Running while female

Ashley McNiff, one of thousands of runners in Monday’s Boston Marathon, is running because she doesn’t want to let what happened to her friend dictate to her. Her friend was a runner. Her friend was running in broad daylight. Her friend was raped and murdered and left in the woods.

“Ask any female runner you know: Odds are, she can tell you a story of suggestive shouts taking a menacing turn, unsettling stares from drivers on lightly trafficked roads, or bicyclists tailing her for uncomfortably long stretches,” Boston Globe/WBUR writer Shira Springer says.

Running for McNiff, as for many women, is an act of defiance.

Her friend’s killing happened during a nine-day stretch during which two other female runners were killed. All three were running in the daytime.

A Runners World survey found running for women comes with unique concerns for safety, the Globe said.

According to the survey results, a majority of female runners have safety concerns: 63 percent choose routes where they figure it’s unlikely they’ll be harmed and 60 percent limit their runs to daylight hours. Also, more than 70 percent carry a phone with them and let someone know their route and when they’ll be back. And 54 percent (compared with 7 percent of male runners) said they always, often, or sometimes headed out the door concerned that they “could be physically assaulted or receive unwanted physical contact during a run.”

The survey results aren’t surprising, at least not to this female runner.

Surprising or not, the risks of “running while female” should be talked about more often. When female runners have the courage to share what happens to them on a daily basis, when McNiff runs Boston in Marcotte’s memory, that can start a larger conversation about how to make runs and other activities safer.

It’s unacceptable that women who run either to train for marathons or just for fun often expect some form of harassment on roads and trails. Running should be an empowering, stress-relieving escape, not 5 or 10 miles in which you need to be on alert.

Women should feel the same freedom choosing training routes and training times as men. We shouldn’t head out the door worried about being harassed or assaulted, or view pepper spray as a running essential (21 percent of women runners carry it, at least sometimes, according to Runner’s World).

In her defiance, McNiff says she’s not ignoring safety concerns.

“I want to get to a place where women can live free from the fear of violence. I want to go for a run at 5 in the morning and not worry about anything bad happening to me,” she says.

“That’s my dream, but I know that’s not the reality. But I’m not going to stop running. I’m not going to stop doing the things that I love.”

Don’t read the comments.

  • Barton

    “[Insert any activity] while female.” You could honestly write a million different articles about this with a million different activities. I’m annoyed the article brings up “safety concerns.” But then again every article regarding violence against women seems to mention the time of day, what they were wearing, what they were doing wrong*, and how other women can protect themselves. It is rare to see the blame placed on the perpetrator of the crime.

    * doing wrong in the opinion of the writer/editor/some man.

    • This article was written by a woman.

      • lusophone

        Pretty sure Barton knows the writer is a woman. I hear women place blame on victims of sexual assault all the time, because of what they were wearing or where they were at a particular time of day.

        • Is that happening in this article? I don’t think it is. But maybe I’m missing the section where the woman is being blamed for her own death. Seems to me Shira — as colleague Nancy Yang did in the related link in a story last October — is calling attention to a reality women face that men do not.

          Her declaration to not let the killer dictate her passion is completely focused on blaming the killer.

          • lusophone

            I hesitated to use the word blame in my comment because, as you note, that’s not what was being done in the article you posted. But I do appreciate Barton’s comment because I haven’t paid close attention to the phrasing she points out, where the safety concerns are almost always mentioned and how that can be used to take away blame from the actual assailant.

  • Gary F
    • crystals

      See, I just don’t think women should have to feel like they need to carry a gun in order to TAKE A RUN without fear.

      • As an advisory, I’m going to shut down a gun debate here.

      • Gary F

        They shouldn’t. But, they choose to. I know of a few women who are regular runners or dog walkers on East and West River Road and Theodore Wirth Parkway who carry every time they go out.

  • Angry Jonny

    My wife just landed in Boston an hour ago for her 4th marathon. She trains all year, and runs 3 to 4 marathons annually. I hate that I fear that she might not make it home each time she goes for a run. Distracted drivers and creeps. We have check-in times where I can call her or she calls me to make sure things are ok. When her phone dies I go driving on her route to find her. It shouldn’t be that way.

    • Damn man, that’s terrifying.

      • Jack

        I text my spouse when I leave the office and again when I get in the car. At my old job, I walked with a male colleague to my car – once we were accosted in the parking lot and he told me to get in the car and go.

        I also tried to travel with guys on business trips for the same reason.

    • John

      my wife and i have location sharing turned on both our phones, for similar reasons. If she’s been gone longer than expected, I can do a spot check to at least verify that her phone is where we think it might be.

      She ran Boston in 2016.

  • John

    As an example, I think before we were married, my (now wife) was out for a run in a popular small MN weekend destination (that she grew up in – we were at her parents’ house).

    It was early in the morning (before 8:00), and as she rounded a corner on a running/bike trail through a park, she spotted a man in the woods with his pants down, not urinating.

    She was a little shaken and grossed out (justifiable).

    So, yeah, there’s a lot of stupid men out there doing stupid things.

    how do we stop it?

    • Sonny T

      Call the cops. That’s a crime.

      • John

        It’s a little late for that. This was before we were married, and our oldest is 14, (and it is unlikely the guy stood around for the time it would have taken to find a phone, make the call, get a cop there, etc. in that era, we did not have cell phones)

        • Sonny T

          Yes. I did not mean to be insensitive or imply you did anything wrong. But these are crimes, whether it’s flashing or stalking or lurking. These creeps need to be hounded from decent society.

          • John

            I didn’t intend to sound snippy. My intent was to note that at the time, it wasn’t really a viable or useful option to call it in. Even if she’d run straight home, the guy would have had a solid 10-15 minutes to, umm, finish up and clear out of the area.

            I don’t think my wife hung around long enough to try to get a good enough look at his face to remember him either.

          • RBHolb

            You make a good point, but remember that a lot of the creepiness involves conduct that is not criminal (“I wasn’t stalking her, I was going to go that way anyway!”) or hard to prove (“Honest officer, I never said that!”). That’s the stuff that’s hard to prevent or even deter.

          • Sonny T

            I would not let anything stop you from reporting suspicious activity.

            Once I saw a creepy-looking guy driving through the neighborhood real slow, looking at cars, at apartment windows. He came by again a few minutes later. I called the cops, apologizing about bothering them, and they said, “Absolutely not. We want to be called about anything that doesn’t look right.” They ended up busting the guy. He was a burglar.

          • RBHolb

            I have to wonder if the police response would be different if the caller said “This person is following me while I’m running.”

    • Jeff C.

      “How do we stop it?”

      By raising our sons to not be creeps.

  • Jack

    It’s dangerous being a female. I look back at the late night walks I took and can’t believe how “stupid” it was. I was lucky.

    Finally a male college friend of mine pointed it out.

    I can never forget my surroundings.