I noticed an interesting piece by a fellow blogger Christina Lucia via the Reader earlier today which gave tips for running safely when you’re out on your own. This grabbed my attention because the same subject was going through my mind last night.
It was Tempo Run Wednesday, and although rain clouds were gathering it was still hot and muggy. To combat running in the heat I’ve invested in a few cropped vests. I used some last year and found it made a huge difference. It keeps you cool which is the main thing, but it’s also very freeing, allows you to focus on your run and not on whether something is riding up, and also makes you go faster because, let’s be honest, if you’re heading out in properly athletic looking gear you better run like you have at least some idea!
I’d decided I would head out from home for a change rather than run around central Ealing. And this gave me a choice.
Last year, I made regular use of a 5k loop from my house up a bit of a hill, around the outside of an industrial estate and alongside a main road (not as grim as it sounds!). This can be easily made into a 5 miler by adding some laps of a local residential ‘village’.
This 5 mile local loop is a fast route with no major roads to cross. The alternative choice involves more hills and several busy traffic light crossings with lots of delay potential. No brainer, right?
Except that my local favourite route is also the route on which I got mildly sexually assaulted last Autumn, and have subsequently avoided all winter.
In some ways it wasn’t a huge deal. I was walking home from the shops in leggings and a big hoody late one afternoon, minding my own business. A 20 something lad came trotting past and aggressively pinched my bum. He trotted on a bit ahead and kept turning to look back at me. It was the looking back that unnerved me more than the pinch to be honest, it was pretty sinister and made me wonder what else he might do. There was no one around to back me up and he looked pretty handy, so I went totally against the grain and calmly continued, saying nothing, until he’d gone. I reported him to the police immediately when I got home – what if I’d been a young teenager or an older lady, or if he went on to worse things if this was deemed acceptable? But of course nothing came of it.
At the time, it did shake me up because in my middle class lefty liberal head, we’ve moved on from casual sexual assault in the street being an acceptable thing. It makes me fume internally that I still feel the need to detail what I was wearing when I tell this story, as if that should make a difference. But clearly I was wrong and it’s still the case in 21st century Britain that women have to consider the possibility of this sort of ass-hattery whenever they leave the house.
So last night I had a choice; go with the alternative route where I should feel safer but would definitely go slower, or reclaim my favourite route and stick two fingers up to these idiots who want us to be afraid of them. I decided it was a light enough evening to risk the local loop, whacked my new cropped kit on and headed purposefully out of the door.
The run went really well. I smashed out 5 miles in 45:48 which is a substantial new PB, and I felt perfectly safe as there was barely anyone around except my elderly neighbour driving down the road I got groped on. He looked a bit taken aback by my attire and my cheery wave. To be fair to him, he rarely sees me without my specs on so maybe he didn’t know it was me!
By the time I finished I was feeling incredible. The run had felt fast and furious, there was a rain shower which added to the cinematic training montage in my head and I couldn’t have slowed down if I tried. Actually I did try, I’m racing 5k on Friday and really needed to save something – oh well!
Then, when I was walking the few hundred yards home treating myself to a rousing chorus of Roar on my headphones, I could see two young tough looking guys approaching in the opposite direction. Whether fair to them or not, the looks they gave me made me uncomfortable. I started thinking how stupid I was to head out in leggings and a crop top, as if this would mean I was asking for trouble or should expect to be creeped at. But then my lefty liberal feminist brain took over; screw it, I was wearing athletic gear because I’d just run my fastest 5 miles ever on a muggy day in late June. If they had a problem with this then that’s their issue, not mine. I slapped on my best resting bitchface and flexed every newly defined muscle I have in an effort to show this mental strength on the outside, and amazingly they looked away.
I’m not suggesting for a second that a good hard ‘f*ck off’ look keeps genuinely dangerous people away from you. Just that having the confidence to go where you want, wear what you want, and do what you want is actually quite empowering.
Yes, we absolutely have to be careful when we’re out running alone. Choose safe routes, choose to run in the daylight, choose who you tell that you’re out there and when you’ll be home.
But also choose to be yourself. Choose to not let them win. And choose not let the fear stop you (safely) doing things your way.