Running Scared: An Open Forum

Back when I was training for the half-marathon, there were a lot of long runs. Like 8 and 9 and 10 mile ones. More than I'd ever run before.

I did them mostly on Sundays when there was time and I tried to go with someone (aka husband) when we had someone to watch the kids. But sometimes it just didn't happen and I had to go alone.

I don't mind running alone, I actually prefer it because I can run my own pace. But going on the long runs means adding a lot of extra mileage and not always in the most public of places, aka trails. Which makes me kind of uneasy because there are always shady people on trails. It's just the way it is. I wish it weren't so, but it is.

When I lived in Utah, a friend and I were running on a trail along the Jordan River and some guy stepped out of the bushes and flashed us. Well it was a little more than just "flashing", and it was actually pretty scary. We ran off the trail and called police. Had I been running alone, I always wonder what would've happened? I'd have been all alone on a trail with a crazyman exposing himself. Crazy bastard.

When I was on one of my long runs a few months ago, I took a turn out of my house, ran down my block toward a main road, took another turn to get to another main road, and a van was coming down that block. No big deal. BUT, the van stopped, a man rolled down his window and said something to me and was looking at me in that way which made me quite sure he was not asking me for directions. So I kept running, faster. He didn't keep going, he just watched me out the window. And kept watching me until I got to the end of the block.

He went a little further, stopped at the stop sign and kept watching me. Eventually I turned off the other end of the block and I didn't know where he went after that. But I was scared for the entire rest of my run. Was he going to follow me now? Where was he? Was he going to wait for me? I had to run back that way to get home, what would I do now?

I kept watching for him the whole way which, was the entire 9 miles. On my way back down that block, I called my husband on the phone and talked to him while I was running, until I got right back onto my block. This happened at the beginning of a 9 mile run, so for 9 miles I was in an inner panic. I only had two runs left until the half-marathon and this was one of them. Not running was not an option. Not this day.

SO I wonder to you, out loud, WHY?! Really, WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY??

Why do I have to be terrified to train alone? Why do I have to spend 9 miles worrying and panicking that something terrible is going to happen to me?? Why do I feel like I have to find a group in order to feel secure about going on long runs and rides?

I won't get on my sex discrimination platform (yes, I do have one of these, it began when I was 12 and playing baseball for me really meant having to play softball, because well, baseball was for boys and softball was for girls. This will anger me forevermore but this isn't about that.)

What does bother me and I realize I may be touching on some touchy ground here but stay with me. I don't see men being that nervous about training. My husband has no qualms whatsoever about training in the dark. They can run in the dark, they run along trails, and well, women have to be a little extra careful about doing it. Of course, doing these things for anyone always has some kind of inherent stranger danger along with it, I know, and I'm not saying that men can't be accosted by someone in this type of situation. I'm just saying that, especially in my own experience even in broad daylight on a busy street, it seems that women have to be a bit more careful and think twice about the time of day and route they're taking.

I get so angry when I feel like I am forced into not being able to train the way I would train otherwise. (I certainly won't run that van route anymore -- and I live in a very safe neighborhood!) I think twice about what time it is when it comes to going out for a run (if it's getting too late, that means it'll be a treadmill run at the gym) and I usually bike with a buddy. No, I don't have to. And yes, there is part of me that believes I am way too paranoid. Not only have I had my own experiences but quite frankly, it doesn't help that I worked in news forever and we covered story after story on abductions, missing joggers, and missing mothers. So in my mind it happens all the time because that is how we covered it, even though that is not true, (same with shark attacks), but it doesn't matter. I know it happens and I worry. A lot.

And honestly, it makes me angry. It makes me bitter. What I want is the freedom to train when I want, how I want and for however long I want, without worrying about someone jumping out of the bushes or pulling up alongside of me or even whistling or honking for that matter (why must men do this too?)

I just want to be.

Is that too much to ask? When I run outside, I just want to be left alone to my thoughts.

