In the United States in August 2020, just 17 days apart, Sydney Sutherland and Sarmistha Sen were killed while out running—in broad daylight, in public places. After the second attack, I was shocked when I wasn’t seeing mainstream news coverage of this. Two women killed, in just 17 days. Where was the outrage and anger over this? The safety of women matters. It felt like the mainstream news completely passed over this.
That made me realize that we had to be the ones talking about women’s safety and advocating on our own behalf. We had to be the ones to share with younger and newer runners how to stay safe and be aware and make it home from their runs safely. No one else is going to do it for us.
Everything about this made me upset—the lack of coverage, the victim blaming that inevitably happens, the fact that these women took all the necessary precautions. All of us women probably take these precautions subconsciously at this point: run in well-lit places, in public places, run covered up, run with your ears open to hear, run aware of who is around you, change your route if something feels dodgy, don’t keep your Strava or Runkeeper location public, and so on. It’s so ingrained into our being. And isn’t that sad that it’s a necessary part of our running to make sure we make it home alive?
This should not be the case.
I recently shared my thoughts on this subject on the Women’s Running Instagram account. The impact was more than we imagined. In 24 hours it had become the most impactful post Women’s Running had ever shared. This demonstrated, to me, how widespread the problem of harassment and abuse is. It’s not going away and we need to keep talking about it.
While acknowledging the reality of the concerns, it’s important to keep the narrative front and center, to talk about what we can do, and to recruit allies to keep spreading the narrative that as a society, it is unacceptable to harass or assault any other human being. Period.
Inviting Allies to Help
As a community of runners we can be allies for each other. This includes men, women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ runners. We are a powerful group together. Just recently Adidas realized an opportunity to use their running club groups for good: to educate the male runners in their clubs on how to help women run safely. This is just one example that we can all consider on how we can use our running groups, communities and schools to be part of the narrative.
Precautions Runners Can Take
While continuing to champion the process of change, there is also no point hiding our head in the sand when it comes to runner safety; we cannot ignore the basics of common sense.
Here are some runner safety precautions to consider
- Pay attention.
- Always tell someone you trust where you’re going (the route) and what time to expect you back. Garmin now has a private share location setting you can share with your family so they know where you are in your run if needed.
- Carry pepper spray.
- Run in well-lit, well-populated areas. Run near houses/residential areas/parks so there are people around.
- Run with a buddy.
- If you have a bad gut feeling—always follow your gut—and get out.
- Run with your phone.
- Wear bright colors—be seen.
- Don’t take the same route every day and limit sharing your common running routes on social media.
- If the sun is super bright, make sure you’re on the side of the road where cars can see you.
- Running with cars is a defensive game. Assume that drivers are distracted and always be alert. For workouts, I run on pedestrian loops so I don’t have to stress about cars.
- Run on the left side and be watchful for cars making right turns
- Take a self-defense class to be more prepared in case you’re ever at risk.
- Wear lights/reflective vest for low light runs.
- On your phone, turn “Find My Friends” ON, so people can see where you are.
- Turn around periodically and check out what’s going on behind you.
Moving the Needle
It’s so important to share runner safety precautions. I take the time to always share about the things happening within our community, so that we are aware and protective and to honor the lives of our sisters in sport.
However, I also want to figure out how we can keep these events from happening. Every woman deserves to go out for a run and enjoy peace without the fear of not returning home. We deserve to run without catcalls or intimidation.
There’s no easy answer here. Instead of complacency and acceptance that concern about our safety is something we deal with, we need to get angry when we hear this is happening to one of our fellow runners.
We need to keep demanding that the media get involved and give coverage to these events. We need to demand our lawmakers get involved and help to protect women. We need to raise our sons to respect all women. We need to figure out how we can be part of the solution so we can protect our sisters.
Women are important. We matter. Violence against women isn’t someone else’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem.