When a morning jog turns into running for your life
I first connected the act of running with being a woman at the age of 15. I was on a run in my
neighbourhood, training for my school’s cross-country, when a car drove past slowly. I heard a high-pitched whistle, followed by men’s voices shouting. I watched the car drive down the road, and it wasn’t until it had disappeared from sight that I realised I had been catcalled. I was just a 15-year-old, very visibly a minor. At that point, catcalling had been something from movies, not a real experience to me. It was then that I realised “Oh, I’m not safe while running.”
Nowadays, I’m still running, mostly for my mental health. Five days a week (often more like three), I pull myself out of bed, departing well after the sun has risen. I follow busy roads or paths where others always are. I take my headphones off whenever I leave these paths, constantly looking around, desperately trying to be as aware of my surroundings as possible. It feels instinctual, like something in my DNA telling me that I have to be extremely cautious. But that feeling wasn’t there before my experience as a 15-year-old. It’s learned.
There was a story recently published by 1News about an attempted abduction of a woman jogging in Christchurch. My stomach dropped when I read it. I immediately thought of Eliza Fletcher, a woman who was abducted and murdered in the U.S. while out jogging. The outcry that followed has brought a feeling of sad solidarity. We are not alone, it is a depressingly common experience. 43% of women experience harassment on a run, according to Runners World. LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC people experience even greater levels of violence (however, to my knowledge, there are no statistics specifically about this, which is a whole discussion in of itself).
I quickly learned that I have to take measures to try protect myself, including avoiding running
before the sun is up. I wish I didn’t have to. It is not anyone’s fault, no matter when or where they went for a run, if they are harassed or attacked. Unfortunately, we live in a world where atrocious acts of violence are perpetrated against minorities, including women, for simply existing in a space. Although the probability of being murdered while on a run is only a one in 35,336 chance according to Runners World, this doesn’t stop that fear. It doesn’t stop the smaller acts of aggression, like when I was catcalled as a 15-year-old. This experience has stayed with me many years on, and to this day, I still have similar encounters. It might be thanks to the ingrained hyper-awareness, but every long stare, every head that follows as I run past makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Simply being leered at is enough to make someone feel objectified and small. These experiences can easily make you feel so vulnerable, so terrified, that you can no longer continue. To feel so at-risk that you give up something you enjoy is heart-breaking.
The reality is, you can be modestly dressed, in a public space, completely minding your own
business, and still experience harassment. Ultimately, the problem does not lie in the person at risk. Nor does the solution. My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced harassment or violence while just trying to exercise. Even if it’s an uphill fight, we need meaningful change, and we need it now.