Women runners - advice please?

(56 Posts)
penguinsaresmall Tue 19-Aug-14 10:44:23

Am thinking this is probably the best topic to post in for some good advice - first post here so please be kind!

I've been running for a few months. Started with couch to 5k and really enjoyed how much healthier I've been feeling, so have been running a few times a week ever since. But unwanted attention from men is putting me off.

I sometimes run alone, sometimes with a friend or with DH. I always run in daylight and don't run on the pavement but in parks - I've had joint issues before and was advised by a trainer to run on grass. I also usually have headphones in as listening to music really helps me keep my pace up.

Anyway, the unwanted attention is usually nothing more than leery looks (particularly if there are a group of men I have to run past) and some comments, which I find easier to ignore if I have my headphones on as I can 'pretend' I haven't heard them and don't make eye contact. That's not to say it doesn't annoy me thought.

But there have been a couple of times where it has been much more full on than that and I have actually felt quite unsettled by it. Both times another runner (male) is there. Inevitably because we're not running at the same pace, one of us will pass the other. At that point, the man has either sped up or slowed down to stay with me and try to start a conversation. On the first occasion, I had my headphones in and tried to politely nod but then keep running and pretty much ignore him. But this man seemed determined to keep trying to talk to me, and when I instead ran ahead of him to 'get away' he sped up too and ran directly behind me for a while, before loudly making a sexual remark about my bum.

Two days ago I went to another park, this time with my DH, who is an experienced runner and much fitter than me. We don't stay together as he is much faster than me - so we both run around the park but with him lapping me a few times. So we were doing this and after a while another man started running too. The first time he passed me he made a jokey comment about him being outrun by a woman. I smiled politely and kept running. But then I lapped him a couple more times and each time his remarks started to get more creepy (you look gorgeous, what an arse, keep going love it's doing it for me, etc...). The last time I am coming up to him I do a detour and ignore him completely, which is met by a loud wolf whistle. DH hears it and is looking round from the other side of the park to see what's going on. He starts to jog over to me and the man leaves.

So - my problem is that I now feel uneasy about running on my own, but I don't want to stop doing it. So what do I do? When I told DH what had happened he was really annoyed that he hadn't realised what was going on as he would have come over. And he is saying that if I am worried he will stay with me in future.

But I don't want to feel that I should be 'chaperoned' when running. I should be able to run around the park if I want to without being intimidated and leered at. But on the other hand, I don't know how I can stop it happening, although I shouldn't let it put me off, it has put me off running on my own.

I looked on some running websites for advice for women runners and was actually quite appalled by the huge list of 'do's and 'don't's (mostly don't actually).

Don't run alone
Don't run in the dark
Don't run with headphones in
Don't run without a rape alarm
Don't run without telling others your exact route and when you will be back
Don't run in a quiet area/park

What options does that leave me with?!

FFS actually it seems as if I shouldn't be trying to run at all because I'm clearly putting myself at huge risk by even considering doing it in the first place.

So is it possible to run in public alone and feel safe, and to not get hassled constantly? Or is it just something I have to put up with? I know part of my problem is I really struggle not to be polite (ie to smile, acknowledge, etc) anybody who tries to talk to me.

Sorry this is so long btw.

Missunreasonable Tue 19-Aug-14 10:54:54

I'm usually a sweaty mess by the time I finish running so I don't suffer leering men much grin, however I have a phobia of dogs so I have to restrict my running in parks (not nearly the same, I know).
I have had to work around my phobia and reduce my concerns about dogs chasing me whilst running by changing when and where I run.
I bought a treadmill and use that at home (better for joints than running on concrete anyway). When I do run outside I go early in the morning when there is less traffic and people around so I can avoid needing to go to the park.
You shouldn't have to give up running or feel intimidated by some poor excuses for men, at least my running concerns are my own fault and not somebody else causing it.
Have you checked if there are any running groups in your area that you could join so you don't have to feel isolated?
Could you do a weekly park run where you will be amongst other runners most of whom are usually quite sensible people?
The only other thing I can suggest is two fingers up at them.

penguinsaresmall Tue 19-Aug-14 11:02:39

Thanks Miss - I have thought about parkrun but keep putting it off as I'm not sure if I'm up to that 'standard' yet - I would feel a right lemon running miles behind everybody else. And I can't see myself ever getting up early enough to run before DH goes to work, the DC are up, etc...

