Your "failed to return" strategy - Marathon Running ...

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Your "failed to return" strategy


The tragic circumstances around Chris Smiths' failure to return home after his run and subsequent death has brought the subject to mind (again).

Since my husband, Paul has done his MTB leader course, and his outdoor first aid, we've discussed it frequently. We're both bad for taking off without giving any idea of when we'll be back or often, even where we're headed, let alone a full route.

Since our last discussion here I now have a medical info tag attached to the back of my hydration vest with ICE details in it as well as my name and date of birth.

I also now carry a tiny first aid kit. My kit used to comprise 3 wet wipes and nothing more, and to be fair, even though I've had a few falls this year it served. However there's no guarantee that I'm going to be the casualty, I could come across someone else in trouble and I'd rather have some things with me.

After being out for 3:45hrs in the awful conditions Weds, I have to admit that if I'd fallen or had to stop for any length of time I would have had real issues with the conditions. Although I was fine moving, I had to keep moving.

I'm now resigned to the fact that I will take my larger pack for winter runs expected to be over 10 miles/2hrs with an emergency bothy bag (it's actually much smaller and lighter than expected) along with a dry bag containing the prev first aid kit, dry gloves/spare buff). I may also go back to using a dedicated navigation device, leaving the phone battery unused if needed.

Of course no one goes out expecting to run into trouble but if a professional fell/mountain runner in great condition can come unstuck (of course we don't know what happened) on a 2 hr run it should give us all a moment of reflection at the very least.

A phone is great, unless you smash it/use its battery, or are unconscious for any reason. A phone won't keep you warm if things do go wrong.

I'm still not going to be great with my Failure to Return plan but I will now at least give Paul a time by which he should at least have heard from me. I often send him location updates and he can see my location on Google so unless my phone is smashed he should be able to see where I last was. I'll still change my route on the fly if I want, go longer/shorter but at least there will be a line drawn by which time I will have made contact even if it's to say I'm running late, after which if there is no contact he needs to alert the relevant help.

Some may think this is overkill, but it's the way the professionals do it. Chris Smith himself advised a return time of 5pm. That came and went. We'll never know what time help was called, or if it may have helped. We don't know what gear, if any he had.

Obviously on short runs, closer to home the risk is much decreased, but if you're out places where you might not see people, especially in unclement conditions, its something to think about, sadly.

55 Replies

A really though provoking blog- it’s definitely given me some ideas (although at the moment I’m only sticking to under 10k and close to home) as the weather gets worse.


David_GHalf Marathon

Thanks GoGo_JoJo that’s food for thought. I tend to stick to populated areas and run on pavements, but I’d certainly follow your advice when venturing further afield. 🏃‍♂️👍

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to David_G

I like to think I'm invincible... but I'm not. I also have a tendency to think "fantastic, I hardly saw a soul!" But that's not great if you need assistance! I love exploring less travelled paths but it definitely comes at a price!

BrianUK10 Miles

Thank you Jo for a very useful and informative post and especially poignant for me after my long run yesterday evening where at one point I was "unsure of my way" and venturing along a cliff path where the cliff edge was very close and was not stable with evidence of recent falls. I ended up heading back inland across a boggy field with lots of bramble and stinging nettles as I was getting very nervous. There wasn't a soul n sight and it was getting quite dark with gale force winds and I had nothing with me.

Not that I would have survived a fall but the thought of it terrified me and got me thinking about being more sensible with what I wear and carry with me.

I don't often go on long unplanned routes and it has been 11 years since I was in England at this time of year so the early onset of evening rather caught me out. I will be more prepared next time for sure and the idea of a separate power pack or device is very sensible as well as something dry and protective in my pack.

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to BrianUK

A headtorch in winter is a must. It's not nice when a run goes wrong, even a little. 👍🏻🤞🏻

BrianUK10 Miles in reply to GoGo_JoJo

Mine has literally just arrived through the door this minute!

