Chicago running groups are reminding their participants about the importance of safe running habits in the wake of the abduction and subsequent death of runner Eliza Fletcher in Memphis.
The tragedy, which grabbed national headlines, has led to many runners taking extra precautions.
“When I first heard the story, I thought about it like, ‘that could have been me,'” said runner, Tiffany Hoffman.
Hoffman is part of the nonprofit organization Peace Runners 773, and is currently training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
“I am out at least five days out of the week, up and running, early morning running for me,” said Hoffman.
Fletcher, an avid runner and mother of two, was running near the University of Memphis around 4 a.m. Friday when she disappeared.
Security video showed “a black GMC Terrain passing and then waiting for the victim to run by,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by NBC News.
A suspect was taken into custody Saturday near his home, and he is currently being held without bond. Fletcher’s body was found near a vacant duplex on Monday, according to Memphis authorities.
After the slaying, Hoffman says she is even more aware of her surroundings before she goes on a run.
“It’s just being more mindful of who’s out, going outside without headphones or one ear bud in, making sure the volume is low, taking a phone with me or even a can of pepper spray to keep safe,” said Hoffman.
Those steps are encouraged by the Road Runners Club of America, which provides programs and services to support community-based running clubs like Hoffman’s.
Ricardo Santos Hernandez, a member of Chicago’s Road Runner Club, says his group prioritizes safety over running.
Santos Hernandez says Fletcher’s case, “does put a different perspective” on running.
“Because normally running is a sport for individuals,” he said.
Now, Road Runners encourages running in groups, or at least with a partner, especially during the early morning hours or late at night.
On its website, Road runner lists safety tips that include: varying routines, planning routes with safety in mind, running with a club, carrying a cell phone, and to be smart about headphone use.
“Women have to think differently about running,” said Jill Ciminillo, an avid runner and member of Chicago Area Runners Association, or CARA. “Just because you try to be safe and you do all the right things, which Eliza did, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be safe. There isn’t a single run I go out for without thinking ‘where am I running, where am I going exactly, do I feel good about this area?'”
Ciminillo says runners should trust their instincts. She reminds athletes that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. And though it’s important for women and all runners to take precautions, she says it’s equally important for non-runners to be advocates and good witnesses.
“If you see a situation, take a picture of it. Call the police. Be a good witness. And be a good advocate for running safety. You don’t have to be a runner to help promote safe running,” said Ciminillo.