Some thoughts on being a female runner

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This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

I really wish this was the only message of its kind I got over the past few days, but it isn’t.

Three women who went out for runs in the past two weeks didn’t come back. All I can think about — and, apparently, all many of my friends, family, and loved ones can think about, too — is how easily that could have been me.

Running is, for the most part, a solitary sport. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I can count the number of people I run with on one hand, and that’s by choice.

A running partner is a big commitment, at least, it is to me. You have to gel on an unspoken level: who sets the pace, who chooses the course, who moves behind when the path narrows. You have to know whether they’ll push you or force you to pace yourself or match your speed and endurance. You have to trust them enough to be okay with being around them when you’re bare and incredibly vulnerable — no makeup, just out of bed, sweaty and smelly, running on fumes. You have to be comfortable enough with them to know that most of your time together will be shrouded in silence.

Suffice to say, I run alone most of the time.

I run early in the morning, usually around 6:30 a.m., but in my 13 years of running, I’ve been out on a run practically every time of the day — 5 a.m., 3 p.m., 10 p.m., you name it. I run by the East River and the Hudson River and the outer loop of Central Park. I run busy New York streets and quiet suburban ones. I run my old cross country route through my hometown’s wooded park; I run the secluded trails of Central Park. I run in double layers of leggings and fleece tops and jackets and I run in spandex shorts and sports bras.

I am always afraid.

I am always afraid, even when my mother sternly tells me to stay away from the trails if I’m by myself and I laugh it off and tell her to stop being paranoid. I am always afraid because I’m neurotic and anxious and that’s just my nature. I am always afraid because things happen, because solitary women anywhere, doing anything, are always targets. I am always afraid because the female jogging victim seems like such a regular phenomenon that I don’t know why there aren’t actually statistics to source about how commonplace attacks on them are.

Sometimes I am more afraid than others. Sometimes I cut runs short or run faster than I can handle or just don’t run at all. Sometimes that fear quiets itself to just a very slight whisper, sometimes it only exists in the habits I’ve formed, like how I swapped my weightless iPod shuffle for a much heavier iPhone, because what if something happened?

You know what? I’m angry. I’m so, so angry, and this isn’t the first time I’ve said so. I’m angry because these brutal attacks keep happening to women and I’m angry because I’ve been criticized and made fun of for being upset. I’m angry because people have gone so far as to create an entire sub-reddit to mock my fear. I’m angry because this doesn’t happen to men.

All of this anger and fear, even if it usually just exists on a subconscious level, is exhausting. I’m tired. I want to walk out the door one day with nothing but my keys and just go. I want to know what that sort of freedom feels like. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

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