IrishprincessHalf Marathon in reply to BrianUK

That sounds scary.

pete121210 Miles

I always tell someone where I go and roughly how long I be but also carry my ICE details on my Home Screen so you can just tap to open it

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to pete1212

I have that too, but if my phone is dead or smashed the tag works too 👍🏻 trust me, I resisted the tag a long time 🤣

pete121210 Miles in reply to GoGo_JoJo

Also I can phone from my watch the information you carry the better but I suppose people don’t want get bogged down with extra kit that could save their life 👍

Yes definitely something to think about and plan for the worst and hope it’s not needed

We have each other on find my iphone although rarely used as we go out together but our garmin ado have an alert set up for if we fall when i get bored with the track and wander off elsewhere

IrishprincessHalf Marathon

Thought-provoking post JoJo. Funnily enough, yesterday for the first time ever I wrote out my ICE details on a piece of paper (I have them on my phone but as you say someone might not be able to get into it) before I headed out for a long run. But I will buy a proper tag now.

I always tell my husband my route and expected return although recently I went a bit “off piste” and found myself in a really deserted area. But I did have the foresight to send a text to hubby telling him the route I’d taken and even put “in case I’m abducted” 🙄 When I got home I asked him if he received my text to which he replied no, he hadn’t even seen it 🙄

On my run yesterday I thought a lot about safety because there weren’t many people around and the weather was bad. I thought next time I should take a whistle with me and a foil blanket (I got one once at a race and it folds up into the size of a credit card) on long runs because I didn’t fancy lying around in the wet for long if anything happened.

Thanks for your timely reminder and it’s definitely given me lots of things to consider.

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to Irishprincess

I have a whistle too. I've heard the foil blankets are not that good really but they are space savers so if it's all you can find room for it's better than nought!

Yes, the ICE tag is waterproof so the paper stays legible etc. I'm going to try and check it regularly too. Checked after Weds deluge... perfect condition still. 👍🏻😁

Elfe5 in reply to Irishprincess

😂😂 I have a husband like that!

David_GHalf Marathon

I have a RoadID tag on my Garmin strap. It’s got my name and emergency contact details on. You can add other medical info too if needed. At least it won’t run out of battery or be damaged if I take a tumble.

BrianUK10 Miles in reply to David_G

The garmin RoadID seems very sensible. Is it comfortable and not too clunky? Is it the 19mm one?

David_GHalf Marathon in reply to BrianUK

Yes, it’s the 19mm version and not at all clunky. It’s well made and durable. The tag is held on by elasticated bands and I’m very pleased with it. Hope that helps.

BrianUK10 Miles in reply to David_G

Thank you David. Very helpful.

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to David_G

I did look into those but because I wear mine 24/7 and in a physical job I struggle to keep the strap hygienic as it is without adding a dirt catcher.

They're a great idea though! 👍🏻

SaskAlliecatHalf Marathon in reply to David_G

This is great advice David_G. I just searched it up and will be ordering one very soon! I really like that it is always with you and that you said it was comfortable.

Imc50Half Marathon

Brilliant advice and what a truly great read GoGo_JoJo, I only thought of carrying a small first aid kit when I out and saw a person on the ground, luckily her I think carer was with her👍. But if say I'd had a run foil blanket, that's something, and definitely a lifesaver... I'm looking at what I could carry for the winter without it being too cumbersome 🎒.

The other thing that comes to mind is the app "what3words" definitely worth a look but yep it is dependent on you having a working phone with you 👍

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to Imc50

Definitely! I have what 3 words and a couple of os apps that give you your exact os grid reference for passing on 👍🏻

David_GHalf Marathon in reply to GoGo_JoJo

Hi, I’ve got What 3 Words too. I’ve got a small first aid kit and a foil blanket (which was in the Bournemouth HM goodie bag last year) which I’ll make sure to use for trail runs in future. You can’t be too careful after all👍


Twice an "easy" route nearly finished me and others.

A wrong turn on a trail and sudden storm front on a mountain.

I figured third time might not be lucky.

On treks or runs through non-urban environments, my minimal carry bag holds a trash bag to use as a makeshift rain over/sleeping bag, a small but high lumens flashlight, a small sharp knife and a strip of strong cloth - bandage and/or tourniquet.

That's just minimal for a few hours on easy territory.

Thing is - nobody really thinks it'll happen to them, until it does. Nobody can understand how easy it is to get lost until they do. It's not a question of being paranoid, it's actually a case of not having to have negative "if that happens" worries :)

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to Irish-John

Love the bin bag! I might implement that one too! Might put my "Swiss card" in too 🤔

Irish-JohnMarathon in reply to GoGo_JoJo

It's hard to make a minimal-but-effictive kit. The temptation to fall into "worst case scenario" is subtle because it can easily start to include extremely unlikely circumstances or merely "bad but not life threatening" plus the difference between "survive until extraction" and "comfort" can get lost - eg, "what if I break a tooth?" (answer - it will hurt until you reach a dentist after rescue :). That's when your survival kit starts getting bigger than your rucksack LOL.

