Reality Check: Don’t Be the Prey (Carry Pepper Spray)

Trail running and mountain biking has become the go-sports & in a way an escape from reality for many. The sad reality is that with an increase of runners & cyclist on the trails, so has the constant threat of a few knife wielding “entrepreneurs” grown on Table Mountain and surrounding areas.

This past weekend 2 of my trail friends got mugged of all their valuables (phones, cameras & running/GPS watches) on a stretch of trail they have run countless times and in conditions most would rather stay indoors. These weather conditions, however, did not deter 3 youths from surrounding these gentlemen and “politely” asked them to hand over what they had on them. Charl & Stuart did manage to convince them to at least leave them with the bare minimum gear (rain jackets/warm clothes) to get off the mountain safety, to which these “friendly” young gentlemen obliged before disappearing in a cloud of fog down the mountain.

As many of us can, quite happily, get lost in Mother Nature; we need to always be aware of our surroundings and be on full alert, even when you think you might be the only crazy person out there.

So here are some safety tips other than the usual of carrying enough gear/food/water for any conditions, first aid kit & knowing emergency numbers etc.

  1. Don’t run alone: I know, you like to run alone, but if you’re planning a big outing, especially if it’s on a new trail system, try not to go by yourself. There is safety in numbers. Call up a friend or two, take Rover along (or a bear if you have one. Bears will scare potential muggers off), or find a running group to join. There are daily groups hitting the slopes of mountains, so why not join them, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the trails. It’ll probably be more fun anyway.


Image by Kenny Blum Photography for The Wall Street Journal

  1. Tell someone where you’re going: Assuming you’ve planned ahead on a specific trail you are going to run, leave a note for your husband, wife, or roommate, or even share where you plan to run ahead of time on social media. Let someone know where you’ll be and roughly when you plan to return. I know we sometimes like to just put on our running shoes and head into the wilderness, running free, but then at least leave a bread crumb trail like Hansel so someone can try track you down in case of emergency.
    So if you end up running for your life or stuck in the tree you climbed in to hide and unable to continue on, someone will know where to come looking.
  2. Bring your cell phone: When out in the woods alone, carry your phone with you in case you need it. The problem is that carrying a big pack might make you more attractive for any “entrepreneurs” looking to get into the sport or upgrade their gear. If you don’t want to carry a pack, I recommend a smallish hip belt for carrying small items like your phone and keys. These days most phones have descend cameras, so no need to carry your GoPro or action cameras along unless you planning on shooting videos of yourself. A small hip belt tucked away/hidden under a layer of clothes might be less visible to the naked eye. Hopefully they already have GPS watches, so your’s will be safe!
  3. Stay alert, even when you’re tired: It’s easy to get sloppy towards the end of a run. Your form goes, then your mind, and before you know it, you don’t even remember the last mile of trail. Stay alert and pay attention to the trail at all times.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings: No time to put in your headphones and check out mentally. There are so many wonderful sounds to listen to whilst on your run. You will draw inspiration from your surroundings so there is no need to listen to your music through your earphones. Let your body listen to its’ natural senses that warn against potential dangers.
  5. If you need to, carry protection: If you really don’t feel safe alone on your trails, or in extreme situations, don’t be afraid to carry protection. No, I don’t mean run with a sawn off shotgun on the side of your pack, but something like pepper spray or some other easily transportable form of protection you can stow away in your hydration pack or belt can be sufficient.
    run-safetyNo need to go buy a gun to match your new running shoes. Image by Katherine Ainsworth
  6. Run in populated areas: Yes, I agree – it is wonderful to get lost in the trails, but with the recent spate of muggings on the trails, the thought of being all alone, however, is unsafe and needs to be avoided. There are many “urban trails”, located in suburban areas which resemble the effects of a trail workout and they are in close proximity to the more commercial areas. Check out the Salomon Running/City Trail app available in your app store for urban trail routes in most major cities worldwide. This is a pretty handy app to explore cities on your next holiday!
  7. Alter your trail route daily: If you are a regular runner, it is important to change your trail routes daily for both your fitness and safety. Add variety in your running routine with the time of day they run to certain routes taken on these trails. Try and avoid predictability by changing things up!

So next time you head out on a trail adventure, please be vigilant, run hard, run smart & be safe!

Emergency numbers for runners on Table Mountain.
Metro EMS: 021 9370300 (includes Mountain Rescue)
Table Mountain Emergency: 0861 106417
SAPS Cape Town Central: 021 4678001/2
SAPS Mountain Patrol Vehicle: 082 411 2401
General Emergency Number: 0214807700 from a Cell Phone, or 107 from any Telkom Line

Nationwide Emergency Response – 10111
Cell phone emergency – 112
Ambulance response – 10177

Jan Ham Jr

About Jan Ham Jr

Jan forms part of the Columbia/GU TRAIL Team, a team of running ambassadors for Columbia Sportswear, GU Energy South Africa, TRAIL Magazine & Inov-8. Jan is a Blog Writer & Contributer to

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