equality · fitness

We will keep running, cycling, walking and swimming. But alone?

This week has been one of upheaval and dramatic change in the US in ways that will affect the global community in short and long-term ways. We members of the Fit is a Feminist Issue community come from many regions and countries, and I love how we can connect and support each other around fitness, feminism and well-being in our varied and similar lives all over the world.

About 60 million people voted for Donald Trump, which may include some readers of this blog.  It is, however, widely reported that the immediate effects of the election have included attacks on women, people of color, Muslims and LGBTQ people.  Many people in the US are rightly afraid– concerned for their safety and uncertain about how to conduct their daily lives.

For blog readers (and women in general), these feelings and this reality are what we navigate on a daily basis.  In an August 2016 article in Runner’s World, Meghan Kita wrote about women running alone in an environment of sexism and sexual harassment and violence:

You can run, but you can’t escape sexism. Women’s running has come a long way from the days of doctors saying, “You can’t do that; your uterus will fall out of your body.” Women now make up 57 percent of race finishers annually, per the latest Running USA statistics. More than half of our readers are women.

And yet people still suggest that women simply shouldn’t run alone. I once took a self-defense class for women at a local martial arts academy. The (male) instructor spent approximately half the class stressing the importance of one simple safety rule: Women should never do anything or go anywhere alone.

If you think women don’t know that it’s safer to run with other people than to run alone, think again. Every kid grew up using the buddy system. Everyone has heard the trope, “There’s safety in numbers.”

But suggesting that a woman coordinate a group for every single run she does is ridiculous, especially when you’d never give such advice to a man. Some women—just like some men—simply enjoy running alone.

That was then.  But this is now.

Events of this week made me think about long-distance runner Mirna Valerio, who writes the Fat Girl Running blog and also for other media.  In Runner’s World there was a long profile about her, including how she encounters people who are surprised and sometimes suspicious of an African-American woman trail-running in rural Georgia.  She tells this story:

“I’m running along and a police cruiser pulls up beside me,” she continues. “The deputy looks at me, but he doesn’t say anything. We go on like that for maybe a minute, but it felt like an hour. Finally, he just eased away.”

She also tells stories about diffusing suspicion and building communication with local residents.  It’s clear that Valierio enjoys being outdoors, alone, running and enjoying life.  She hasn’t written about any changes in her habits after the election, but then again, she’s not a political blogger.  Her views and concerns are her own.

Which leads me to ask the question:  readers, how are you feeling about engaging in physical activity outside, alone?  Has this week changed your views about safety and comfort?  We’d like to hear from you.



9 thoughts on “We will keep running, cycling, walking and swimming. But alone?

  1. I live in a place where I’m not afraid to run alone. Nothing’s changed. The weather is more likely to change what I do than whatever yahoo gets the political prize.

  2. Honest, I’ve wondered about solo runners in isolated large park areas when I bike solo on my bike. Yes, there have 2 murders of female joggers:

    1 in a ravine large park (Warden Woods Park ) about 20 years ago. It is connected and bike-pedestrian paths. Toronto has a huge interconnected parks system.

    1 in Pacific Spirit Regional Park near University of British Columbia in Vancouver BC. About over 10 years ago. sister of a local well-known former councillor. She was only less than 3 km. from home.

    In both cities, one can connect a lot of paths and routes that keep you off the road..as a cyclist and cycle 100 km. within city boundaries for Toronto, Vancouver. Same for Calgary.

    As a cyclist, I actually feel a lot safer on bike in isolated areas compared to solo walking. SInce I’m not a mountain biker, I don’t bike on tight bike trails. I have encountered once police combing the woods and dragging out something. And another situation where there was a burnt out van when I came out of a bike-ped path into a dead end road… Clearly that was arson.

  3. Even before the election, there were men who would follow me in their cars and yell obscenities, or try to run me off the pedestrian path. Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow me to train alone. If I train alone, I cannot train. As scared as I am, I refuse to miss training for these individuals.

