“I’d just run away”- Are you fit enough to escape?

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles, News and Tactical Advice

  • SumoMe

Written by: Greg Ellifritz



I find it endlessly fascinating to listen to my students’ thoughts about the “best” course of action to take in a crisis situation.  Especially when teaching female students, I hear a one very common response.  Whenever I ask the students how they would respond to a challenging and dangerous situation, they commonly state: “I’d just run away.”  The other women in the class invariably nod their heads in agreement.



Is running away really the best course of action?  It depends on your abilities and who’s attacking you.



In nearly every class I teach, when I ask for solutions for specific criminal attack scenarios, running away is one of the first choices the students consider.  If the potential victim is extremely fast and wearing appropriate shoes, running may be a great option.  It won’t be as successful if the potential victim is slow, overweight, injured, wearing high heels, or trying to run on slippery or icy ground.  Which one of those descriptions best describes your individual situation?   I think every person should make an HONEST assessment of his or her abilities before relying on running away as their prime strategy in the event of an attack.



Look at the statistics.  Violent criminals tend to be males between the ages of 16 and 25.  Can you outrun the average college-aged male?  I train almost every day, but I don’t think I can.  And I’m certain that the average 50-year old overweight woman doesn’t stand a chance.  As I enter my forties, I have to admit that I’ve slowed down a little bit.  I bet most of you have too.


If you look like this (and wear shoes like hers), don’t delude yourself by thinking you can run away from most violent criminals


When is the last time you actually ran sprints?  Doing 20 minutes on the gym’s StairMaster or elliptical machine just isn’t the same as running as fast as you can to save your own life.  The skills and fitness you might obtain from the machines in the gym don’t prepare you for an all-out sprint.  If running is going to be your primary defense strategy, you should be running for exercise!  And by “running”, I don’t mean a slow paced 5K.  You will want to make your training relevant.  Sprinting repeat intervals of between 50 and 400 meters is what you will need to do if you want to get away from a violent criminal.



I ask again, when is the last time you sprinted in your workout?



This man may have good endurance, but do you think he could escape an attacker? The workouts you do should be specific to your goals. Running a marathon is an impressive feat, but marathon runners may not have the speed they need to outrun a criminal.


If it has been a while, I think it’s time for you to start adding some sprints into your fitness routine.  Besides helping you escape from a life-threatening predator, sprinting provides numerous health benefits. It improves cardiovascular fitness, adds bone density, builds muscle, and burns more fat better than just about any other form of exercise.  In fact, there are many recent studies (like THIS ONE) that indicate short duration, ultra- high intensity full body exercise is equal to longer duration aerobic work for burning calories and increasing cardiovascular health and even better at building muscle.



Before you start trying to re-live your high school football glory days, I have a few cautions…



If you haven’t run sprints for a long time, you’ll need to build up speed gradually.  Sprinting is very demanding on the muscles.  If you start out going really fast, you are likely to tear a muscle or two.  I remember taking a police physical fitness instructor class at our state police academy.  That class was required in order to teach physical fitness topics in any recruit training academy.  Most of us students were fairly fit, but not many of us regularly ran sprints.  When we sprinted one day in class, eight out of the 25 students pulled hamstring muscles.


The author conducting entry-level police fitness testing. Most cops don’t sprint enough!


Don’t do that!  Being laid up and unable to walk doesn’t help you win a fight against a criminal attacker!  Take it slow.  I would suggest hill walking or light jogging until you feel able to run non-stop for 400 meters (1/4 mile).  When you can do that, start working on the program I’ve outlined below.



Before each workout walk quickly or jog for a few minutes to get your muscles warm and ready for action.  Take each joint through its full range of motion, but don’t spend a long time stretching in a static manner.  Holding stretches for more than 20 seconds has been shown to temporarily reduce the muscle’s ability to maximally contract for several minutes after the stretch is completed.  You’ll need all the contraction you can muster!  On each workout, slowly increase the intensity of your sprints.  The first sprint should be about 80% of your max speed for the given distance.  Increase your pace to 90% on the second sprint and then go all out for the remainder.



The sprinting program I outline below is designed to increase your ability to run away from an attacker and make your body more cardiovascularly prepared for the demands of an all-out fight.  This is a general program designed for a reasonably healthy person who already does some weekly exercise.  If you don’t work out or if you are an elite athlete, you may need to adjust the workout schedule to fit your needs.



The exercise program should be done three times per week (labeled below as Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3).  Ideally, you should have at least one day’s rest between each workout, but you can adjust the schedule to best fit your needs.  Here it is:



Day One- Long Sprint Day

Today we will be focusing on running slightly longer sprints in order to build anerobic and aerobic capacity.  Each sprint will be 200 meters long (1/2 a lap on a high school track).  Don’t jog!  Run these as fast as you can!


Week 1- 3 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 2 minutes between each sprint

Week 2- 4 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 2 minutes between each sprint

Week 3- 5 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 2 minutes between each sprint

Week 4- 3 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 90 seconds between each sprint

Week 5- 4 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 90 seconds between each sprint

Week 6- 5 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 90 seconds between each sprint

Week 7- 3 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 1 minute between each sprint

Week 8- 4 x 200 meter sprints- Rest 1 minute between each sprint



Day Two- Speed Day

Today you will be working on shorter distance sprints at all out intensity (after proper warm up).  The rest break will be as long as it takes to walk back to the starting line.  Run your sprint, walk back, and then immediately move in to your next sprint.


