Most of my life, I’ve been called a loudmouth and a troublemaker. Most of those times, I was ‘causing trouble’ by advocating for myself or calling someone out on their (harmful) bollocks. I write this post wearing a brand-new shirt that will only reinforce that perception of me, a perception that damages my credibility in the eyes of some. If you find yourself having a similar reaction, I encourage you to try to set it aside and read this article fully. Your life may depend on it. (If you want the cool shirt, you can get it here).
Get ready for #AllTheHyperlinks. In case you haven't yet guessed, this one is mostly for the ladies.
In order to do my job well, I have to think critically, analytically and strategically. This thinking stuff often means I come to conclusions that surprise you and offer up more questions than answers, which is why my posts are SO LONG, yo. I want you to ‘think it out’ with me.
Especially when we are talking about things you don’t really want to think about.
A few months ago I had an interesting discussion at a party. After an acceptable amount of time had passed, I felt comfortable enough to post this discussion to my Facebook page. Whatever conclusions you draw after clicking the link to read it, I want to be clear that I am in no way damning the guy; this is why I waited to long to post the conversation. He’s a good dude and as far as I know a great dad to 4 little girls.
The conversation bothered me on several levels simultaneously:
I actually do prioritize safety; I prioritize it over pride and shame and modesty
My clothing selection does not negate this in any way
Heatstroke is a far more likely danger than assault
Even well-meaning people don’t necessarily know what danger looks like
More often than not, the people offering advice haven’t been victims, because
We don’t like drawing attention to ourselves because
Violent crime and sexual assault are classified as crimes of ‘opportunity’, which has been twisted to mean that the victims somehow asked for their assault
And we are SO TIRED of explaining why it wasn’t our fault because you need to believe it cannot happen to you
So all of the current ‘runner safety!” posts I see are full of crap written by non-victims who are trying to assure themselves that this couldn’t happen to them (here are 5 reasons why!)
Most of all, I was bothered by the message one of his tween-aged daughters was receiving. She was listening the whole time. I wanted to make sure she heard my message, too: the things we’ve been taught to do and think about our bodies and about safety won’t actually keep us safe.
It’s time for a BIG heads-up about runner safety.
*If any part of you right now is saying, “naw, I’m good…” I hope you’re right!
My first assault occurred my sophomore year of college. I was heading back to the Georgetown campus from my internship at the White House around 10pm. I realized that I could walk the 2 miles back to campus before the next bus arrived.
Go ahead, wag your finger at a little girl walking by herself at night in the big bad city. DC’s noted violence was concentrated ten blocks in the other direction; it’s hard to argue that this walk was more dangerous than standing still in downtown DC for an hour.
Rule #1: Run in the busiest, most heavily trafficked streets you can find.
Pennsylvania to M Street, Wisconsin to O Street, O street to campus. The first two are big, well-lit, major streets through business districts lined with bars. O Street is residential, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country. By the time I got there, I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I was safe. I put my headphones in.
Rule #2: Do not run with headphones
I was a quota-filling scholarship kid in a school and a job full of people who were born and bred to be here. I wanted to blend in, so I dressed the way they did; my suit looked like every other suit on The Hill. Which explains why no one who saw me that night could describe what I was wearing.
Rule #3: Be Visible
Nearly all of my run clothes are painfully vivid day-glo shades that can only be found in Post-it notes and highlighters. I also prefer to run in ‘short shorts’, not because I think my legs are worth looking at but because we tend to notice outliers, unnatural things, things that offend or deviate from the mean. You can’t help but stare at the shirtless person, the person with the unnaturally colored (pink, green, purple) hair or facial jewelry, or the middle aged-woman with stretch marks and grey hair running through Denver in a bra and bun huggers at 6am with 6000 lumens streaming from her headlamp.
