And then, on New Year's Eve, in the park where I recently found my new favorite trail, a runner was killed.
Lauren was only 24 years old, and was familiar with the trails at O.P. Schnabel Park. She was young, she was fit, she was strong, I assume she was faster than me, and she was in a park frequented by runners, bicyclists, walkers, and picnickers. Presumably out for a "last run of 2013" (which I did myself) Lauren was stabbed multiple times. Nobody witnessed the attack. Her body was found by a family returning to their car after a picnic in the park.
This self-defense class had already been in the works, but it now took on a personal, rather urgent, tone. The running store paired with a karate instructor in the same shopping plaza for the class, and so many people signed up it was necessary for the class to move to the karate studio.
I've known general safety tips for runners for as long as I've been running, most of which are more applicable for road safety than predator safety. In Pennsylvania my main concerns were cars and loose dogs. I'm now running in areas new to me, here in San Antonio, on new roads and trails, therefore my awareness of everyone else I encounter while running is higher than on the familiar trails of Gring's Mill. Even so, I'm only scoring 2 out of 6 on the list of General Safety Tips with which the class began last night.
General Safety Tips:
1. Run with others whenever possible
2. Don't run in isolated places
3. Know your routes (what's on them, what to expect, where your "outs" are)
4. Tell someone your route and expected return time before you leave
5. Carry your cell phone (preferably with GPS turned on) and a whistle
6. Leave your headphones at home
I get #4 and #6 and on occasion #1, but not for my long Saturday morning run, which is when I really miss having a group.
Seeing violence in movies, where there is theme music, slow-motion action, and changing camera angles fools many people into thinking they know what an attack would be like. A key emphasis in last night's class was that,
An Attack Will Be:
2. A Surprise
At the opening of the class a local woman told her story of when she was attacked while running a couple of years ago in the Austin area. Though she had martial arts training, the only thing she had time to do was block the blows from the branch wielded by her attacker and scream. To this day she doesn't know why he turned and ran, but she escaped with only a broken hand and multiple deep lacerations.
Michelle was on a familiar trail, but she was alone, she was "in the zone" and she was isolated. Looking back, she later realized that she hadn't passed anyone else on the trail for quite a while, and though she was not far from the trailhead and its parking lot full of cars and people coming and going, the twists and turns of the trail provided a perfectly secluded spot for when her attacker stepped out from behind the trees.
The Three Rules of Awareness stem from the first:
1. Pay attention to your environment
2. Pay attention to body language
3. Pay attention to your intuition and fear
If you aren't paying attention to your environment you won't notice body language and you may not give your subconscious enough information to send those intuitive signals that something is wrong.
Another point made by the instructor was that predators who are seeking a victim don't think the way most of us do. They won't stop because they have caused pain- they are attacking for the purpose of causing pain. They are stalking a lone woman runner because they are planning an attack. Think about that for a moment. They are planning, and what they are planning is pain.
Women are often taught that a swift kick to the groin or poking in the eyes will cause enough pain to stop a man. Last night we learned that this may be wrong for two reasons. Men are very good at protecting both their groin area and their eyes. But, more importantly, a determined attacker may not respond to pain. Different people have different levels of pain tolerance. An attacker who is high or drunk may not be capable of feeling pain. Adrenaline slows pain response, and while the victim of an attack is experiencing a surge of adrenaline, so is the attacker.
ABCs of Conflict Avoidance:
A= Avoid potentially dangerous situations
B= Be calm/ Breathe
C= Communicate with confidence.
Part of staying aware of your environment is watching for potentially dangerous situations: blind corners, empty trails, running with alone. If you do find yourself in a dangerous situation your adrenaline may begin to rise, which enhances gross motor skills, but will begin to impair visual acuity, hearing, fine motor skills, and cognitive function. This means that if you are attacked your peripheral vision disappears, giving the effect of "tunnel vision," you won't be able to hear over the rush of adrenaline, you may not get your fingers to open the zipper on your fanny pack in order to retrieve and use your pepper spray, and even thinking about what to do first and next slows to a crawl while your attacker is still moving faster than you imagined was ever possible.
Controlling your breathing may slow this adrenaline response and buy you more control, enabling you to act and think more clearly. Yelling clear, strong commands at your attacker may slow him just enough to make a difference. Every second counts, buying even a few moments may mean the difference in the outcome of an attack.
Predict The Attack:
1. Body Language
2. Eye Movement
3. Change in Distance
If you see someone who, by his body language, appears to be calming himself down, rubbing hands nervously, rubbing his neck, running hands through hair, breathing deeply, this is someone who is preparing himself for an adrenaline rush. If he is also looking around, scanning the area for others— who aren't there— he's likely planning an attack. If he then closes the distance between you, by "asking a question," or simply rushing you, then it's time to:
Build a Barrier:
1. Use your hands
2. Use your voice
3. Create distance
Get your hands up and YELL for all you're worth! Create distance by backing away toward your exit- not into a corner or more secluded area. (While breathing carefully so your peripheral vision doesn't close down...) Many of the women in last night's class seemed as if they were incapable of a real, from-the-gut, YELL. We've been encouraged to be quiet and moderate with our voices for so long that a genuine loud yell is something that may need to be practiced, (by others; I yell quite loudly, thank you).
The actual moves we learned in the class I can't reproduce here, but we learned, again, the goal is not to cause pain.
Goals of Physical Self-Defense:
1. Cause fear
2. Disable your attacker
3. Create an opportunity to escape
An attacker's goal is not to get sent to prison. If your attacker has any reason to think he may be caught he may slow or break off the attack altogether. Don't be an easy victim; give him every reason to slow down or stop. To do this, you must:
Use your Tools:
1. Use your voice
2. Use your body
3. Use your environment
Yell strong commands, "STOP!" "GET BACK!" "GET AWAY FROM ME!" As pointed out already, you may not be able to manipulate your pepper spray, but you can use your forearm to hit your attacker in the side of the neck (either side) with all the strength of your body behind it. This hits the Brachial Plexus, which is a bundle of nerves that control movement and sensation in the upper limbs, which causes a physiological response—not a pain response. This response literally shuts a body down momentarily, disabling an attacker long enough to put distance between you and effect an escape.
We practiced this and a couple of other martial arts "moves for dummies" several times over. Enough to leave some bruises on the arms of the owner of the running store who volunteered to be "the attacker" for half the group, and enough, moreover, to convince me that without a lot more practice I likely won't remember any of it in a desperate circumstance.
I signed up for the 4-week course being taught in February.
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Meanwhile, please pray for Lauren's family. Her murderer has been caught, but her family grieves the loss of a bright and beautiful girl. Reading the news releases in the past few days, it appears that she may have been a Christian and went on overseas mission trips. She will be laid to rest this week after a memorial service at a local church. I pray that she is indeed with the Lord even now, and that the gospel will be proclaimed at her memorial service.