Running Tragedies & How to Stay Safe

Sherry ArnoldOn January 7, 2012, my cousin, Sherry Arnold did not return from an early morning run through the streets of her hometown of Sidney, Montana. She seemed to have disappeared into thin air, a very uncharacteristic behavior for this mother of two.  I still get goose bumps when I remember the call I received that morning. I listened as my aunt told me of Sherry’s disappearance and the one, lone running shoe that had been found by the side of the road. My mind went to a dark place. My heart begged, “Where are you? Please be okay.”

We waited for six more days before we learned what had happened. Sherry had been violently killed by two male strangers, high on drugs, who had just driven into town looking for work. A senseless, horrific crime. A work of evil that stole a mother from her two teenage children, a wife from a loving husband, a daughter from two adoring parents, a teacher from her students, and a vibrant human being from all of those who loved her.

Then, in June, my heart sank again as I learned of another runner, Sarah Hart, who was killed while running alone in Kentucky. A mother of three, she was  pregnant with her fourth child. Sarah, age 31, had started out running with her sister, but turned back alone when she did not feel well. She was robbed and killed on her way back to her car.

Virtual Run for SherrySherry and Sarah’s stories have motivated runners worldwide to be more careful and to be increasingly aware of their surroundings. Many people stopped running alone altogether, or withdrew inside to the safety of their treadmills. Some took self-defense classes in Sherry’s and Sarah’s names. I know that I started to feel scared of evil lurking in a way that I had not before.

There are three common denominators of these two incidents:

  • Running alone
  • Being a woman
  • Running in an area or at a time of day when not many people were around

Makes me mad. No, makes me furious.

I am going to make a confession here. Even after Sherry was killed, I still run alone – only about half of the time, and not in isolated areas or when it is dark. But, still alone. I also drive a car even though 110 people are killed daily in car accidents. I go to Target alone even though women have been abducted in such parking lots numerous times.

I may be going against the grain here, but I am not going to stop running alone. I will take every precaution that I can. I do this when I drive by wearing a seat belt, by not being distracted, and by assuming everyone else on the road is stupid. In other words, I’m aware of my surroundings and I drive defensively. I also run defensively.

Beth Risdon

We are never totally safe. We do what we do to minimize risk, then we go on living, unafraid.

Here are some other things to do to be safe – not just while running, but as we move through our busy days:

  1. Always tell someone where you are going.
  2. Stay on well-traveled and well-lit roads. Do not take short cuts through woods, poorly lit areas, etc.
  3. If possible, run with a dog, a group or at least one other person.
  4. Ditch the headphones.
  5. Bring your phone.
  6. If someone looks shady to you, cross the street or go the other way.
  7. Vary your routes. Do not be predictable.
  8. Know where you are going. Looking confused and lost can make you a target.
  9. Do not be distracted. Perpetrators specifically look for people who are not 100% aware of their surroundings.
  10. Consider taking a self-defense class. You never know when you might need these skills.
  11. Reconsider the ponytail. This is an easy thing to grab and pull.
  12. Have an air of confidence. Walk or run tall with your head up.
  13. Trust your gut. If something/someone does not feel right, it probably is not.
  14. Bring pepper spray, but keep in mind it can be used against you too.
  15. If attacked, do everything in your power to not be taken to another location.

People say it is not fair that women have to be more careful and are easier and more frequent targets than men. Fair or not fair, it is a fact. Let us deal with it the best we can while continuing to make efforts to take back our streets.

We can learn from what happened to Sherry and Sarah. While we need to believe that there is more good than evil in this world, we also need to not let our guard too far down. Their deaths should remind us to live passionately, yet safely and to cherish life before us.  In the words that my sweet eleven year old daughter wrote about Sherry,

I know when I see the sun shining, I see her beautiful smile. When I  see thousands of million of stars in the night, I think of her gleaming brown eyes. Just remember when you say goodbye to someone, or even  just a simple goodnight, treasure that wonderful time.”

Be safe out there.


July 31, 2012 at 5:09 pm

If it’s legal where you are, carry a gun, either open-carry or obtain a ccw. A robber WILL think twice before attacking someone who is openly displaying a firearm and isn’t afraid to use it.


July 31, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Sarah Hart’s family is organizing a 4-mile (one mile for each of her children) race in her honor-it’s getting an amazing response. You can sign up as a virtual runner if you’re not in the area. Just search Run With All Your Hart to find the race homepage.

