I’m on day 78 of my run streak. I’ve been running semi-regularly since college. In all that time, I’ve never experienced any harassment (while running) as awful as what I experienced the other day.
The weather on Sunday was warm, so rather than just doing a mile, I figured I’d take advantage of the warmer temps and do a 5k instead. I think my neighborhood is relatively safe. I run by myself regularly at almost any time but late at night. I don’t carry mace, mostly because I don’t want another thing taking up space in my pockets. That, and I’m also (probably) unnecessarily worried I’ll accidentally mace myself. All I carry with me on my runs are my phone and keys.
I used to run with my oldest dog, Copper, but her constant stops and starts for potty breaks made it harder, and she’s not great on longer distances. Plus, when we got our puppy, Penny, I didn’t feel like it was fair to take one and not the other (and you’re not supposed to run with dogs until they’re a year old or so). I did always feel a little safer having Copper with me, though, despite not being that intimidating.
On Sunday, about halfway through my run, I saw a group of teenage boys up ahead. I slowed my pace down and tried to count them. I counted at least 7, but there were probably 10 or more. A couple of them were bouncing basketballs, so I hoped they were going to the nearby school to play basketball.
I was hoping that by slowing down they’d eventually turn toward the school and I could keep going. But they kept stopping and starting again, so I had to make a decision: Either run through them, or cross the street and try to run past them. I crossed the street.
I didn’t pick up my pace enough, though, so we reached the next intersection at the same time. Rather than them continuing straight or turning right toward the school, they turned left—toward me. I tried to run past them, but ended up running through them anyway.
As I did, they started murmuring comments, most of which I didn’t hear. I heard two distinct comments, though, as I ran past. One was “Damn, mama.” The other: “Let me eat that pussy.” I kept going, pretending I didn’t hear them. When I was sure none of them had followed me and they had moved on, I stopped. I cried.
A million thoughts raced through my mind. Those were teenage boys. The oldest in the group couldn’t have been more than 15. Some looked as young as 10. And those are the things they thought were appropriate to yell out to a woman running down the street.
I was angry. Frustrated. Embarrassed and ashamed, even. There I was, middle of the day on a Sunday, just trying to get my run in and push myself to run farther than normal. I wasn’t wearing anything revealing. My outfit consisted of capris and a t-shirt. I did nothing to provoke them (unless they were upset that I crossed the street to try to avoid them).
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced harassment on a run. I’ve been honked at and stared at. I’ve occasionally had guys yells things at me, usually from a car as they drove by. But I’ve never experienced anything as bad as this.
I struggled to finish my run after that. I was fighting back tears and trying my hardest to breathe. I had to walk a couple more times after that. I finished the run about a minute faster than the pace of my last 5k. I should have been proud of that PR. Instead, I was angry that I was forced to stop at all. How much faster could I have finished if that hadn’t happened? Instead of being excited about my improved pace, I was angry they kept me from doing better.
Of course, the anger, coupled with the shame and embarrassment, was followed by blame and thoughts of “What could I have done differently?” I could carry mace, but that wouldn’t do any good with a group that size. My dog may have been a better deterrent in this case, but even that’s questionable.
Regardless, none of them touched me, or made any attempt to (as far as I know). Macing someone for making comments as they pass by is probably an overreaction.
Two days later, I still feel uneasy. I’m still trying to figure out what I can do to keep myself safe when running by myself. At the same time, I’m entirely frustrated that these are things I have to think about at all.
Why should I need to carry mace or run with an 80-pound dog? Why are women forced to constantly find ways to protect themselves from predatory men (and boys)? Why are we not teaching our sons that harassment is not okay?
Instead, female runners (and women in general), have to think:
Is this area safe enough for me to run alone?
Is this area well-lit enough for early morning or late evening runs?
Is my phone fully charged in case I need to call someone in an emergency?
Should I skip the music for this run so I am 100% aware of my surroundings?
Will I have enough energy to fight back or run away if I’m attacked half-way through my run?
Do I have anything I can use as a weapon if necessary (i.e. keys, mace, etc.)?
These are just a few of the things women have to think about every time they go out for a run. Men rarely (if ever) worry about these things when they run (or go out drinking with friends, or go shopping late in the evening).
I could write about this topic for days, but I’ll leave you with a couple questions:
What safety precautions do you take when you go out for a run? Do you carry mace? What would you have done in my situation?
If you have sons (or little brothers or nephews or cousins, etc.), do you intend to teach them what harassment is and that it’s not okay? Will you also teach them how to recognize harassment and stop others from doing it?