By Maya Dangerfield
Winter’s dark mornings and early-afternoons have many of the city’s runners logging more and more hours in the dark. For runners like Vivian Molina, 68, who run alone, winter means an increased awareness about personal safety.
“As a woman I’m very conscious about safety so when this came up, I didn’t even wait two seconds, I just signed us up,” said Molina.
Molina was among 20 runners who attended a free session on safety Jan. 6 at the Upper West Side’s outpost of Jack Rabbit Sports. Now the West 72nd Street business is set to launch a six-week self-defense workshop beginning February 4th for those wary about running alone in the city.
The series developed in response to the safety session’s positive reviews from attendees, according to Isang Smith, the branch’s outreach coordinator.
“Now that it’s darker during the day and most of us are training for marathons in the spring, it’s been on the mind of a lot of people especially running solo in the park,” said Smith.
New York City Park Advocates President Geoffrey Croft says that while today’s crime levels fall well below the 1970 and 1980 city average, the policing of parks remains inadequate.
“It’s pretty well-known that we have a handful of park office enforcement officers available to monitor our vast park system.”
While attacks on city runners remain relatively rare, incidents along popular paths have occurred in the last several years. In 2013 a homeless man stabbed five people along a running path in Riverside Park. In 2014 there were 20 robberies in Central Park, at least one of which involved a jogger, according to the NY Daily News.
Information about crimes targeting runners in parks is hard to come by — only 31 of the city’s parks have tracked crime statistics. Manhattan alone has 294 parks.
“We’ve been struggling to get the city to report crimes,” said Croft.
Women made up the majority of attendees for the Jan. 6 session. In between practicing self-defense maneuvers, some attendees recounted unsettling experiences while running. In 2013, runner Liz Pfau, 49, was followed during an early-morning run in Riverside Park.
“It’s definitely given me things to think about when I’m out. Some of these things I’ve done instinctively but there were some things I never thought about. Like if I was ever attacked what trigger points I would go for,” said Pfau.
The six-week course will by taught by Dimitri Ehrlich, 48, martial artist who specializes in Nihon Goshin Aikido, a Japanese mixed-martial art and the Tiger Claw system of Kung Fu. The course will focus on practical safety and specific techniques to evade and protect against attack.
“Most people want an easy victim. People who are robbing are nervous and scared too,” said Ehrlich.
The six-week session will offer a free introductory class and will charge for the follow-up sessions.
While practice is important in self-defense, having the appropriate mindset is key, according to Ehrlich.
“It’s not collapsing or giving up but telling yourself no matter what happens ‘I’m going to survive this.’ This is not a movie—this might not be pleasant or clean, it’s not going to look cool—it’s about surviving and waking up the next day alive,” said Ehrlich.
After the hour-long session, several attendees expressed interest in attending the longer self-defense series.
“Absolutely,” said Molina. “I have never been to one of these that it wasn’t worth the time.”
The six-week course costs $50 and take place February 4 to March 18. The drop-in cost is $10.
Photo by Jeffrey Zeldman.