Roxdog10 Miles in reply to Irish-John

Haha! After I ordered a bigger running belt with 2 water bottles and room for emergency equipment, including a whistle (birthday presents for me!), my husband suggested flares, hunting knives, tarpaulin etc! I will be Bear Grylls!

Irish-JohnMarathon in reply to Roxdog

It's so easy to go overboard lol.

SaskAlliecatHalf Marathon

A great thought provoking post JoJo .

I like the idea of the medical info tag to your hydration vest. I'll have to remember this when I get back to my trails next year. Last summer when I was training for my 20k trail run on my isolated rugged trails, I subscribed to premium runkeeper so I had a tracking feature and my husband could see where I was. I always gave him a proposed time back but it was tough to gauge at times. Unfortunately he doesn't know the trails at all and I wasn't sure how effective it would be if something happened to me but our closest friends have a better idea of the trails and would come looking if he called them, I'm sure. I just got a new watch (Garmin FR 245) and it has some built in safety features, including live tracking and incident detection. Unfortunately I believe it requires a cell signal (to send a message) which is spotty at best when I'm in my hills but at least hubby should get an idea where I am if I don't return. It will be interesting to see how effective it is. It is a scary thought to think of but unfortunately a reality. I always pack a lot more water than I need and extra fuel. My run vest has a space blanket that I always carry on those types of runs. A better safety kit is likely in order.

For now, I'm running in town and always have a fully charged phone so I'm less concerned. The biggest concern is frostbite or hypothermia but I tend to have everything covered in layers and on long runs try to stay aware of how my mental faculties are holding up. At least the Incident detection feature on my watch should work if I were to slip and fall on the ice this winter.

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to SaskAlliecat

I have the garmin features, but don't use them as they a. Rely on Bluetooth, which I don't run to save battery,

b. When we tested on hubby's they were way too sensitive, every jump he took on his bike was an "incident" 🤣

C. Uses too much watch power too, which if I'm out for over 4 hrs is an issue.

Its true, cold is the biggest enemy and you are likely better at preparing for that 👍🏻😁

SaskAlliecatHalf Marathon in reply to GoGo_JoJo

I haven't had a chance to use the safety features yet(I just got my watch a couple days ago) but wondered about the sensitivity. I'll have to see how it affects my battery but at least for now my runs aren't very long or isolated so I should have those kinks worked out.

SlowLorisMarathon in reply to SaskAlliecat

I always use the Livetrack if alone off road. I don't use the incident detection though. If the phone loses signal the Livetrack will still show the last known course and position. After a couple of days Madam Loris would notice that I'm missing and have a look.

Over62Half Marathon

Thank you for your post, a real eye opener as to what can happen and how to be as prepared as you can. 👍


Lots of interesting points here. I like the idea of the ID on your watch - will look into that. I am always nervous of something happening on my bike, less so when running as I don't tend to go off the beaten track on my own. Still. As you say, we aren't invincible.

I had an interesting time working out what ICE means - Immigration & Customs Enforcement seemed somewhat surprising! Got there in the end.😄

Very thought provoking & wise post thanks.

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to Elfe5

Sorry! I'm not a fan of acronyms myself! 🤣 I must admit the first time I saw it, it was a freebie from the ambulance service, elderly were supposed to keep this pot marked ICE in their fridge of all places with contact details and Medical info. I found all that most odd!

Elfe5 in reply to GoGo_JoJo

No need to apologise! 😄

An ICE pot in the fridge - that’s new & novel to me! If I ever see a paramedic dive in my fridge, I won’t assume he needs a beer & cheese sandwich then! 🤣

Foz4star10 Miles

Such a great post, and a sad reminder on how even the best prepared can get into difficulties.

I have an ICE tag on my Garmin watch strap from

also carry a parkrun strap with the same ICE info. That way if I lose an arm either one could be identified 😜

Makes me think for those trail runs where I explore the less travelled paths I should turn on my Garmin beacon.

