Ah, fall — leaves are falling, corporate America is pushing me to buy sweaters and pumpkin flavored beverages, and I’ve already purchased a Christmas present for my parent’s cat. Fall would actually be my favorite season, if not for the inevitable Earth-turning factor. Shorter days means my evening runs are now solidly completed sans sunlight, which, in general, can be kind of a bummer; but for female runners, running in the dark can also be fairly dangerous.
Runner’s World did an incredible report last year on the sexual harassment that many women experience while on their runs. I’ve had to deal with my fair share of gross, appraising looks, cat calls, and wolf whistles. On a hot summer run a few years back, a man in a car slowed down and asked me if I’d like some water. I refused, explaining that I was only a mile from my house and would be fine. The man continued to drive his car slowly next to me (I didn’t stop running), insisting that I get into his car with him. Luckily, a car drove up behind him and honked, and he sped off. At the time, I remember thinking that the man was gross and creepy, but I wasn’t worried too much about my safety — I guess I figured nothing bad could happen to me so close to my house. But last summer, a young Massachusetts woman was murdered mid-run. Vanessa Marcotte was home for a weekend from her job in New York, and took a Sunday afternoon jog near her house. Vanessa’s murder really scared me, and since then I’ve tried to take precautions to ensure my safety on a run.
I bought pepper spray from Amazon last year after applying for a license to carry from the state. I’ve also tried to avoid running in alleys and on poorly lit roads at night. Still, every evening I face the same fear: will running the route I want to run — aka an outdoors route — make me unsafe?
Daylight savings is November 5th, which means we’re one week away from a 5:30 pm sunset. I’m continuing to search for ways to stay safe without compromising my love of running outdoors. Finding a good running club is an option, as is finding a route where I know I can be safe.
The hardest part is accepting that I don’t have the same privilege that male runners enjoy. This isn’t to say that men don’t face any danger when they run outside, only that I know the shadow my ponytail casts in the dark makes me more of a target.
Who knows, though — maybe in a few years the world will be a bit safer, and we’ll all be able to run in the pitch dark. But for now, I still grip my pepper spray pretty tightly.