women runners

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.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 17 comments | permalink
    1. PastaP says:

      Maybe get a gym membership then?

      • pjrod830 says:


      • G says:

        While I understand the practicality of what you’re saying, do you really think that this is the answer? This article does not explicitly say so, but part of the reason that the fear of WOMEN (as opposed to men) is stressed is because women and girls are disproporionately affected by sexual assault. Of course the safest answer would be to only work out in in a populated gym (where less-violent yet still-effecive sexual aggressions commenly occur), but is this really the message we want to spread?

        I’m sorry if I seem on the offense, or if I am playing devils advocate too hard, but I’m tired of hearing rape that happens in not-broad daylight being compared to something like a robbery that occurs down a shady street alley in the middle of the night. Exercising alone or when the sun is not out should not be akin to “lacking common sense”.

        I don’t know, maybe still I have more to learn in life, but it seems to me that if having this “sense” is only important for (mostly) women and girls to possess, it’s not exactly “common” sense.. I just refuse to accept that I should be somehow comfortable and accustomed to viewing my body as something that is equivalent to my new purse of a wallet full of money to be stolen (because of course, everyone knows you don’t walk down the street waving one hundred dollar bills in the air!).

        Sorry if I seem frustrated.. I guess the issue is much larger than this, but I think that telling women and girls to stay in the gym is a step in the wrong direction. what do you think?

        • Independent says:

          In an ideal world, no law-abiding citizen who was not harming anyone would have to fear harm from violent thugs anywhere, at any time.

          In the real world, reasonable people weigh the needs for or benefits from being in a particular place at a particular time against the relevant risks and make decisions accordingly.

          (Meanwhile, those who have the motivation and means take part in various efforts toward bringing reality closer to the ideal.)

          William Jay died here maintaining his right-of-way.
          He was right, dead right, as he sped along
          but now he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.”

    2. amy says:

      I run in Central Park almost every morning and have honestly never been afraid. There are hundreds of runners even in the worst weather, before dawn.

    3. RF says:

      As a female runner I think this is great to also network women in the area who can become running partners (always looking for someone who gets up as early as I do)

    4. Christina says:

      Everything has it’s risks! Just be street smart and aware of what you’re doing!

    5. Diego says:

      To be frank, probably the biggest favor you could do for yourself safety-wise while running is to STOP LISTENING TO MUSIC! Not only are you distracting yourself from your surroundings but you’re basically announcing to any potential assailant that you’re carrying something of value.

      • Independent says:

        I concur wholeheartedly with this point about remaining aware and alert and not displaying items of conspicuous high-value and desirability to potential attackers.

        The latter can also be an argument against carrying an expensive “smart phone” around. (In addition, of course, to the other much-discussed privacy and social concerns posed by such devices. I do, though, realize the draw and even, as is all-too-often the case in the inexorable technological tyranny we find ourselves in, the /needs/ for such devices. Alas, I am not immune from either myself.)

    6. yoyomama says:

      I actually feel SAFER running in the Park in winter (than in summer) because all the leaves are off the trees so it’s easier to see what’s around you. And if there’s snow, it reflects the street lights so it’s even brighter.

      But that’s just me.

      Either way, it’s probably best to run with a friend when it’s dark — regardless of the season.

    7. Phoebe says:

      As if self-defense would help… Come on, few women are able to pull off bloodthirsty vengeance behavior adequate to equal an attacker, after a lifetime of civility, even after the best course in self-defense, nor would we want to become what we abhor in others. I think the only way to run safely is running in pairs or groups. That sounds like real self-defense to me.

      • Independent says:

        Skepticism about the practical effectiveness of a self-defense course of the likes of the one featured in the article would appear reasonable.

        Equating legitimate self-defense with “bloodthirsty vengeance behavior” and “what we abhor in others” is not at all reasonable.

    8. S_runner says:

      Three kids on bikes tried to surround me and mug me this past winter on the 102nd street transverse at 4pm after the cop car posted on the transverse left for the day. And considering I used to be a solo female runner that would run the loop at 9pm, I’m more uneasy about running in the park now than I was a decade ago. Always good to learn self-defense, considering the crime is up esp in the West 90s.

      • Independent says:


        I’m glad that you seem to have escaped without harm from the attempted attack that you described, apparently triumphing over a bunch of thugs.

        I can’t imagine being the only one who would be interested in hearing more details of this incident that you mention.

        How did you foil the attack?

        Were these “three kids” ever, to the best of your knowledge, apprehended by law enforcement?

        Perhaps you would be willing to describe the “three kids” in question? Their apparent ages, appearances, etc.?

        Consider, if you have not already, that even if these individuals were apprehended, the odds of them again posing a threat to others at some point remains far from remote– at least if relevant history and statistics are any indication.

        Finally, given that we are currently in the middle of winter, it is not clear what you meant by “this past winter”. Did you, perhaps, mean earlier this winter?

    9. Independent says:

      What about the Riverside Park pedestrian transverses to the river?

      Any comments or thoughts regarding the safety of any of these?

      Any experiences with any of them?


    10. Phoebe says:

      I wrote what I wrote not long after having overheard girls on the bus excitedly get out their cellphones and call guy friends so that they could, together, confront a bunch of other girls at a meeting point near where I decided NOT to exit the bus. I am glad to be of the gender who, more typically, perhaps by nature, do not have a trigger-like reaction to violence. When you hurt another living creature, the image remains to haunt. That is a fact that any soldier can tell you. I do not think that the solution to violence is more violence. I also think that most violent men are incited to escalate violence when a woman starts to fight. I am more angry than words can express, that women have no freedom to walk the streets without sexual harassment (from gay men, as well) and fear, at any age, of rape. I have no solutions, but I am wary of teaching girls that punching back is required, just to fit in. And remember: pick on someone your own size, or beware!