My hydration vest has a whistle, waterproof and a space blanket, but other than that I am starting to feel under prepared. I will throw a spare head torch in there and a zip lock bag with a few plasters and wipes.


Thanks for posting - this is very sensible Jo. There have been some times that I've been out for a long time and lost service on my phone and you realize no one really knows exactly where you are. I usually let me wife know where I'm going, and I have the find my phone feature turned on but batteries die and phones get dropped or lost. And sometimes i change routes at the last minute. And there are now a pair of aggressive coyotes in our area, so the ICE tag makes sense on long solo runs. I think I'll be making one for my vest too.

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to Decker

Jeez, don't be getting chased like that guy with the cougar for 6 miles!!

DeckerModerator in reply to GoGo_JoJo

Haha can you imagine? I’d be up the first tree

Thanks, a very timely post and something that I will need to give some thought to as I start building up to distances beyond 10k.

Roxdog10 Miles

Good advice! I run in quite out of the way places and now I'm doing long runs I take a face mask, hand wipes (mainly in case I come across someone who needs help), water, a bit of food and am going to start switching on my strava beacon. I used to only ever be a max of 3 miles from home, but now that is extending to further I need to be sensible! Thanks for the post!

Roxdog10 Miles in reply to Roxdog

Just ordered a whistle!

Thanks Very thought provoking even for running local and noobies

CmoiHalf Marathon

Thanks GoGo_JoJo. While I have to run much nearer to home for the next month, thanks to lockdown, your post has got me thinking about stuff I should carry as the weather gets colder and, hopefully, I can run longer distances again.


I like this post. I've been running by carrying my details on me for 3 years now. I've got my credit card and some cash on me as well. You just don't know. My wife knows where I'm going and rough time of my return. If she doesn't I run in well populated areas. Am I paranoid? Dunno, just feels right.


This is a really good post. It doesn't really apply to my running, as I seldom do long runs in the forest, but as I live in Norway (albeit Oslo), I tend to go skiing on my own during the daytime in the winter, and I've certainly had similar thoughts. Especially when I've seen very large footprints by the track, and have wondered what I'd do if I came face to face with a moose. Or wolf - there is a pack not too far from us. I'll definitely have to make sure I change some bits of my outing strategy.

Dexy510 Miles

A thought provoking post GoGo-JoJo. I haven’t seen the case you refer to. Although my running doesn’t take me far from civilisation, I always have a parkrun key tag laced onto my running shoe as this gives my ICE details if I have a fall or anything. I would also never go out without a phone for whatever reason I might come across and, like mrrun, a credit card (it used to be a £10 note). A face mask or buff is now a good idea.


Just as an update it was confirmed by inquest that Chris Smith died of hypothermia brought on by exposure. No other injuries were mentioned. 😔

I know it was the Scottish mountains but again, it was an intended 2 hr, 11 mile run. Got to be as prepared as feasible. 🤞🏻

IrishprincessHalf Marathon in reply to GoGo_JoJo

Thanks for the update JoJo, so sad.

Thank you so much for this, I had a very nasty fall in deserted woods in the Summer and didn’t even have a tissue with me! or my phone 😱 Fortunately I was able to hobble home the mile and a half and I met an elderly lady who was very kind and gave me some tissues to mop up my face. I couldn’t run for 5 weeks. Since then I have been more careful, trip hazard awareness has definitely improved but reading your post has really made me think much more especially as I am beginning to up my miles and run through all seasons. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and I will make a better plan than just taking my phone with me, often with a low battery! 🙏🤗

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to jorgeRuns

It's so easy to become obsessed with running light, and for the right runs that is bliss, but being prepared is worth it. I carry 1.5l to 2.5l depending on the run so that's up to 2.5k anyway, what's another 500g or so to protect myself if needed?

Falls do give us a fright, I've had a few this year, that ground jumps up fast!! For me it's usually if I break my own rule of "stop to gawp" make a choice, scenery or trail, you really can't fully watch both. You were lucky it wasn't too serious. 🤗👍🏻

jorgeRuns in reply to GoGo_JoJo

Oh I like that rule, I’ll remember ‘stop to gawp’, since my fall I have ‘remove your 😎in the woods’ 🤓

GoGo_JoJoMarathon in reply to jorgeRuns

Oooh I never wear those! Too risky, you like to live dangerously! 👍🏻🤣

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