I run alone all the time and I love it. I run mostly in the evenings when, with the expectation of summer, it’s dark. I’ve never had a running partner and my dog doesn’t even entertain the idea of joining me (no seriously, she’s more scared of the dark than I am.) Running has become my ‘me time’ and it works wonders for my mental health. But whilst I enjoy the solitude of a solo run, fears about safety for women running alone have not been lost on me. Here’s my story as a solo female runner and why, despite the risks, I’m not going to stop doing what I love.
Is it safe for women to go running alone?
Growing up, I was repeatedly fed subliminal messages about personal safety. They weren’t meant to scare me (and came from a good place) but they did paint a picture that women somehow weren’t safe enough on their own. That we have to take extra precautions and alter our lives in order to avoid bad things happening to us.
I know I’m not alone in saying that I’ve been on the receiving end of catcallers and harassers on many occasions. Unfortunately, it’s still a scary (and frustrating) reality for women. But here’s the thing, I don’t want to be told when to run or how to dress and you know why? Because no one should be shrinking themselves for fear of being attacked. It is not women who need to change, it’s society.
“No one should be shrinking themselves for fear of being attacked. It is not women who need to change, it’s society.”
My mum regularly tells me that she doesn’t like that I go out running in the dark and I do understand her concerns. We all want to protect our loved ones and keep them safe. I often tell my family and friends to message me when they’re home, and I will continue to do so.
But what really brought it home was the fact that every female friend, family member or colleague I spoke to about this said they had felt pressure to take matters into their own hands. It was their stories and the hundreds of articles I found online that really got me thinking about what women go through on a daily basis.
I would be lying if I said all this surprised me (because I’m right there with all these women) but it did empower me to talk about it and bring it into the spotlight. Whilst our fears are very real, I still feel angry that this is the reality most women are living in.
The realities of running alone as a woman
Every run I go on requires a mental checklist. I take my phone (with emergency SOS enabled), I check behind me multiple times, I run as far away from the edge of the pavement as possible, I avoid dark areas and I cross the street to avoid catcallers or intimidating strangers.
I tell my partner or family where I’m going and I alter my route depending on the season. I also recently changed my privacy settings on Strava after warnings about potential predators online.
And that’s not even all of it but I refuse to stop trying to live my life. I won’t be punished for being empowered and independent. Fuck that.
Safety tips for solo female runners
Below is just some of the safety tips for women runners. However I know of many more stories of women going to extreme lengths just to feel safe. It ranges from carrying alarms and weapons to avoiding going out at night altogether. But it begs the question…Don’t we have enough to worry about without being told to do more for our personal safety?
- “Take something that can be used as a weapon (like a key) just in case”
- “There’s safety in numbers – run with a partner or group”
- “Only run in well-lit areas
- “Don’t share your route publicly via social media – you never know who’s watching”
- “Avoid running or walking at night”
- “Only wear one headphone or take them out altogether”
- “Wear reflective clothes or a light”
A few months ago I found myself at the top of a dark country road. I thought the pavement was lit by street lights but turns out I was wrong. I had a choice, to turn around and run home the longer way or brave the dark.
I chose the latter.
At the very same moment, I instinctively took one earphone out and clutched my house key between my fingers. My senses were heightened and even passing cars made me anxious. I could feel myself running that little bit faster so I could get to the safety of the street lights at the other end.
“At the very same moment, I instinctively took one earphone out and clutched my house key between my fingers.”
And although nothing happened, the voice in my head was calling me stupid for braving it. The whole way home that voice made me feel naive to even consider taking such a risk. After all (the voice told me), you’re a woman running alone and many others have been attacked or killed doing the same thing.
Why women running alone isn’t the issue
You may be reading this thinking that the voice was actually my gut instinct and that I should have listened to it. Maybe it was. What I do know is that it took me a while to tell that story because I felt embarrassed by my own fear. I was afraid that others were going to judge me.
It isn’t that I’ve got a ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude or that I was asking for anything to happen by going down that dark road. Since that evening, it has become clear to me that I was punishing myself because I felt vulnerable as a woman alone, despite all my extra safety efforts. And it wasn’t the first time either.
I wish it was as simple as putting on my trainers and enjoying the freedom of a solo run. The reality is that many women running alone will always be thinking of the ‘what ifs’ and ways to protect themselves. I wish this wasn’t the case and it breaks my heart every time I hear of another innocent woman feeling scared or being harmed.
There’s no question that personal safety is always going to be important but for me, so is being independent and resilient. I hope sharing my story has urged you to keep doing what you love. I hope you’re able to run or walk without fear (no matter what time of day or night) and feel empowered.
We may not be able to make the world a better place overnight. But what we can do is stand together, tell our stories and demand that our streets and cities are made safer for women.