Why I Will Always Run Where I Want To

Sometimes when I think about all the horrible things that could happen I want to pack it up and move in to this nice bubble. Image via shelterpop.com

Last Wednesday I had a babysitter but couldn’t nail down a running date. It was hot and I could think of nothing better than a solo run on my favorite trails. Yet, I couldn’t help wondering if that was irresponsible of me. I’m a mother of two young children and have a lot of people counting on me. What if something happens to me? “Maybe I should run on the treadmill,” I thought.

Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about running where I want to run by myself. But, recently I’ve been reading a lot about women’s running safety and some of what I’ve read had me in a tizzy wondering if running by myself is inherently dangerous. In particular, this post on Run Like a Mother’s blog had me worked up with this tip: “Opt for boredom and safety over exotic routes. If you have to do tedious one-mile laps in your ‘hood with street lights instead of an unlit park because it’s pitch black at 5:30, so be it.” I get where they’re coming from and I don’t think they’re advocating always running boring loops, but it had me worked up that my planned trail route was all exotic and potentially dangerous and that I’d be better off running up and down my driveway because I could be killed!!!!!!!! KILLED!  I was becoming overcome by fear. I was ready to abandon that long solo trail run for the treadmill covered in the fluorescent light glow of the Y, but then something happened.

I got mad. Why should I have to run on the treadmill when all I want to do is a long solo trail run? I love long solo trail runs, particularly when it’s hot. “Damn it, I’m running where I want to run,” I think I might have declared out loud to myself.

Sarah Hart and her family. Image via kentucky.com

On June 14, 2012 pregnant Sarah Hart was running back to her car early on that Lexington, Kentucky morning. She wasn’t feeling well and had just parted ways with her sister, who wanted to keep running. Somewhere near her car she was attacked and murdered. Unfortunately, Sarah isn’t the only female runner who was killed doing what she loved. Chelsea King is another recent case that comes to mind. In March of 2010, Chelsea was a high school runner running on the trails near her home when she was attacked, raped and murdered in the middle of the day. Her story broke my heart too.

Yet I will run where I want to run, damn it. I will run early in the morning like Sarah and I will run alone on trails like Chelsea. I won’t be stupid, but I also will not become a paranoid mess trying to avoid something that is so rare and unlikely and so so out of my control. I doubt either Sarah or Chelsea did anything wrong or could have avoided their fate. To think otherwise is blaming the victim and and in a way pointing the finger at her running. I refuse to do that. You see women are attacked, raped and murdered when going shopping, yet no one seems to have a call to arms that women stop shopping alone or stop shopping at night or only go to stores with their dog.

Chelsea King doing what she loved. Image via sandiego.com

It is very unlikely that a crazed maniac will ever be waiting for me out on those trails. It is also unlikely that a crazed maniac will ever be waiting for me in the parking lot of the grocery store as I make a quick stop for milk for my kids or a crazed maniac will find a way into my home and wait for me when I get there. Living my life assuming there is a crazed maniac lurking around every corner is not living, at least in my mind. Of course I will be alert and try to avoid shopping at 2:00 a.m. and I will lock my doors and take reasonable safety precautions. But, damn it, I will always run where I want to.

I will not wear headphones and I will be alert. I’ll always know where I am and know how to get to other people. I will trust my instincts and I will do whatever I need to do to protect myself should I be confronted by a threat. I will frequently switch up my routes and the time of day that I run. These are all precautions that make sense for me. But I won’t be scared and, damn it, I won’t quit doing what I love.

I am by no means advocating ignoring safety experts in any way. What I am suggesting is that we look at these guides and do what is reasonable to do in our lives. If a woman runner is murdered it IS NOT HER FAULT even if she wore headphones or ran alone or didn’t bring pepper spray or ran at night or ran naked by herself on the trails at night wearing headphones. We have to be sensible and protect ourselves as best we can, but we also must continue living despite the possibility that awful things might happen.

So run where you want to run, because I will. Damn it.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I”m with you on this. The headlines are scary and yes, we should always be cautious, but we also have a right to our roads/trails. I haven’t altered my behavior since reading any of these stories and I can’t see it happening any time soon. What I love about running is being outside on my favorite routes, or even better, exploring new ones in different locations. No treadmill or boring one-mile loops for me if I can help it! In the end, when we change our plans b/c of the criminals, they win.