Week 1- 8 x 30 meter sprints

Week 2- 8 x 40 meter sprints

Week 3- 8 x 50 meter sprints

Week 4- 8 x 60 meter sprints

Week 5- 8 x 70 meter sprints

Week 6- 8 x 80 meter sprints

Week 7- 8 x 90 meter sprints

Week 8- 8 x 100 meter sprints



Day Three- Combining speed and strength.


On this day, you will combine your sprints with additional exercises.  In a fight for your life, you will need to have both speed and muscular strength.  This workout increases both.  You will use two exercises, the squat and the pushup, in addition to the sprints.  If you can’t perform either of these exercises, feel free to substitute another, more appropriate, exercise of your choice.


Week 1-     Sprint 50 meters/Perform 5 pushups/Rest 30 seconds

Sprint 50 meters/Perform 5 squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle 3 times


Week 2-   Sprint 50 meters/Perform 10 pushups/Rest 30 seconds

Sprint 50 meters/Perform 10 squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle 3 times


Week 3-    Sprint 50 meters/Perform 15 pushups/Rest 30 seconds

Sprint 50 meters/Perform 15 squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle 3 times


Week 4-   Sprint 50 meters/Perform 20 pushups/Rest 30 seconds

Sprint 50 meters/Perform 20 squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle 3 times


Week 5- Sprint 50 meters/Perform 10 Pushups and 10 Squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle for a total of 5 times


Week 6- Sprint 50 meters/Perform 12 Pushups and 12 Squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle for a total of 5 times


Week 7- Sprint 50 meters/Perform 12 Pushups and 12 Squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle for a total of 6 times


Week 8- Sprint 50 meters/Perform 15 Pushups and 15 Squats/Rest 30 seconds

Repeat this cycle for a total of 5 times




There you have it!  An eight-week program that will not only better prepare you for combat, but it will likely make you a healthier and more fit person as well.  Give it a try!  The only thing you have to lose is some belly fat!



What if I can’t sprint?



Undoubtedly, some of my readers will complain that they can’t complete these workouts for a variety of reasons.  Some will be “too old”.  Some will be ‘sick”.  Some will have injuries.  Some just don’t want to work that hard!  It’s OK.  If you can’t or won’t do the workout, you won’t offend me.  It’s your life.  Whatever makes you happy is fine by me.  I wish all my readers nothing but the best.



With that said, if you don’t want to sprint, at least be honest with yourself.  Running won’t likely be your best option if you are attacked.  You’d best have an alternate plan.  Learn to recognize danger signs and pre-attack indicators quickly so that you can avoid a confrontation.  If that doesn’t work, plan to use a weapon, your superior fighting skills, or your brain to get yourself to safety.  Just don’t delude yourself by thinking you’ll get there by running faster than your attacker.





14 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. old and scarred says:

    Greg, i can’t sprint. years of sports & hard work on my knees…hey that’s why i am “old & scarred” have left me without the ability to jog, much less sprint. i am in fairly good health, swim, elliptical, some weights & grandkids keep my heart fit but your lack of attention to a significant portion of those who want to be ready to defend themselves with: ” Whatever makes you happy is fine by me.” is a bit dismissive. Hey you cannot be all for all, and i am ok with that but at least give this group SOME direction. For me, to get separation to use my main tool, i can grapple and i know a bit about handling a knife & carry a couple, those were learned by doing and by the way there are classes that teach those skills, for those who can’t sprint, and teaching to always look for cover vs concealment, etc, etc.
    That being said, i do benefit from your writing & look forward to your insights. keep it up!

    • old and scarred says:

      Greg, mea culpa, mea culpa…….just read Resistance to Violent Crime: What does the Research Show? and taken in context, now want to buy you an adult beverage to hide my shame……well any way keep ’em coming & i will try to read in order……..

  2. Evan Easton says:

    I know the focus of this post is fitness, but another question to raise when people talk about running away is, “where to?”

    If you’re not entirely familiar with the area surrounding your location, how do you know you’re running toward safety? Distance surely helps, but a safe destination is highly desirable too.

    Once, while giving a presentation on behalf of our local gun rights organization, I had an attendee ask, “why guns? Why not something like TASERs?” I didn’t criticize alternatives to guns. But I did present the hypothetical to him where you’ve TAS’ed an intruder he’s lying on the floor of your foyer and the TASER runs out of juice, only you’ve got your spouse and kids to keep protecting. What do you do now?

    Does everyone run out of the house into the non-safety of the possibly cold, dark outside? Sure that’s an option, but might it be better to have a tool at hand that more strongly compels the intruder to leave and can maybe stop them for longer than the 45 seconds that a TASER might buy you to get away? The student just hadn’t thought what happens next, and it was clear that these questions about next steps were really eye openers.

