Running while female: outrunning fear
by Dezi Hall
Last week I bumped into the contractor that's building all the houses in my neighborhood. We started talking about the weather and I lamented how hot it'd been. "Not so great for my long runs," I complained. "Yeah I see you out there running all the time! Why do you do all that? You obviously don't need to."
I don't need to.
This is a sentiment I often get when people learn I'm a runner. Why bother with all that gross physical exertion? You're already thin. So, what's the point? A male is already pleased with the way your body appears to him, so why are you running? And in ugly Oakley's and a baseball hat no less! Perhaps you'd feel more comfortable in a pink jogging suit with a smart ponytail atop your head.
My dad is a marathon runner. We run together once a week. I recounted the story of my interaction with my contractor to him on our Saturday run. "Has anyone, ever, asked you that question?" I asked him, even though I was sure of the answer. Of course not. Because it's an absurd question. And because he's a man.
No one assumes my dad is running to stay thin. They assume he's running because he likes to. Part of the reason I run is the calming freedom you get from lacing up and hitting the pavement. But I will never be as free as a male runner. Even when I out pace them, their maleness provides them with a mental advantage I'll never have. Because it's not just annoying questions that female runners have to deal with- it's fear. When someone assumes the only reason you're doing something is to make your body more pleasing to men, a consequence is that you feel like your body is on display from the second you step outside in your sneakers.
To illustrate the point, I compared the top 5 worries that continue to pop into my mind on a run with my dad's.
Is there a bathroom nearby?
Will my flashlight run out of batteries?
I hope I don't get hit by a car.
That's it. He didn't have 5.
It's so hot. I want to wear a sports bra, but there are so many construction workers out today. How will it look to them? Will they stare at me?
Here comes a car. Shit. The polite runner standard says I should give a cursory wave. But it looks like it's a middle-aged man driving alone. What if I wave and he thinks it's a come on? What if I don't wave and he thinks I'm a bitch and gets pissed?
There's a new path they're working on. I'd really like to run it. But what if there's just one crew worker back there by himself? Don't forget about all the attempted (and successful) rapes and murders of female runners. Not worth the risk.
I can't run the new path but I need to get my mileage in. I'll just have to do this same street 8 times before I move on to the next one. What if the guys out front think I'm running by them over and over to get their attention? Keep your head down and don't make eye contact.
Someone is slowing down in their car to talk to me. Shit. Shit. Shit. Please god let them just want directions.
I love running with my dad. I get an hour to two (depending on how motivated I am) of uninterrupted time with him to vent about our family, or Donald Trump, or all of the micro-agressions I encounter while being a female who happens to run. But beyond the joy I get out of sharing my mind and this sport with him on a weekly basis, I also look forward to running with him because he's a man.
We run the new paths, and I don't feel any fear. I see the easy way he waves to cars and smiles (sometimes even shooting passersby with a cheery "Good morning!") without thinking about how he looks and (even though I still keep my head down and my arms at my side) I am grateful to escape that worry. We complain about the heat and wonder if there's a bathroom nearby.