Running affords me valuable alone time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being with my friends and loved ones, but I have always been perfectly happy in my own company and do have a need for regular solitary headspace. Running is perfect for this; not just the actual running but the to and fro as well.
Take parkrun. One of my favourite things about parkrun is that I usually travel to it alone, even if I’m not running there. Because I live slightly removed from the main centre of Ealing and at that time on a Saturday morning the buses are at infrequent intervals, I will often have half an hour to kill having a cup of tea somewhere before I take my stroll down to the park.
This stroll is one of the few times I keep my phone in my pocket and just appreciate what’s around me; this Saturday on my way home from parkrun I very much enjoyed noticing how many Autumn leaves had fallen to carpet the Green by the bus stop, and how they danced about in the wind like a scene out of Fantasia. I also enjoyed sitting alone on the top deck with a homemade flapjack and a good coffee (at the front with my feet up, naturally).
The value I find in the time spent alone on the run has felt slightly threatened in the last couple of weeks as the nights have been drawing in. As I’m now in taper, my weeknight runs are best done solo to avoid accidentally matching someone else’s pace. This means a lot of running around my local area. I don’t know whether it’s just getting used to running in the dark again but there have been several times of late where I’ve felt nervous, even fearful.
It’s silly because it’s not even late – we’re talking 6.30pm here when families with kids are still around and people are on their way home from work – but in the dark, especially if you are a bit blind without your bins like me, things look different. Even if the only real danger is the crazy driving habits of my neighbours or on one occasion last week, a Boy Scout on a scooter.
In the last few weeks there have been several times when I’ve seen small groups of young men that in the daylight I would never assume were a threat. On one occasion there were a couple of lads walking up the main road, and on hearing me approaching the one at the back took a dramatic step to one side. I hesitated; was he trying to get behind me with his mate in front so they could perform some sort of pincer move and push me into the road?
No, of course not. He was making space for me, and shouted to his mate to ‘mind out for the runner, get out of the way’. He smiled. He was being kind.
Later in the week I was running hill repeats on a road I hadn’t expected would be quite so eerily quiet. Two young men on a moped drove up beside me, and it seemed like they slowed down. They were shouting things. I couldn’t hear what, but it was frightening. In all likelihood they were just talking to each other and shouting over the engine, but as a lone woman in the dark you do have to be wary and ready to change direction and flee.
This is of course spectacularly unfair to the men involved, who are highly unlikely to be actually plotting to attack any woman they see in the street.
I recently finished a run to see a message from a male club mate who was teasing me for being miserable because he’d hooted his car horn at me in a gesture of encouragement earlier and I’d scowled. I’d heard it, and assumed it was someone being a dickhead. Sadly that’s the natural assumption because of the number of lewd comments thrown our way from passing vehicles on any given run.
I said as much to my friend and he empathised, saying he has felt the same on runs and citing nervously approaching a group of hoodie wearing youths one night when he wasn’t feeling his best. One of them turned to him with an encouraging ‘go on mate, you can do it’. Another time during a group hills session he remembered a couple of lads stopping to act as an impromptu cheer squad.
People, on the whole, are good and caring. I believe that. So it does cause me dismay when I feel frightened running alone in the dark, because in the daylight I would never suspect innocent people of being up to no good.
Yesterday it just got silly; I kept noticing a green light shining across my field of vision, like those lights that have been added to Boris bikes that project a green bike shape in front of them. I kept looking around wondering what the hell it was, was someone with a similar light following me on a bike? Why wouldn’t it go away?
After nearly two miles I realised what it was. It was the bloody heart rate sensor on the underside of my Garmin, occasionally taking a reading and flashing on for a few seconds. What an idiot, scaring yourself stupid with your own wrist!
I don’t remember feeling so freaked out last year when the nights started to draw in. I do wonder if it’s worse at the moment because of all the focus on sexual assault against women in the news. The whole Weinstein nightmare, the resurgence of the allegations against Trump, even the bringing up again in relation to all this of the Mike Pence policy of not being alone with any woman who isn’t his wife. His official reasoning is that it’s to safeguard himself against false allegations and there’s no suggestion that he has ever behaved inappropriately towards women that I’m aware of (in a harassment way I mean, clearly the generally misogynistic and infantilising nature of this rule is its own issue). But there’s an insidious undercurrent to all this that, if we let it in, tells us we’re not safe on our own with men.
This is patently ridiculous. Men are not all predators, just like not all women make up false allegations. The vast majority of adult human people of either and all genders are decent folks who are kind to each other.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have to be sensible when running alone in the dark; wear hi vis, tell someone your route, leave the headphones at home, use proper crossings. There are bad people out there, and I hope that any men reading this will understand why we get scared and why we need to keep this in mind without taking offence. We know you’re all lovely, but there are some people out there who are not and they could hurt any of us, not just women.
Maybe my eyesight is getting worse as I get older. Or maybe all this scaremongering and focus on the small majority of awful people that exist means that, even if you have 20/20 vision, it’s hard to clearly see what’s really out there in the dark.