Gen Matchette

July 31, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I do those things when I run as well. It stinks that we have to do these things, but that’s life. Thanks for the reminders! Be safe out there. Gen =)

Pauline Wiles

August 01, 2012 at 7:30 am

I found this article sad and informative, in equal measures.
But I was distressed to see 8 people Like the suggestion to carry a gun when running. Apart from the obvious concern of the weapon being used against you (are you sure you would pull the trigger before he wrestles it off you?), is that really the world you want to live in? And for your daughters to grow up in? I’d advocate that we find ways to stay healthy, be safe and have fun, without all descending to society’s lowest common denominator.


August 01, 2012 at 7:58 am

GREAT post Beth!

Great reminders and a poignant position on running solo, and wanting and deserving to continue to do so.


August 01, 2012 at 8:11 am

I am a wellness and exercise science professor at a local college and I’ve been following Beth’s blog for over a year now. After the news of Sherry and Sarah hit, I started including a self – safety and self-awareness component in every class I teach – be it weight training, swimming or running. Strength has a foundation in preparation and doesn’t allow fear to prevent action. Today seems like a good day to drive this lesson home to my students…again. Thank you, Beth, for your thoughts and suggestions!

Patricia Juarez

August 01, 2012 at 8:39 am

What a horrific thing! Your tips are very good. Never thought of the ponytail risk. It is too bad, but we women just can’t go and hike alone in the wilderness anymore.


August 01, 2012 at 8:40 am

I bike alone every other day. I take a state trail that I absolutly LOVE and typically see people on the trail, until one day I was riding alone and it was like a ghost town out there, this trail is not visable from anywhere, it goes between fields of corn. There riding towards me was a shirtless middle aged man riding a childs dirt bike…..I thought here we go, now I can’t feel safe on a state trail. He biked past me and after about 10 seconds I looked back and there he was stopped and staring at me….I kicked it into high gear got to the next intersection and there was a sherriff’s deputy with two teen aged girls who’s car had been broken into….It is sad that society makes it so we cannot feel safe getting exercise, it isn’t always possible for me to find someone to ride with me, but I can assure you one headphone is always out of my ear and my mace, obtained by my cop friend is close at hand. My heart goes out to the families of anyone who experienced a violent attack like this..

Bosco Mozemowitz

August 01, 2012 at 8:58 am

A very good story about a woman changing the course of a sexual assault.

Calee (@chimes)

August 01, 2012 at 10:31 am

Thank you for posting these tips. I pre-route and tell the BF where I’m going and when I’ll be back, I have a Road ID (considering getting one with a GPS now, though I run less than I used to). My dog’s a jerk and won’t run (or walk) with me, and all my running buddies have long moved away. I typically stick close to campus and only run on major roads unless I’m with a friend.


August 01, 2012 at 10:32 am

I just started running (although I was an avid walker for years). I have found a new strength in running, but this article was a great reminder that you have to be prepared as well as strong. Thank you so much for sharing. This information/reminder may very well save the life of a runner.


August 01, 2012 at 5:04 pm

this was a stark reminder to me that i have been far to cavaliar about my own safety. I run at night and early in the morning – basically in the dark at both ends of the day. During my night runs I generally have a large dog with me (my GSP is a complete softy but she is big and so looks scary) but at 5am in the morning, I am alone. I am now looking into self defense courses and buying a whistle for my key chain. Thanks for the article.

Rhonda Pollard

August 01, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Besides running with 2 dogs and my cell phone, I have an ear-piercing whistle that is attached to my wrist…to whistle for the dogs (who run off-leash) or if I need to use in distress.


August 01, 2012 at 8:41 pm

First and foremost, I am so sorry for your loss. I have spent most of my adult life living in Montana’s mountain towns and highly value the ability to wander around in the outdoors by myself. I have always taken pride in my independence and taken for granted the ability to wander about the woods, go for a run early in the morning w/ a headlamp, or bike along the long and endless Montana roads. However, I recently moved to Sidney, MT as an employee of the hospital and wonder how to balance my fear of what happened to Sherry and my determination to not let such a horrific event hinder me from living my outdoor lifestyle. I am currently unable to have my faithful furry friend w/ me due to the insane housing problem and do own a gun. I only hope I never have to use it. Thank you for posting these tips. They serve as a timely reminder for me as I embark on my next adventure in Sidney.

Thank you for your post and the tips. Although I am aware of most of them, I appreciate the


August 15, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I’m sorry for the families who have lost loves ones due to these violent crimes. I do run alone sometimes, but usually have my male GSP with me. He would defend me tooth and nail, Im sure. Still, I try to run in populated areas, not after dark and I bring a phone. I have always been aware of the threats out there. It concerns me when I see young women running with the traffic with earbuds in! I hope the word about safety can be spread widely!

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