XDS 9mm. Clearly, not everyone is interested in the firearm option but there are others at your disposal depending on what level of force you feel comfortable with potentially using. Make sure you do your research on whatever product you choose to carry or any class you choose to take. There are a lot of bad ideas being marketed as defensive tools as well as a lot of bad instructors who take advantage of the lack of knowledge especially in their female students. If any instructor recommends that you defecate/urinate on yourself to deter an attacker or carry a whistle as some sort of defensive tool; know that you are being taken advantage of (these things are actually being taught). You need to learn how to defend yourself in the worst case scenario by seriously injuring your attacker with your hands or your defensive tools. Any tool or training methodology that doesn’t prepare you to do that if you need to is a waste of time. I was glad to hear that one of the women involved in the van story expressed interest in getting a firearm to carry with her in the future. Hopefully she gets some quality training to go along with it. If you know her or happen to be her, I know a guy who’s good for that sort of thing!
That’s my basic advice to anyone who wants to stay in shape while staying ready for self-defense. Avoid the situation by staying in highly trafficked areas during daylight hours, have a buddy, tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back, have defensive tools, and learn how to use them. Hopefully you never find yourself in a situation where you need to deal with an attacker; but if you do, it’s better to be prepared than to have to improvise in the moment.