To Be A Woman Runner Is To Be Harassed – All The Time

Photo: Kava Gorna
A new study from England Athletics has found that one in three women have been harassed while out running.

Whether you're brand new to the running scene (go you!) or you've been running marathons for years, if you're a woman, you'll know how quickly the feeling of elation, motivation and self-power that running inspires can be shattered. In less than a second you can go from feeling on top of the world, to feeling objectified and abused – thanks to something as simple as a car rolling past and honking its horn or a passerby commenting on your leggings, your gait, your breathing, your expression, your body.

It happens – all the time.

The study comes ahead of the launch of Run Together – England Athletics' new initiative to get more people in Great Britain out running. They surveyed 2,000 women from the This Girl Can community and found that, as well as the third that admit to being harassed, two-thirds say they feel anxious while out running by themselves, largely due to concerns about personal safety.

Women run for many different reasons. They run for fitness, for their mental health, to make themselves feel better. Running, for me at least, is an inherently solitary exercise. It's a chance to shut yourself off from the rest of the world, a chance to recharge after a stressful day, a chance to forget the everyday anxieties of life.

To have someone break through that self-built force field is, at best, completely unjust. However innocent a man may think his comments are, shouting "RUN FORREST, RUN" (a banterific classic of the highest originality) at a female runner interrupts their carefully constructed 'I Am Unstoppable' mantra and allows those familiar feelings of self-doubt to creep in.

Because to be a woman is to question yourself a million times a day: 'Will I look silly?', 'Will I do it wrong?', 'Will everyone see right through me?' – these are just some of the questions I ask myself before I even get out of bed in the morning. For me, and many others, a way to escape this is to go running. And, once running, I do not want to spend my precious half-hour worrying if my pants are visible through my aged leggings, or whether people on the street can distinguish me as a 'pretend' runner next to all the other 'real' runners out there.

For their part, Run Together are hyper-aware of the impact harassment can have on women's decisions to run or not to run. "It makes you feel rubbish and so self-conscious especially when you're starting," Dr. Alex Rotas from Run Together told Sky. She advises running in a group as a good way to combat any potential negative behaviour.

But while Run Together's lists of safety tips for solo runners and how to deal with negative behaviour are helpful (plan your route, carry a phone, let someone know where you are, running with others, and so on), they shouldn't be the solution. Why should a woman have to run in a group when the reason she loves running is the chance to be alone?
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