  4. I love this post. The light dawned on me once when I was about to go hiking in the New Zealand wilderness alone and some random guy in a bar told me that I was at risk of getting attacked and raped. I just laughed – the wilderness is empty of people! Attackers and rapists aren’t going to be hiking several days from the nearest road in the hope of seeing women alone. That’s just the most ridiculous warning. Since then, I’ve been often advised that women shouldn’t be going here or there alone. Often the people doing the warning are men, and mostly they haven’t even set foot in the places they’re warning about! The warning is all about them, their own fear, and their objectification of women. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been warned less even though I’m physically weaker now. There’s risk in everything. Most attacks on women are from people they already know.

  5. I don’t know what to say but when I did travel in Europe (just a few wks. ago), I did half-joke to my partner (who is of German descent), we’re going to be tourist targets.. When I was in Athens, Greece a long time ago, several locals yelled out at me, from “Japan”? etc. Same 10 years later when I travelled with my sister and we retorted back: “CAnadian”. Some people were sincerely surprised: it NEVER occurred to them that non-whites could be Canadian.

    Do remember non-white faces in tiny, medieval-Renassiance French, German villages are a surprise to locals. They really are STILL very rare. Some of the villages aren’t at all oriented for tourists. They just want to lead their quiet lives. THis isn’t a threat, but an illustration ..what it means to be non-white travelling in various parts of Europe: noticeable, etc. Multiculturalism is espoused on continental Europe, but we heard already stories of challenges especially for adults immigrating within Europe and trying to integrate.

    We were in France over 10 days in this October. Because of the terrorist attacks and multiple deaths within the last 12 months (Paris, Nice) http://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/world/a-year-after-paris-attacks-europe%e2%80%99s-extremism-problem-shows-no-signs-of-going-away/ar-AAkfbyQ?ocid=spartandhp , the French soldiers were with their guns at airports …and even the regional interurban train stations. (It would be the equivalent of soldiers at Amtrak or VIA rail stations.) Some of the soldiers looked very young (in their 20’s or younger). France is still in emergency alert.

    I will be honest: I didn’t want to be in person at the major airports than necessary. Paris or Frankfurt…they are major international hubs. We were cycling in the French wine region and in were in villages/smaller cities.

    I am not afraid, but know that it just means being aware and travelling overseas outside of Canada, I take nothing for granted. Nothing. My CAnadian citizenship and passport under these circumstances ..is my protection because you wouldn’t know unless you asked me. I’m just another Asian face to you.

  6. I live in a blue county in a sea of red in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I tend to run with people anyways, but if I’m doing a solo run I’ll stick to the campus loop or our small greenways which are usually well populated with other walkers/runners. That being said, I’ve definitely been catcalled while running around town. I haven’t noticed a huge increase in driver aggression in the more rural parts, although I don’t think it’s a good idea to solo ride rural roads with limited cell service in the first place (male or female).

  7. When I was in high school, several runners at my local park were attacked/harassed. Since then, I’ve always been very wary of trail-running alone. I almost always run with another person or with my dog. Getting a young & athletic dog this summer helped a lot. He loves running and I know that I’m pretty safe with a black shepherd next to me.

  8. Catherine, thanks for this. I don’t run but cycle solo all the time; that’s a different scenario, of course, and I’ve never been afraid. (That said, I always have phone and ID on me in case of a crash, and sometimes I worry that if I get hurt in an isolated area I’ll be in some danger of not being rescued in time.)

    BUT I wanted to comment because something else here resonated for me: the anxiety projected onto us by those who, as R above says, often have no literal experience of what they’re talking about. It reminded me of this excellent commentary on the election by the Canadian political journalist Doug Saunders. Doug has spent extended periods of time in the US and the UK, and is not a “super elite”: he’s an ordinary, moderately-educated man who has built his profile as a journalist by learning how to do careful, independent research into the things he writes about.

    His argument here is very much germane: that many Trump voters live geographically adjacent to communities rapidly changing as a result of non-white migration, but do not have much first-hand experience of that migratory change themselves. The result is a lot of opinions about others that frequently do not bear out in lived experience.

    In any case, it’s thoughtful and worth a read.


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