I had been running 2.5 miles already as I started the familiar loop around a small lake. I cruised along, clad in a reflective vest and using a headlamp to illuminate the feet of path in front of me and to be sure drivers and bikers could see me.
There didn’t seem to be as many runners as normal. It was dark and a bit later than my usual time. Though it had let up by now, the rain had been rather heavy earlier. I passed a pair of women heading in the opposite direction, and then was alone again.
I continued. Unexpectedly a figure emerged from the shadows of the path ahead, clad head to toe in black, face mostly hidden by a dark cap. I tensed. It took only a few seconds, honestly probably fractions of a second, to process that this was just another pedestrian—light bounced off the tiny reflective logo, hands in pockets and head tucked down against the cool air and the drizzle of the night, traveling a straight line, no sudden or unexpected movements.
Though my feet kept moving, there was a brief debate in my head. This was one of the “better” parts of the path. The trail I was on is literally next to the road. Some of the parallel streets are heavily trafficked, others often quiet, but if something were amiss, would any drivers even notice? The trees and bushes along the way aren’t densely packed, but they are sizable, large enough to obscure a figure in the dark.
I decided to keep going. This was fear not caution, and I wasn’t cutting my run short for that. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about the scenario. Kelly Herron fought off an attacker in another Seattle park two years ago. Three women runners have been grabbed and groped, not far from where I was running, in recent months. Nationally there have been many others, women harassed, assaulted, disappeared, murdered just going out for a run.
When something prompts me to run through the scenarios and the precedents, the fear doesn’t last very long before it turns to anger. When something happens to a woman runner (and other women as well), there’s a chorus of scolding and advice, not just for the victim but for all women engaging in similar activities.
She shouldn’t run alone.
She shouldn’t run at that time of day/night.
She should carry pepper spray.
She shouldn’t run there.
She should take a self-defense class.
She shouldn’t be distracted by music.
She should be alert at all times.
She… she… she…
Broadly I’m the sort of person who considers risks and what I can do to mitigate them. But I run for the joy of it. I don’t want to carry a reminder of my insignificance. I know that these are relatively rare events, but I also know that, should anything ever happen, I will, in many eyes, bear some responsibility for it.
Then I see men post about lacing up and heading out for a late night run. By appearances, they don’t give it a second thought. They may even laud the tranquility of the hour. I wonder whether anyone’s warned them about the dangers of their activities.
Or is it just the women who are supposed to guard themselves in the spaces we dare to take up in the world?