Sunday, September 23, 2012

A cautionary tale on safety and fear

It's a rare occurrence that a headline makes me angry. Having spent nearly the first 10 years of my career as a copy editor, where one of my main duties was to write those headlines, I became kind of ... well ... numb to them. Unless there's a blatant spelling error or it doesn't fit the story (and appears in my section), no headline is likely to raise my eyebrow.

Except this one.

Of all the stories we've heard about concerning attacks on female runners, this one hit home. A woman who was "jogging" (don't get me started on that one) was attacked on the trail system on Saturday. The trail system that I regularly use.

Mother figgin shit heads.

I had heard a snippet of the story on the evening news and immediately went to the newspaper's website to check out the story. I had to know what happened.

Was she out at dark?
Was she on a secluded part of the trail?
Was she doing something wrong?

And before I answer the first two questions, I will answer the last. No. No, she was not doing anything that would seem outside the norm. She was running at 11 a.m. in an area that is not particularly isolated. In fact, it travels alongside a fairly busy road and it was a driver on that road who saw what was happening and intervened.

I can't imagine how this woman feels. To be so violated and scared during a time when she had a reasonable expectation to feel safe and happy. I say that because even though it wasn't me - it very well could have, I feel violated and fearful. The section of the trail where the attack occurred is one I'm familiar with, and I use it on a somewhat regular basis when I'm finishing up the last six miles or so or a long run. I would have been running it by myself and in the morning but, admittedly, quite a bit earlier.

In an instant, the uneasiness I felt about my long run today was no longer about the distance but my safety. No longer did I feel confident just winging it, and I wanted to avoid the connection sections of the trail that used to be blissfully lonely. After poring over the news,  Mark and I gave a second thought - and a fifth - to how my 20-mile run would play out.

Thought 1: I would carry my cellphone. I know a lot of people do this but it always seemed a bit unnecessary to me. I usually am within a mile of home at any given point and stick to fairly well-traveled areas. However, I learned that no place is safe.

Thought 2: I would plan each section of the route - turn-by-turn - and share the maps with Mark. Usually, I will tell him that I'm going to head to a certain neighborhood or toward downtown but he would now have the smarts (if needed) to drive around looking for me.

Thought 3: In addition to knowing the route, Mark also had a fairly specific time frame to expect me. I break up my long runs into three sections, running the first and last parts by myself. Mark knew that I would take 100 minutes to run the first part and about 60 minutes for the last but he was to give me a 5-minute cushion each time for pee breaks.

Thought 4: Maybe it's time to look into a defensive spray as Mark has periodically suggested. Alas, it is 8:30 on a Saturday night and I'm in my sweatpants and oversized hoodie. Make mental note and carry key between fingers to act as a weapon.

Thought 5: You can't live your life in fear but you can't live your life in ignorance. Be mindful of your surroundings.


  1. I saw this on Channel 15's feed on Facebook this morning. That's super scary. When I lived in the Fort, I used rollerblade on the northern portion of the Rivergreenway all the time. By myself. It was always in the back of my mind to be careful, but I never truly thought anything could happen. I guess it goes to show that you never really know.

  2. These stories are just too common lately...and it makes me so angry. It makes me angry that as a woman I cannot feel safe doing something I love. It makes me angry that as a woman I am always having to look over my shoulder and am a little jumpy every single time I pass someone while running. It makes me angry that I can't run on the beautiful trails just steps from my home because they are along a large river, and a female was assaulted there several years ago. It make me angry that I have to carry so many extra items on my run no matter what time of day, just so my husband doesn't need to drive next to me while I run. This just makes me so angry...and really really sad :(

  3. Yes, this plainly just sucks! My mom always told me to run with a safety pin hidden somewhere. You can never really be too careful!

  4. I run with pepper spray and I am more afraid that I am going to get myself with it than actually have to use it...but sadly it might just happen. Those guys can screw themselves, I agree won't live my in fear but have to be smart. As much as I hate all of the "gear" I'll be glad I have it if something were to ever happen. Jerks.

  5. That's horrible! As a man, I've never really taken precautions for something like that. I don't like it when people get close to me though. I'm always on guard. Although they're all good thoughts, #5 stands out to me most. There is always the possibility of something wrong happening. tripping, getting hit by a car, having an injury and not being able to walk back, and being assaulted. The risk is always present, but don't let the fear get to you. Prepare yourself and do what you want to do, but always be aware of the possibilities!

  6. I have chills reading this. It is terrifying to think of something horrible happening in your "safe place." As someone that has been attacked (not while running though), I would say don't let a cell phone give you a false sense of security. It can happen in an instant before your phone can become any use to you. I love #5 - so important!!