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.
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.
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.