Instead, I keep my I-Pod low. I run quickly past any brush. I avoid the wooded trails that would otherwise be so beautiful to jog on if I had a running partner. I keep my eye on the cars to make sure no one is passing me twice or following me. And if I get nervous about something, I'll run with my keys between my fingers so I can gouge some eyes out if someone attacked me (and I have other things up my sleeve too so don't even think you know all my tricks, crazies!) and I always always map my run out ahead of time, tell someone where I am going. And while I'm running, I always have a mental escape route planned (run into the water! or run up to that house! and by the way, yes I would jump out into the middle of traffic and take my chances being hit by a car to escape me some crazy.)

I wonder if this is always how I will feel and how I can get past it. I have a family and training for a triathlon means a lot of working out and not always at the most convenient times. So being able to go out on a bike in the middle of the day in a busy area is not always possible. But I want to be able to go biking on a real bike and not have to do spin class! So what's a girl to do? Anyone with words of advice? Anyone carry anything with them? What do you do when you train alone?

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  1. i know exactly what you mean. we've even had people attacked at our city park. i run outside at the community center (and pass the police department every 0.6 miles). the only thing is that i know when i get to my longer runs i'm going to get sick of taking the same loop 17 times!

  2. Oh, man, I know what you mean. It took me a long time to get the guts to jog somewhere outside of our neighborhood. (Luckily, our neighborhood is quiet, open, and each "lap" is over 1 mile.) When I finally did, it was after mentioning that I felt apprehensive to my husband. (With probably a similar rant. ;-) He said to take my cell phone (which you do) and that it was less likely that the "crazies" would be out in the extremely early morning (which was when I tend to do my longer workouts). I'm glad I got the guts to do it--our local coast trail is pretty well-populated with other women exercising in the morning (alone and in groups), so I felt a bit safer.

    That said, I think our best hope is constant vigilance and backup planning. A good self-defense class is probably a good idea, too. (I remember we had a unit about it in jr. high PE class...although we just got the info, not the hand-to-hand part that a true self-defense classes includes.)

  3. I'm pretty sure you read my account of the man in the green jacket on my blog a million years ago. I get it about the crazies. And about staying aware, trusting your gut, being prudent. It sucks that we have to.

    I remember when my mom was sick, and I just wanted to go walking in the forest preserve as I'd done a million times before, just to get away somewhere that I could think and reflect and be alone. I picked up the paper while I drank my coffee at the kitchen table that morning and read of abducted joggers on some trail, different forest-like area. That day, I became so angry when I realized that I would never feel safe getting away alone in such a way. So, I went to the mall instead. And got scammed by some asshats with a fake sob story supposedly selling magazines that I never received. At least they didn't physically attack me.

    I have no answers, either, other than to stay alert and not take too many chances. And carry mace. Or something, um, stronger.

  4. I hate that it has to be that way!!

    I don't really have any answers, but I would definitely carry mace or something with you!!

  5. I just thinking about this type of thing. In my case it is wanting to go to the gym in the wee hours. I don't to make myself a target by leaving my home the same time everyday. Hey, that is when I want to work out. No I have to wait for the sun to come up to go to the gym. I live on a military base. You would think I was safe. Sorry there are nuts are everywhere!

  6. you never told me about "those" perv's! what the? hillc!
    you need to borrow my dog Gus. nobody F's with me with him at my side. he is such a wimp but looks tough and loves to for miles and miles. i wish you could borrow him. that's it. im getting you a dog for your bday this year. a man eating dog.

  7. We live in the country. Not like "Deliverance" country, but I jog on country roads where houses can be few and far between and driveways are really long and there are no sidewalks, only drainage ditches. I'm always scared. I take my cell and usually wish I had mace. My husband said I could take the little .22 but you know I'd just shoot myself in the foot while jogging so that really just isn't practical. Every car that comes by makes me nervous (and not just because 55 mph is the speed limit...and there's no sidewalks). I hate it and it makes for a miserable jog. But I love being outside in the early morning with the birds and the dew and the sun. So I do it. Once in a while. Otherwise I'm a treadmill girl. But I don't train for anything. If I did, I'd HAVE to be outside.
    It isn't fair. But unfortunately it's the crappy world we live in.

  8. I have the answer, run with a big scary dog!!!! I have a really sweet rotweiler, and I promise noone ever looks my way, ha ha ha!!

    No seriously that is super scary, in college I use to run the trails close to the river, until one day a man flashed himself to me, I was shocked, I couldn't believe he would do that, sickos.


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