  2. Thanks for the reminder! I live in Djibouti in east Africa, the hottest country in the world and 95% Muslim so as a female runner, I am an anomaly. People in the US often ask me how I can run there, and while I do get stares and comments and sometimes kids throw rocks, I feel like part of my sanity is maintained by running. It helps me feel strong to face the challenges of life there, it helps me see the country in a way I wouldn’t if I didn’t lace up my Asics, and it is an example that a married mother of three can be physically active and healthy. Since I started running in 2007, I have had neighbors and college students and other women join me on the roads and at the track. Yeah, some people think I’m nuts, but I’m going to run where I want to and for me, that means running in Djibouti.

    1. Good for you! That’s awesome and inspiring. I’m so glad you’re keeping it up despite the naysayers. Let’s run where we want to!!! PS I’d love to run in Djibouti. Might have to add that one to my bucket list 🙂

    2. Rachel – I just wanted to say that you are awesome! Glad you are out there running (and clearly inspiring others) even if it is not an ordinary thing to do there.

  3. I am with you also. Many times I have had fear running, but I don’t take it in to the treadmill either. In addition to being alert, you need to listen to your instincts. I’ve seen someone that makes me uncomfortable (such as someone standing on the trail in a big jacket in 80 degree weather) and I turn myself around and find a different route. I also had an instance where I kept seeing a car slowly trolling around in the very early and dark morning hours, so I called the police and informed neighbors. You can’t let fear cripple you, but you should also be proactive about anything that isn’t quite right.

    1. I remember when you were freaked out by that truck on your morning runs. You were awesome and did what you had to do to keep on running where you wanted to and didn’t cower to the basement in fear. Just one of the many inspiring things you have done!

  4. Yes!!!! I agree and it is so nice to read this after reading so much about the alternative opinions. It’s one thing to be smart/alert/prepared, another to totally downgrade your life just because there are crazy violent a$$holes out there. If I get an icky feeling on a run, I go somewhere else. Other than that, I do what I want!

    1. Good! Always run where you want to except when there’s a wacko or you get one of those hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck feelings. Let’s keep on running where we want to!!!

  5. I used to be so afraid of being alone outside that I’d go running in the hot, stuffy gym by my house. It was probably the least amount of fun I’d ever had running and it almost made me quit running in the first place. Half the point, for me at least, is to get outside, breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on my face!

    1. I think a lot of women feel the way you used to, unfortunately and actually never find the joy of running. I’m so glad you did!

  6. When I was researching my post from last week, I didn’t find many articles taking this viewpoint. I read a ton of comments though with a similar viewpoint. Most of the time, they would be scrutinized for having such an opinion. I think I went a little to PC with my post to avoid being criticized. But you are so right! We shouldn’t be blamed if we are found in harms way while doing something that’s harmless! Thanks for the eye opener!

    1. I don’t think your post was the same ol’ bs. I think you had a similar take without taking as strong a position. You could have titled yours Why I Will Run When I Want to Run 🙂

      1. Haha, yes, those late night runs with Jimmy. We’re shooting for more normal runs once the mileage is up again!

  7. This is such a great post, Salty 🙂 Since becoming a mother in 2010, I have run almost exclusively on my basement treadmill . . . staring at a wall without music or TV. I don’t know what it is, but I have been freaked out to run solo in Chicago in the early morning or evening hours (even though I have been doing it for a decade!). The only times I do venture out are if I take Xavier and my dog, Willow, with me. Actually, Willow accompanied me on several of my marathon training runs last fall, but it was hard to coordinate just running with Willow.

    Anyway, this is refreshing to read. After I have my little girl in September, I want to get back outside. I miss running outside, doing intervals on the lakefront path, watching the seasons change.

  8. Yes to your post! I run at 5:00 am by myself outside 9 months of the year (the other 3 I do lunch time runs but go to work very early). Occasionally people ask how I can do that and whether I feel safe. I tell them that when I go run in the dark, my fears are in order 1. Fear that I will trip on a crack in the sidewalk and fall or run into a branch (so I wear a headlamp) 2. Fear that I will be hit by a sleep-deprived driver who is reaching for the radio or a cup of coffee while I am crossing the street (so I wear reflective clothing and watch the vehicles carefully) and a very very very distant #3 is fear of random psychopaths. So what do I do to be safe from random psychopaths? Well as a gross generalization, I don’t generally think of random psychopaths as morning people. Perhaps that is stupid but it’s true. More importantly, I take normal precautions. I vary my routes. I stay alert. I don’t wear headphones at 5:00 (more for traffic though). And I trust my instincts. If I see a car or truck idling, I cross the street or turn down another street. I take my phone with me. I try to be reasonable but not paranoid.