    Running away, complying, etc are always options to armed self defense and will work…some of the time. But they, like armed self defense, also have their downsides…some of the time.

  3. Dann in Ohio says:

    Another concern beyond physical fitness in these situations is your family and loved ones… too often when we think of scenarios like this… we think in a “solo” mindset…

    Physical fitness is important, but if you’re a mom with a three-year old and seven year-old in tow… if you’re a dad with an eleven-year old son coming back from the game… you’re a husband and wife… Running away isn’t always practical or even an option…

    My daughter is seventeen now, but since she was four years-old… she knew what hand of mine to hold… which side of me to walk on… where to go if something happened – in a parking lot – in the front yard – in the vehicle… we didn’t want to scare her… but as she was able and matured… we trained her…

    And my wife and I have always had a plan as a pair or a family…

    But for those occasions where you are solo… assess and make your decisions…

    Dann in Ohio

  4. Kathy Sato says:

    Another terrific article about something not only important as a tool for self-defense, but overall mood and health. I’m afraid I’ve gotten pretty out of shape. When I was and it became a good solid half-marathon shape (but that takes a lot of free time), my original goal was picturing myself driving north on 395 (through the Mojave Desert). If I had a breakdown, would I be in enough shape to go get help? Pre-cell phone days, but it was a great goal and did happen once later.

  5. Trevor Shepherd says:

    I have always believed that, unless you’ve double crossed your drug dealer and “need killin” you probably just need to make attacking you too much work for the bad guy and they will break off the pursuit and go after someone else. So, if you can sprint down the block, around a corner and then down and around another corner, you are probably home free. Probably. Maybe. When I lived in downtown Philly in the 90’s, I used to run 5 miles slowly each morning for fitness. But I’d frequently practice the “sprint one block, turn the corner, sprint some more, and make another turn” getaway plan. I practiced that a lot. I used to go out to clubs to watch bands play and then walk home at 2:30 AM and I never had a problem. Just lucky, probably, but I always was prepared to run, and I used all of the avoidance techniques I could think of to keep from coming into contact with others while walking in the City. One time, at about 2 AM, I was walking home and decided to do a practice sprint (I would do that from time to time, just get sort of ready and tell myself, “1,2,3, GO!”). I was running and someone looked out a doorway and yelled, “Are you OK, do you need the Police?” I guess I looked pretty intense and maybe scared as I was doing it, but I was so shocked that someone talked at me at that hour that I think I ran two more blocks before I figured out what the guy had even said.

    I can’t run that way anymore.

  6. pappaspence says:

    love this, another big thing that people lose sight of is situational awareness… So you are confident that your in shape and properly dressed. How far is it to a safe zone? did you pass an open store a few blocks back? is there one around the corner? is that distance within range? More importantly, has some creepy guy been eyeing you all night at the club? when you move to the door does he seem to be shadowing you?

  7. Rod De Leon says:

    The workouts you posted are nicely periodized and not too demanding at the outset. I’m a 56-year-old asthmatic who has had major knee surgery 5 years ago. Yet I still work out 5 days a week with weights and HIIT, and I roll on a BJJ mat one day a week. As far as running goes, sprinting is about all I can do. Distance running isn’t my thing. I figure if I can be relatively fit for my age, most people can too. They just have to get their butts off the couch.

    Speaking of which, many “pulled hammies” are the result not of tight hamstrings, but underactive glutes. The glutes tend to shut down after long hours of hip flexion (sitting), whether in a cubicle or police cruiser. Exercises such as Cook hip lifts, glute bridges, and hip thrusts might something to consider in addition to stretching and mobility work.

  8. Kendahl says:

    When I was 15 years old, my best time for the 100 yard dash was 14 seconds. That was 55 years ago. I’m nowhere near as “fast” as I was then. For me, the idea that I should just run away is a bad joke.

  9. Sherra says:

    I don’t run. I’m not large (5’5″ 130lbs), but if you see me running, it means I’m out of bullets.

  10. Pignock says:

    Thank you for this.

    After reading advice from you and many others, I started trying to figure out how to train myself to run fast this spring. Being older, overweight, diabetic, and hypertensive, I haven’t made a ton of progress but I am faster, fitter and have more endurance than when I started.

    I started in April and it was the middle of May before I could run a full 220 yard dash. My 1st complete dash was in 45.64 seconds. I kept adding distance and reps as I was able. My rest times are much longer than you recommend: I typically sprint 1/8th mile, then walk 1/4 mile.

    Here are my results from Monday, September 7th, 2015:
    5 – 220 yard dashes, 1 – less than 220 yard dash. My 1st dash was in 39.0 seconds.

    My five day routine is
    day 1) Run fast
    day 2) Bike 6-8 miles
    day 3) Jog (1-1/8th mile for now, adding distance/decreasing time as able)
    day 4) walk 2 – 4 miles
    day 5) pull grandkid/dogs in wagon behind bike

    I know it ain’t anything to brag about but I wanted to show people that old fat folks can make progress.

    For the record, I’m 52 years old, 5’8″, and 193 lbs (I was 203 lbs when I started)

    If/when I get fit enough to follow your routine, I’m gonna give it a go.