So you’ve taken the decision to run. But just how safe is it to run in Gaborone? What times are best? What areas should be avoided? And can you run alone? These are all questions that women – some aspiring runners and others, visitors to the city have asked me, so I thought it was time for me to tackle this in a post. I have spoken to some women who say they would never run alone in Gaborone. I don’t want to downplay anyone’s fears or experiences but I will say that 80% of my runs are solo and I feel safe. However, I also take a few simple precautions.
1/ Choose Your Route Carefully: When I’m running alone, I choose a route that is bustling with activity, either alongside a main road where there are lots of cars or where there are people walking to and from work. I also make sure that I’m visible and have a panoramic view of my surroundings. So for me the A1 is a great starting point and I incorporate the three main flyovers heading into town. When I explore the neighbourhoods, again I stick to the main roads and leave out some of the inner roads. I never choose a route that involves going through narrow passages as there have been reported mugging incidents, and unless I’m in a group or it’s broad daylight, I avoid underpasses. I never run in the bush when I’m alone (for example, shortcut from Block 8 to Block 7). My routes are tried and tested and if I’m uncertain where a road goes, I first test it out with someone to make sure there are no dodgy blind spots.
2/ Never Run In The Dark: I’m very strict about this. I never run alone when it’s dark. I don’t compromise on this even if it means running in the sun for a bit longer than I’d like to. This makes winter running a bit more challenging for me as it’s usually dark when I get back from work. That’s when I’ll do more runs in a group or on the treadmill.
3/ Change Up Your Routes and Times: I love changing my routes and times to keep things interesting, but one good thing about doing this is that you keep things unpredictable and it prevents you from being an easy target for someone who may be watching you. Also, changing your route keeps you on your toes which generally helps to keep you more alert.
4/ Be Aware Of Your Surroundings: When running, be aware of what’s going on around you. When someone is running or walking towards me, I look at them confidently and raise my hand to greet as we pass each other. Also beware of fake stretchers. I’ve spotted them twice on my run – they pretend to be runners but then randomly stop for some very awkward stretching. Both times, I immediately crossed over to the other side of the road. Maybe they were completely innocent and just bad at stretching? But there was no harm in crossing over!
5/ Keep Your Music Down: I only started running with music about a year ago. It really helps to keep me going especially on days I’m just not feeling very motivated to run. But I was once startled by another runner. He was innocently running past but because my music was too loud, I didn’t hear him until he was right beside me and I jumped with fright. He felt so bad but I immediately told him it was my fault! After that I realised that even if I’m listening to music, I still need to hear what’s going on around me so my music is at the lowest setting.
6/ Inform Someone. This is a given and I think applies to anything really. Let someone know you’re going for your run, maybe even the area you plan to run in and how long you think you’ll be out for. That way if something happens at least they know where to start looking.
7/ Run in a Group: If you are really uncomfortable running alone, find a running buddy or join a running group or club. The two running clubs I know are Gaborone Striders Runners Club and Runwidit – they have several group runs during the week, in the early mornings or evenings after work and they try to cater for different levels. They also organise long weekend runs in several parts of the city or on the outskirts of Gaborone. There is also the local 5k ‘parkrun’ held at the Gaborone Golf Club every Monday at 5:30pm which is really fun and in a safe environment. Another option is The Pack Running, a group of women, who run at University of Botswana every Thursday at 05:30pm. I don’t belong to an official group but every Saturday, I organise a run with a few friends and we explore different parts of the city. So if it’s feasible you can also start a group with workmates or friends. There are really so many possibilities!
8/ Beware of Cars: Safety of course also includes watching out for cars. I’ve had many friendly drivers stop for me in my neighbourhood or at a crossing, but I’ve also seen a lot of mad drivers on the road. And as a driver, I’ve seen runners in very dark clothing and crossing roads haphazardly. So be mindful of the cars around you – wear light or bright coloured clothing, cross roads carefully and run against traffic so you can always see what’s ahead of you.
There are two additional points I should mention as many people recommend them. Let me stress though that I don’t use them and I’ll explain why. The first is carry a fully charged cell phone so that if something happens, you can easily call for help. My issue with cellphones in Gaborone is that many people are actually mugged for their phones, so I always feel it’s a disadvantage to have them and I choose to run without especially for my short runs. If you feel safer running with one, then I would say make sure it’s not very visible. The second frequently cited recommendation is carry pepper spray. I don’t carry one because I’m clumsy and it would end up being used on me! But if you know how to use it and feel safer carrying one, go ahead.
I’m a cautious person but I can honestly say I’m comfortable running in Gaborone. I love exploring different routes and seeing buildings I often overlook when driving. I love seeing other runners on the road. I love the fresh air especially in the early mornings and I love the hustle and bustle of people and cars in the late afternoons. But I am also aware of my surroundings and routes, I don’t run when it’s dark, I keep things simple – no flashy gadgets or selfies in tunnels!
For runners in Gaborone, do you feel safe running outside and what other safety tips would you include? What areas do you generally avoid in Gaborone? For other runners, where are you from and do you feel safe where you run? What safety precautions, if any, do you take?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining a new link-up, Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, Running on Happy, and Faux Runner! Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!