This is hard, because women are conditioned from birth to not be offensive to the point of rendering ourselves invisible. We are taught to be modest, that belly buttons are highly sexualized and should never be visible, to do whatever it takes to avoid perceptions of ‘showing off’. We do this even if that means wearing a long-sleeved shirt on a hot day so that no one is inconvenienced by the sight of underarm jiggle or running alone on remote trails just so we won’t run into people we know, because NOT doing so is ‘asking for it’. Spoiler alert: this doesn’t protect us. Invisible people are always targets. Deviate from the mean, and make SURE you are seen.
Rule #4: Weapons are weapons
In the aftermath of my assault, I was determined to purchase a handgun. My boyfriend talked me into taking a self-defense class first. Long story short, I got to experience a new level of helplessness as the teacher showed me all the ways that my own gun could be used against me.
Weapons are weapons, they don’t provide safety. In fact, they can be as useless as mace on a windy day. Weapons require classes on safe and effective use, they don’t preclude the need for self-defense classes. Without training, without knowing exactly where to strike, you are just going to piss your attacker off with this thing.
When confronted, your best bet is to stun and RUN. Take a self-defense class and learn how to properly stun an attacker. Then run like hell.
Rule #5: Rich people hate streetlights and love security cameras
In the 90’s, rich neighborhoods were not well-lit. Homeowners didn’t want streetlamps or nice sidewalks that would encourage foot traffic and loitering. Security cameras were in the home, not on the perimeter of homes and gated neighborhoods.
Times have changed. Rich neighborhoods are still not particularly well-lit (just try running on Quincy Ave in Denver before dawn!) but they have cameras everywhere. If you’re running before dawn, be sure to carry lots of lights. Obnoxious amounts of lights. The more light, the better. Light draws attention to you, which repels nocturnal animals and probable attackers. It also makes it easier to see their faces in long-range security cameras and gets the attention of drivers.
Rule #6: Stay in call range
This is the safety item I carry. Notice that it can be heard up to 1000 ft. When I run alone, I make sure I am never more than 1000ft away from humans.
When I was training for my first 100k race, I ran with large trail groups in remote areas with limited cell phone service. We were all different fitness levels so we were usually alone. We always paired off and made sure we were never so far away from our buddy that they couldn’t hear us yell his name.
This is what I mean by ‘call range’. Be aware of how large your call range is and stick well within it as well as within familiar surroundings. If you find yourself outside your call range or in unfamiliar territory, head back as quickly as possible.
There are SO MANY cool options for expanding your call range these days, especially if you don’t mind running with a phone. StravaBeacon, RunRaegis, Glympse, KiteString, ReactMobile, bSafe and RoadID get high marks. Remember though, for any of these to be effective, someone has to be watching and/or waiting for you and in most cases get there immediately to do any good. Calling only works if someone is there to answer.
Rule #7: Resting Bitchface
Women are also conditioned to smile and wave, make everyone comfortable. If that works for you, cool. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than Resting Bitchface, the face most of us make when focusing on a task. Resting Bitchface is more than just your facial expression, it’s your body language. It’s good posture, a strong locked cage, and making eye contact with people who pass you. It’s “I’m BUSY don’t mess with me”. I practice mine in the mirror.
Running is dangerous. Running while female is unjustly dangerous. Take it from a victim who still runs half-naked all over the city- you will never be truly prepared for a surprise attack. Life sucks like that but it does go on. I don’t want you avoiding your favorite trails or feeling bound to a buddy’s schedule so that you are never alone; we don’t need to make this easy, accessible sport complicated.
I don't really like thinking about rape. I don't really like talking about my own assault(s). I have no doubt you don't want to think about them either. Luckily, we don't need to dwell. It’s worth taking a minute to question if you are taking any/enough safety precautions and if the things you are doing are actually keeping you safe or if you are rendering yourself invisible for the sake of modesty. Running half-naked down University Blvd in the middle of the day might not be the most modest thing you can do, but it’s one of the safest. Safety first, yo. My kids need their Mommy.
You are coached. You are loved. Let’s go win at life.