Marathon Miles: Running Safely
By Alexis Mercer
If you’ve seen the national news lately, you may have come across a story about a woman named Mollie Tibbetts who went for a run in her small town in Iowa late in the evening on July 18 by herself. She was house sitting but informed her boyfriend, who was at another location, that she was headed out for a run. She never came back.
Her body was found more than a month later in a field after authorities were led there by her killer. She had been stabbed to death and left covered by corn husks.
It brings chills to my skin and tears to my eyes to even begin to put myself in her shoes and think of the fear she experienced that night.
Unfortunately, this situation is one we runners, especially female runners, have to contemplate. And not necessarily just running at night.
I have put on many miles in my preparation for a marathon. And many, many miles before beginning this training. I have been running on roads since I was 14 years old. I don’t recall a single time I haven’t at least had the thought cross my mind that I need to put myself in the best possible situation to be safe while out training.
Running with a partner or group.
Running with my phone.
Running with pepper spray.
Running during daylight.
Running without headphones in so I can hear what is around me.
Running a wide variety of routes at different times during the day so as to avoid a pattern. Running with a knife if I don’t have pepper spray.
Running on roads with a moderate amount of traffic in order to be seen frequently.
Running with my location actively being sent to friends or family.
Running only after telling multiple friends where I am and when I will be back.
Running while glancing behind me to double check noises.
These are all things that go through my head. Every time I run. And it makes me angry. Why should I have to think so much about my safety? Why are there people who can destroy one’s sense of safety?
My fear while running usually comes from people who find it necessary to honk and shout comments out the car window. No, not people I know who are cheering me on. People, always men, who honk and shout and sometimes slow down to observe.
The first thing I really want to do is scream at them how unappreciated their behavior is. But I am most often gasping for breath and looking for an escape route, so that doesn’t happen. Instead I make sure my face shows my intense disgust in case the man thinks that perhaps I might enjoy the comments.
I assure you all, I don’t.
Fear that the person is going to stop and try to escalate from honking and shouting to something worse is what then takes over my brain. Fight or flight.
And then anger. Pure rage that while I am out enjoying a run I have to put up with such thoughts running through my head. Sadly I have not gone on a single run this summer where I haven’t had at least one person honk or shout or both at me. Not a single run. It happens all the time.
I pray to God that I will never have to experience anything remotely close to what Tibbetts endured that evening in July. But just in case I try to be as prepared as possible.
In fact, I just purchased a new device that is a flashlight, a pepper spray canister and also an emergency alert sending device all in one. I also purchased a new set of headphones that are placed outside the eardrums so that I can hear my surroundings while still enjoying music or podcasts (science is so cool).
Even while placing the orders for these two items, I was frustrated that I felt the need to spend my hard earned money on things that are only purchased to keep me safe rather than for enjoyment or comfort. I would much rather spend that money on a new pair of shoes or a drawer full of sweat wicking t-shirts that are stink free.
Perhaps someday there will be an easier way to feel secure while I am out enjoying pounding the pavement or dirt roads. Perhaps someday the Mollie Tibbettses of the world won’t be read about in the national news anymore.
Until then, I will continue to be vigilant, do everything within my power to prevent such situations, and pray for all my fellow runners’ safety.