I know I need to learn to be more blunt/rude to people. I find myself smiling at and acknowledging people when I would rather ignore them - why do I feel the need to do that? confused.

I suppose my main issue is that running has made me realise that as a woman, I can't just go out and do it in the way that a man would, and that has really pissed me off!

I don't do running. It's easy to say that of course you should not feel intimidated or embarrassed by the behaviour of men and should be able to just run where you want in peace. But that's not really very helpful.

Aside from the suggestions to join a running club or do park runs (which a friend who runs marathons loves, btw), depending how confident you feel, time honoured traditions include continuing to ignore them ostentatiously, a judicious "fuck off", or an enquiring expression, removal of headphones followed by "sorry I didn't hear you, could you repeat that?" which might shame all but the most dyed in the wool twats into ceasing harassing you.

Or maybe set up a feminist running group that takes no shit? There's strength in numbers...

My friend says park runs are a huge range of standards but everyone is supportive, that's what he likes about them.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:08:39

I haven't had anything as bad as that, but I have had comments etc. Once a man (not a runner) pushed me up against a wall, but I just shoved him off. It was on a main road, but still scary.

I was also once followed some distance by a car full of men - I ducked into a takeaway and waited til they'd gone.

My main response is to stick 2 fingers up at them.

I do run alone, in the dark, occasionally with headphones in, without a rape alarm.

The precautions I take are:

- I stay aware of my surroundings, and will change my route or duck into a shop/pub if I feel at risk.
- I tell DH where I'm going and expected duration (he works away, and I text him when he's away)
- I keep volume on music down - this is a traffic safety thing as much as anything else.
- If it's dark, I stick to roads where there are other people around. I don't trail run in urban areas* in the dark.
- I avoid areas where I know the lighting is bad.

* I'm fine with rural/remote areas though. I would rather run over a mountain at 2am than down an unlit alley at 6pm in winter.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:09:30

A running club is also a very good suggestion. Good fun too. I need to rejoin a running club...

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:10:49

And I also feel pissed off that I can't approach running in the same way as my DH. It's crap, and he does sympathise. So you're not alone in feeling that way.

ThursdayLast Tue 19-Aug-14 11:17:25

Gosh that really is a shit state of affairs. I live so rurally that I barely pass cars when I run, let alone other humans.

A running club sounds like a good idea. They might be able to point you in the direction of somewhere you might feel more secure running, they tend to know the good spots.

I do parkrun, and I would like to reiterate that you can't be too slow! The atmosphere is incredible warm and supportive and might help you keep your live of running.

cailindana Tue 19-Aug-14 11:22:41

I would stop, take out my phone, dial 999 but don't put the call through (yet) and say "are you going to leave me alone or do I need to call the police?"

Harassment is serious and you don't have to put up with it. You are well within your rights to call the police if necessary.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:30:49

I don't run with a phone (unless I'm fell running / long distance trail running)

My running clothes don't have big pockets - I run with a house key, an inhaler & possibly a tissue.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:31:50

Sometimes I even have no pockets at all, so my house key is tied to my shoelace!

cailindana Tue 19-Aug-14 11:32:59

I think it's essential to have a phone Just. It's an added layer of security. There are velcro pockets that you can stick to your clothes to hold your phone, or a holder that goes around your arm. IME the "I'm phoning the police" tactic gets rid of the fuckwits and if it is a genuine attacker you at least have a way of getting help (maybe).

cailindana Tue 19-Aug-14 11:34:48
MissMilbanke Tue 19-Aug-14 11:34:51

Running clubs definitely the way forward. Thee are all sorts of abilities and ages. Of course there will be some Paula Radcliffe types but thee will also be beginners just starting out. We are a very welcoming encouraging sort.

At my local park run we have a woman in her 80s who is also in my running club. Invariably she's one of the last runners but so what ? She's an inspiration.

cailindana Tue 19-Aug-14 11:35:51

Also, put a GPS tracker on your phone and put a log in on your home computer that someone you know can access.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:47:50

Maybe....

