The Things You Worry about as a Female Runner

by - Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Last night a woman my age was stabbed in the neck while running through one of the busier and safer neighborhoods in Washington DC. It was 8 p.m. According to news reports, the police believe the attack was random.

She managed to stagger in to a store where people tried to save her, but their attempts were not successful and she died. (You can read the news report, but don't get me started on how everyone is referring to her as "jogging" not running. Such gendered terminology usage).

I didn't know Wendy personally, but this story has shaken me to the core.

Wendy was running in a safe neighborhood, an area with heavy car and foot traffic, in the evening after work. She wasn't on some creepy isolated road, she wasn't running late at night when there are no other people out and about.

Whether she was being intentional about it or not, she was taking pretty much all the safety precautions people always tell women runners to take.

And she was still attacked and brutally murdered.

As a female runner in DC, I am extremely freaked out, angry, sad and a whole host of other emotions.

Safety while running has been on my mind a lot lately. It started with Mollie Tibbett's murder and intensified with my own move from what I considered an extremely safe neighborhood in DC to a neighborhood I consider less safe. And now, this.

Running is supposed to be an outlet for stress and worry. It isn't supposed to be a dangerous activity that could result in death. It's not supposed to be an activity that adds even more stress and worry to a woman's life.

A female runner shouldn't have to lace up her shoes and wonder if she will safely make it back to her house, or if she will be attacked at mile 2.5 of her 3 mile run. But that's literally what I worry about every time I go out for a run. And I have to imagine, I'm not the only person.

This mental load of concern that women have to carry just to get some exercise is exhausting. The experts tell us all the things women should do to make sure we don't become victims on a run. And yes, it's a good idea to use common sense and not run through areas where you don't feel safe.

But there's only so much that you can do before the answer becomes don't run at all. Stay home and never leave your house. Find a different way to exercise or manage your stress. Completely alter your own life because there might be some deranged man lurking in the shadows looking to hurt you. (Please read this excellent McSweeney's piece on this exact topic).

On the days I can manage to push the fear of being brutally assaulted or murdered far enough back in mind, I still run.

I like to think I take the precautions female runners are "supposed" to take. I try to select routes that are well-trafficked. I research them obsessively. I try to drive them at least once to make sure they don't look questionable. I make eye contact with and give a small smile to every person I pass on a run (because if a potential attacker thinks you can identify them, they may not attack you).

When I run with music I will only use one headphone to keep my other ear free and alert, and I keep the volume really low. Sometimes I can't even hear songs over the sound of traffic at busy intersections (which makes the music kind of pointless).

I typically try to run during daylight hours, but as the seasons change and our days get shorter, that gets harder and harder.

It's a lot to think about for the ability to escape on a 30-minute run and make it home safely. This isn't the way things should be.

Why do we exist in a world where women constantly have to be vigilant against some sort of attack? And what are we supposed to do when suddenly nothing feels safe anymore?

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  1. Not going to lie, my first thought when I saw this story was "I'm just glad that wasn't Jess". It is absolutely terrifying.

    And you're right, eventually the only option left is not to go out there. I hung up my bike over 2 years ago because distracted drivers, even on remote country roads where cyclists constantly ride, are so prevalent. But at least distracted drivers killing cyclists is usually accidental. This murder was pointed, even if it was random. She died because she existed and was easy prey.

    Would she have been the target if she was walking back from a restaurant to her house instead of out running? Maybe, I like to think. But there's just as good of a chance that the guy picked her because she was distracted and fatigued.

    The problem I can't solve is how to convince men that murdering women for any reason is a bad idea. We shouldn't have to solve that. Why does it just happen now? I don't understand. But men are the root problem here.

  2. Men share some of the same fears - but hardly as intensely. I have been running during the day on the Capital Crescent as an older, feebler male and have wondered about what could happen because there are so few people around. But it is NOT the same as what you describe. We men need to acknowledge that. We get the benefit of worrying about running in unsafe or lonely areas whereas we have conditioned women to worry about running in ANY area. A few of the guys in my club live in the area of the attack and were suddenly scared. It's a novel feeling for most men.

    I wish I knew what she could have done differently to prevent the attack.