When I wrote my recent post about training for a marathon, I wasn’t expecting much of a response other than, “Good luck!” I certainly wasn’t expecting to get a handful of private messages saying things like, “Please get yourself some pepper spray” and “I’d feel a lot safer if you would buy a _______” (insert “Booby Trap Bra,” “canister of mace,” “Rose Guardian Eye Gouger,” etc. here) and “Maybe sign up for a self defense class?”
So I took it to my Facebook feed and asked, “Here’s a question for the female runners out there: do you carry protection with you when you run alone? Except for my phone and an ability to scream like a total lunatic, I generally do not. I run in populated areas and try to stay away from animals. It’s not always possible to stay away from cantankerous dogs, but that is a risk I accept. Other than that… There is no way in hell I am going to stop running, or running alone, just because I’m a woman. I absolutely refuse.”
I received a wide variety of responses ranging from, “I don’t carry anything and never have” to “The few times I’ve run by myself I was followed by creepers and cut my run super short” to “I problem-solve this by not running.” People suggested carrying pepper spray, running with a dog, wearing a whistle, staying in well-populated areas, running only in the daytime, taking a phone, sharing your route with a friend or family member so someone knows where you are, learning Krav Maga, not wearing headphones or leaving one bud out so that you can hear someone approach, running with a partner, and avoiding unfamiliar neighborhoods.
All of these messages were well meaning, and in light of recent attacks on female runners, in one case in broad daylight, the concern is understandable. I appreciate and respect all of these suggestions. Nevertheless, when I read them, I wanted to crawl into bed and cry.
Because here’s the thing: why should fear play any role in an activity that is so vital to my well-being? The road and the trail are my idea of church. When I’m feeling anxious, depressed, wired, or excited, I run. When I’m in a new place, I explore on foot to create mental maps of my surroundings. Running gives me a sense of peace, continuity, and control. Yet all of these warnings and precautions imply a complete lack of control. They suggest I am a victim in waiting.
It also makes me angry. Livid, even. When my 5’11” husband goes running, the only things he has to worry about are tying on his sneakers, grabbing a bottle of water, and loading up his favorite podcast. As a small female, I have to worry about whether or not I should use headphones, whether or not I should bring some form of self defense, whether or not I should wear a ponytail, whether I should have invested in martial arts classes, how soon my husband should start looking for me if I’m not home when expected, etc. etc. etc. Men have to worry about these issues to some extent, too – because anyone can be a victim of violence – but I would argue it’s not something they worry about as much.
All I want to do is get out there and run. Preferably alone. Preferably not in fear. Preferably without spending the entire time worrying about someone hurting me.
My friends’ messages and the ensuing Facebook discussion made me realize that my anger and sense of injustice don’t really matter. The fact is, I am running long distances on my own in places that aren’t terribly familiar to me. Even without the consideration of human threats, dogs are always a potential issue (for any runner). I have to take some precautions. I tried to convince Trent that getting a dog was the best bet (ha!), but given the lack of room in our RV, that’s not the most practical option. Instead, I’m now the (somewhat reluctant) owner of a small can of pepper spray and a whistle.
But that doesn’t mean my opinion has changed. As a woman, I should be able to run where I want to and when I want to. I should not have to live in fear or constantly worry about my safety. We should all have the freedom. And I’m not going to stop running alone. I absolutely refuse.