By Corrine Malcolm,
CTS Expert Coach, co-author “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning, 2nd Edition”
Listen to any Q&A session or panel with female runners and inevitably a question about safety and fear will come up. As we were sitting on the rooftop deck of the Coffee Bear in Silverton, Colorado ahead of the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon this past week that exact same question came up. “How do you prepare to feel safe running, particularly through the night?” Ultrarunning veteran, Darcy Piceu answered first, “Honestly, I’m less afraid of running on the trail than I am of walking down the street.” This sentiment was echoed by the other women on the panel. I find that while this statement resonates with other female runners, it often comes as a surprise to the males we share the trails with. It turns out this has been backed up by a recent survey put out by Danny McLoughlin of RunRepeat.
When they surveyed 4,709 runners, they found that 45.85% of the female runners had experienced some kind of harassment compared to 17.48% of the male runners surveyed. These numbers suggest that female runners are 2.62 times more likely to be harassed on a run. Harassment included unwanted attention (34.74%), unwanted comments or verbal abuse (31.41%), and unwanted physical contact (9.56%). These numbers are startling, but again, as a female runner I’m not all that surprised. What does both surprise and disappoint me is the actions these female runners had to take as a result of being harassed.
Broadly, according to the survey, 80.29% of female runners who experienced harassment while running changed their running habits as a result. This included changing the route or schedule of running (59.61%), changing clothing (27.46%), carrying protection (24.23%), no longer running alone (19.39%), switching to treadmill running (15.02%), or most devastatingly – ceasing running altogether (20.52%). That’s a lot of change despite female runners having no responsibility for the harassment they are exposed to. Again, devastatingly, taking away an outlet for health and wellbeing for as much as 20% of females.
So, what do we do? How do we fix a thing many of us do not feel we have any control over? How do we reduce the number of instances of harassment experienced by female runners so that it is not a restriction or a deterrent to getting out the door for a run? I don’t want to tell you (the female runners in the room) that it’s up to you to protect yourself, to only run with others, to always be aware of your surroundings, etc. You’ve lived that experience.
Instead, with these survey results and the results of similar surveys, I ask everyone else to be our allies. Recognize that female runners are 6 times more likely to stop running alone than you, 6 times more likely to alter their clothing, 4 times more like to change their route and the time they run, 4 times more likely to stop running altogether. Think, then speak. Lead by example, welcome us all without us having to run from catcalls.
That might not fix fear, but it’s a start. As another member of the women’s panel, Allisa Linfield, said: even with practice fear doesn’t go away, but you can’t let fear stop you from doing it.