• On Being a Female Runner*

    A good friend sent me an article tonight.

    She knows I’m a runner and that I often take advantage of the beautiful lake trails near where we live. She wanted to give me a heads up about something she had read and found concerning. The article was about my city–not my immediate area thank goodness, but not crazy far away either.

    The police put out a bulletin alerting the public that there had been three recent incidents involving female runners being grabbed from behind and touched inappropriately by a man on the trails. The women had been approached from behind by a male who touched them then sped away on a bicycle. They offered a description of a suspect, and urged any other women who may have been approached or assaulted to come forward.

    Honestly, it just made my stomach turn.

    Being a female solo runner is not something I ever take lightly. I’ve written in the past about my own unnerving experiences, particularly the one where I was actually followed home by three men who aggressively pursued me home from a shopping center.

    I’ve been mooed at, leered at, had comments hurled at me and more than one gaze that lasted entirely too long. Last summer I had to completely change running routes after more than one uncomfortable experience with a man who began watching me run and followed behind me with his van.

    And now, there’s someone in my city who is touching women on the paths.

    I mean, seriously?! It is SO frustrating.

    I was talking about this with M the other day–the precautions I take are probably excessive, but at the same time, I know they definitely aren’t. On top of the usual things like telling M my route, carrying my phone with me with the GPS on, keeping my music low so I can hear my surroundings, etc, I’ve added some new precautions as well.

    For example: after the weird encounters with “van man” last summer, I now wait until after 7:30am to run most mornings. Why? More people are out. I feel safer if I’m passing another runner / biker / dog walker every few feet because I know someone will hear me if I need help.

    I also no longer wear my hair in a ponytail when I run. I wear it all tied up in a tight bun. Why? Because my hair is quite long now, and statistically women with pony tails make easier targets because there is something for an attacker to grab.

    How ridiculous is THAT?

    I’ve been on the fence about switching my route up again because of another sort of weird experience with a new guy. I have a bridge that I absolutely love to run across. It’s my favourite part of my run. It’s gorgeous and quiet and runs over this little babbling stream. It’s DREAMY.

    It is in this tiny little green space between two neighborhoods. There are houses on either side, but it’s this little oasis in the middle. As soon as you cross the bridge heading back to my house, you come to a path that leads back into the neighbourhood. The path runs between two houses, and there is a swath of cut grass between the green space and the fences that line the properties there.

    I’ve noticed that there is often a guy that sits back there on a lawn chair in the morning. There’s nothing overtly untoward about him, just that he’s there and it’s kind of an odd spot to sit. I noticed he started being there more often as I ran, but he never approached me so I didn’t let it bother me much.

    And then I went for a walk with my friend and our kids last week.

    We walked back to the bridge so the kids could play. We were there talking when suddenly this guy appeared–same chair guy I had passed two hours earlier on my run. I assume he lives somewhere on the street.

    He asked if we had lost a “stuffy”–which we had. P had been running on that swath of grass where he often sits and left the small bear he had been carrying. He had not been sitting there when we came in.

    Whatever. It was casual and I appreciated that he told us. I thanked him, picked up the bear and excused myself. As I was talking with my friend next to the stream, he appeared again. This time, with more helpful advice about a loose branch. When he came back a second time, my spider senses started tingling. I immediately began asking the kids to come off the rocks in the water so we could leave. I thanked him for the help, again, then sort of abruptly told him we needed to leave. We gathered the kids up and walked away.

    He was probably just being friendly. Maybe there really was a loose branch he wanted us to be careful around. Maybe I’m really overly cautious.

    But if I have learned ANYTHING over the past several years, it’s to always trust my gut. I didn’t the day those men followed me, and I got really lucky. When I feel that something is off now, I don’t wait.

    Maybe that makes me really unfairly judgemental. Honestly, I don’t care. It’s my reality as a female runner.

    Luckily I haven’t seen him around since. I took a few days off, and since going back he hasn’t been there. If I see him again, that might be another running route down the drain.

    Ugh.

    Do men experience this? Do women leer at you and look a little too long while you run? Do women hurl insults at you, or moo at you? Do women approach you from behind, touch you inappropriately then race away?

    Sometimes it all just feels so unfair.

    I just want to run and not worry… but I just don’t think that will ever be in the cards for me. I’m not going to stop, and I refuse to let someone else steal this from me.

    So, I’ll keep taking precautions. As frustrating as it is, I’ll keep changing routes if I have to. I won’t let anyone steal this from me.

    Sometimes I just really wish things were different.

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