    Years ago, I was going through a real fearful period in my life. I stumbled across a book called the Gift of Fear that literally changed my life. The book is about trusting your instincts to keep you safe and about understanding what is truly dangerous in your life and what is propaganda.

    The other thing that I tell people who ask about my running so early is how wonderful it is. The streets are clear. Those cars I mentioned in #2 are rare. It is quiet. The air is still and free of exhaust. Sprinklers are going off and there is dew on the grass (occasionally). I see the garbage truck and paper truck. I see the streetlights turning off and the sky turning light blue as the sun begins to come up in the Summer months.

    1. I really believe the threat of freaks is really really small. I’m more scared of dogs biting me or cars hitting me, frankly! I’m so glad you have a routine that you enjoy and you go about it fear-free. Let’s spread the word for other women runners to not live in fear and to run where and when they want to!

    2. Love this comment, Debra! I have heard of that book and will be revisiting checking it out! It is a good one! Your comment makes me want to go run now at 12:33am 😉

  9. Yes! I love this post. I am in KY and have hated some of the backlash that has come out of Sarah’s death. I have seen some truly short-sighted, misogynistic comments, even from those in the local running community, suggesting what, I, as a female should and should not do. To the point of some folks saying they were going to start running with a gun! Honestly, I will be smart, but I’m not going to live my whole life in fear. I think to suggest that I should be changing my behavior because of what some man MIGHT do is horribly patronizing.

  10. Today was one of those days where I was aware and turned away from something that was probably nothing but was strange enough to catch my attention. I sometimes run and up and then back down a long well lighted boulevard. It’s about 1.5 miles end to end so inserting it into my morning run is a good plan. I’d run West to the end, and was planning to run almost to the East end before turning back to catch a street that cuts into my neighborhood and head home. As I was running East, a guy was walking West on the other side of the street. I passed him and got to the corner where I intended to turn around. When I looked back he was nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted him crouching in the field by the sidewalk.

    Now maybe he suddenly needed to use the bathroom and ducked into the field but it struck me as strange (and I didn’t even think of the bathroom possibility for another 10 minutes). Why had he ducked off the road and was just sitting there? Rather than turn back West and onto the road into my neighborhood, I continued East and came into the neighborhood the long way.

    Bottom line: there was probably nothing nefarious about the event but if he was using the bathroom, he didn’t need interrupted and if he wasn’t I’m happy to have been aware and gone the other way.

  11. Late commenter here. I’m going to stick my neck out and be the lone nay-sayer here in regards to running on a secluded trail. I had a close call when I was going for a trail run once. If it weren’t for some observant hikers that noticed and warned me that a man (not dressed for trails) had been watching me, following me, and ultimately ran ahead of me once he saw which trail I was taking, I may have had one of those horrible incidents. It rattled me. If I run on a trail, I take a dog or a friend. While I wouldn’t be so scared of the world that I would stay in my driveway, every runner has to decide what they’re comfortable with.

  12. I agree with Miss Prickly and Salty. Because, yesterday I had a man follow me so closely behind me I could hear his breath. I kept waiting for him to pass and he kept dogging me. In the woods where I love to go for a solo run, the one kind of running I really love. And I was running slowly, back to it after along time, so for him to maintain that slow pace directly behind me was so creepy. Luckily I saw a couple of people further up (there often aren’t), pretended nothing was wrong, ran up just a bit past them and doubled back, leaving him to run on.
    So what do I do? I’m 56, I’ve spent all my adult life refusing to be too hemmed in by fears of assault. And I can’t replace solo runs in the woods with anything else that will do the same thing for me. I crave those. I don’t want to run with anyone else. For me, that’s sacred time to think about anything I want to, in a place that I love.

    1. I had a guy creep me out on a trail run and I basically did the same thing although there weren’t other people up ahead. I had enough and without warning turned around and ran past him and out of there. I never saw him again, but of course it made me worried for a while after that. If you think he was really out there to do you or someone harm, you should report him to the park authorities or police. Maybe take some different trails for a while. Take a whistle or something if it makes you feel better. But you should not be afraid to do what you love.

  13. Thank you for this post! I agree with this so much. There are certain places I won’t run alone or won’t run alone at certain times of day, but I won’t give up running because I don’t have someone to run with me at all times. I agree that living paranoid is not living, especially in the world we live in where things could happen at any instant.