Although, tbh the main attraction for me would be that it would enable me to use Strava. grin

I've never had a problem on a run that a phone would have solved, I don't think.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 11:49:52

I find the idea of being trackable a bit weird tbh. Even if it is by someone I trust. Maybe that's just me though. I'm guessing the tracker is always on, not just when you run?

5madthings Tue 19-Aug-14 11:50:19

Fucking hell I am outraged on your behalf.

I run but I tend to run on the streets, some parks though and have generally only encountered nice people although some looks.

Seriously comments about your arse and how it's really doing it for him, I would have been very tempted to trip him up.

I agree re parkrun it doesn't matter about your pace etc they are very welcoming of everybody.

Running club is also a good idea.

But as for the list of what women runners should/shouldn't do...

I run in the evening, I wear headphones but at sensible level due to traffic. 99% of the time I run alone.

I think I am lucky to live on an area that seems safe, I will walk or cycle home after a late night out on my own quite happily. It's fairly well lit and there are often other runners about or dog walkers or just other people, it's not busy but enough signs of life that you don't feel uncomfortable iykwim.

Have you tweeted/Fb this with everyday feminism? I think it's interesting/depressing issue faced by women just trying to exercise! Would make an interesting hashtag for Twitter and see the kind of shit women put up with.

Sorry that's not helpful but I am just thinking about the twisted nature of how women are supposed to look good/be thin etc but if you actually try to take care of your body, be healthy etc you are likely to be verbally abused whilst doing so.

5madthings Tue 19-Aug-14 11:51:26

I use a phone with GPS when I run, to see how far I have done and what my pace is etc, not so anyone knows where I am!

Flossiechops Tue 19-Aug-14 11:58:39

Gosh Op i think you have been incredibly misfortunate to experience this kind of harassment whilst out running. I am a regular runner of around 10 years. I do most of the 'don'ts' in your list. The only rule that i have is not to go off the main paths in my local park. I always run with headphones and its very rare that anybody knows where i am. I totally understand the safety issues but then again i don't want to have to restrict myself so much that i will never run. I tend to run in the morning when there are a lot of dog walkers and fellow runners around though. Running clubs like others have said are a really good way of running safely.

Amethyst24 Tue 19-Aug-14 12:04:45

I'm so sorry to hear that OP, that's really unpleasant. I've been running for years, go out on my own at night etc and have only had a couple of very minor incidents, nothing ever of that magnitude. Possibly because I am in London and women running alone are two a penny? I'm not sure.

Anyway. Definitely do Parkrun, you will be absolutely fine wrt the standard - lots of people do the 5k in 45 minutes or more. Also it would be a way for you to meet other runners of the same ability as you who could maybe join you for midweek runs.

And if the place where you are running is relatively populous, ie you feel physically safe, I would get much, much more assertive. Stop and confront the man. Something along the lines of, "Will you please stop harassing me, I don't appreciate your pervy comments," might well do the trick. Don't make eye contact, wear a baseball cap and/or sunglasses if you don't already.

It's no excuse at all, but I think there are some men who think behaviour like this is flattering and friendly, not horrible and threatening. As soon as you engage, they think they're on to something, so it not only doesn't stop them harassing you, but reinforces the behaviour too.

cailindana Tue 19-Aug-14 12:05:00

No you can turn the tracker on and off.

FairPhyllis Tue 19-Aug-14 12:05:02

I run a lot (on the streets) and I haven't had any problems with this sort of thing although I think that's because I live in a village where everybody knows everybody.

I agree that this is shit for you. I don't know what I'd do in this situation because to be honest I get very spooked by male harassment and am always fearful that if I respond I may be escalating things. Perhaps if something like this happens again you could say firmly "Leave me alone" and if that doesn't work take your phone out and let them see you starting to phone the police.

Park runs or athletics clubs may be a good option - I know that gives you less flexibility on what time you can go running but you may also meet some nice people.

JustTheRightBullets Tue 19-Aug-14 12:08:43

Ok. I might look into that. Still find the idea a bit weird though.

Like the poster above - Strava would be my main motivation for carrying a phone. I like to know how fast I've been!

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