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  • Writer's picturethe_uphill_runner

Safe To Run?

The disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Everard, an innocent woman walking home alone at night, has shaken the female running community. I knew I wanted to write something about it but the truth is it has taken me until now to get my thoughts together.

In the days following the news reports of Sarah’s disappearance, I received texts and WhatsApp messages from both runner and non-runner friends checking in, reminding me to ‘stay safe’. It was something I’d hardly thought about before. I had been naive enough to think that harassment probably wouldn’t be something I had to worry about, not living in London or another big city. I thought back to a few years ago when I was living in Guildford alone and would frequently go running after work, usually in the dark, often wearing black, even occasionally along a dark section of road that had no pavement for a few hundred yards. How lucky had I been to have come away from those runs unscathed?

Since I’ve become more conscious of what the term ‘harassment’ really means, I’ve realised that perhaps it wasn’t naivety, but rather immunity that stopped me from registering things as harassment. Until now, the experiences I’d had didn’t seem worth mentioning. But now I realise that the more we call out the small things, the more we can hopefully prevent the bigger things from happening to people like Sarah in the future.

I remember the first time I experienced street harassment as a teenager. I was walking along a relatively quiet road with a female family friend, similar in age to my mum, when a builder wolf whistled down at me from the scaffolding he was working on. I remember clasping my skirt in my hands to make sure I wasn’t showing anything I didn’t mean to and feeling completely embarrassed. But it was the way that friend responded that stuck with me most. “That’s for you” she laughed, as if it was a compliment. As if it was supposed to make me feel good. And I look back and realise that that’s where the problem lies. Things like catcalling have become so ingrained in the minds of wider society, including women, as ‘normal’ male behaviour, that we question ourselves for wanting to call them out, for wanting them to stop.

All of my runs so far this year have been in broad daylight, usually in the morning. Not necessarily because I was scared to go out in the dark, but because it’s what has fitted in practically with mine and Max’s schedules. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced any harassment. On the rare occasions that I’ve managed to find the time to go out for a run alone since January, the amount of which I could count on one hand, I’ve had encounters that I’m now brave enough to refer to as street harassment. The excitement and thoughts of impending summer in my first run in shorts of the year were quickly dimmed by being honked at as I ran along a main road.

On another run I was skirting a field where a football match was about to start, minding my own business, when one of a group of male strangers called out “Are you alright, darling?”. I gave him what I thought was a curt smile in response, but he clearly wasn’t satisfied. He repeated himself again, louder, awaiting a better response. He either didn't notice or didn't care how intimidating his behaviour was, as I weaved my way around the surrounding men towards the ‘safety’ of the busy playground ahead. All I can hope is that one of his mates had a quick word about his actions after I’d gone, but I somehow doubt that was the case. It’s such a shame because I don’t want to feel like I can’t risk a smile at people I run past on a sunny morning, just in case they take it as an invitation to harass me.

I must add, there is definitely a difference between the reactions I get to running with the buggy and running solo. With the buggy, any comments from strangers are always from women (at least in my experience so far) and are always supportive. People share snippets of their own experiences as we run/walk past each other, commenting “That used to be me and my son”, or “Well done, I know how hard that is!”. These comments really give me a boost, especially on days when the buggy feels heavier than a bucket of bricks! I genuinely appreciate these positive interactions, and they are the reason I am hesitant to completely avoid smiling or making eye contact with others during my runs.

An inspiring movement that has come out of the tragedy of Sarah Everard is the #WEWILL campaign. It focuses on “the positive actions men and women can take to enable women to run free from fear, to be safe and to feel safe in every part of their lives”. Members of the running community have been making pledges along with the hashtag to help make a change in the way female runners are so often made to feel, and I’m sharing mine now. I will consciously raise my son to treat men and women as equal members of society. I hope I’m setting him a good example so far by taking him running with me, investing in my own mental and physical wellbeing as well as doing everything that comes with being his mum.

To learn more about the #WEWILL campaign, click here. You can also read more of my latest blog posts about my postpartum running journey here.

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