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Marathon program aims to help runners protect selves

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Popping in headphones, turning up music and going for a run after work is not only a part of training, but it also can reduce stress and provide much-needed alone time.

But for single women, it can be a high-risk behavior, said former SWAT commander and U.S. Army veteran Craig Douglas.

On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Marathon and Douglas will present Safe Strides, a self-defense seminar geared toward teaching runners, especially women, to stay safe while training. The presentation, expected to draw 200 people, will be followed several months later by two separate daylong personal defense classes, also taught by Douglas.

“The presentation will basically be a model for recognition of risk so it's not going to be if someone grabs you, I'll show you how to get away,” said Douglas, 44, of Biloxi, Miss. “The time I have will be put toward not letting it get to a physical assault and how to recognize how criminals victimize people day in and day out, and small modifications you can make.”

That includes not being distracted by a phone or music to the point that one loses awareness of one's surroundings, an example of what Douglas will address during the seminar.

“Media devices have a tendency to narrow our focus, and it's that kind of narrow focus that draws criminals,” he said. “That lack of awareness is very observable to criminals and really is like a moth to a flame.”

Pittsburgh Marathon race director Patrice Matamoros got the idea to host a self-defense seminar from a fellow race director who sponsors a self-defense classes for female runners in Oklahoma City. Matamoros' own past experience with self-defense training and protective strategies once helped her out of what she called a very potential threat, and loved the idea of providing other women access to such skills.

Matamoros' husband, a former Navy SEAL, was acquainted with Douglas through martial arts training and they both agreed Douglas would be perfect to lead the seminar and, later, self-defense classes.

“I wanted women to know at a very basic level that protective strategies are powerful,” Matamoros said. “If there is a need to develop physical skills after the protective strategies, they can explore the possibilities.”

Matamoros said offering the class goes back to their basic premise of a 360-degree approach to their runners, and focusing not just on the race but on the person.

Many of Douglas' 21 years in law enforcement were spent in narcotics enforcement, and he said that working undercover gave him a very real sense of what it's like for a lone person to deal with assault. He also learned a great deal about how good many criminals are at what they do, and how they are successful.

“We need to understand what the problem is before I can present solutions,” Douglas said. “I explain from my education and experience how I understand criminal assault. … Experience is a really crappy way to learn. Unfortunately I've had a lot of experience. But that's a big part of what drives me.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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