A female runner was found dead in the North End of Central Park when I lived in New York City. I had recently started to think of myself as a runner, and when I didn't start my day with soothing, exhausting miles in Central Park, I was at loose ends. The news made me sad, rattled, and most of all angry; like many 24-year-olds, I thought of it on selfish terms. I couldn't accept the idea of running being taken away from me.
So I did something that was totally stupid: The morning after I heard the news, I left my apartment on the Upper West Side at 6 a.m. on a Saturday, blaring my Madonna mix on my Walkman. I had to own my route and feel strong and invincible; if I stopped running, living in NYC would not have been tolerable.
The death of Sherry Arnold shook me--and everybody else--to the core for so many reasons: We can all put ourselves in her mother runner shoes, and the idea of a motherless family is just too much to fathom. More importantly, now that my perspective has (thankfully) widened a bit, I don't want her story to deter mother runners to start or continue running. The idea of that makes me as angry as the situation in Central Park did about 15 years ago.
I do want you all to be as safe as possible, though, so I want to review some Running Safety 101:
- Cover your tracks. Tell somebody where you are going: your exact route, when you expect to be home. If your husband has the groggy drools going on when you leave in the morning, write him a note to back up your verbal message. Or text somebody with the same info, and tell them if they don't get another text from you by xx:xx time to please call you. I always tell Grant if I'm not home without 10 minutes of when I should be, come look for me.
- Get a running buddy. Seriously, safety comes in pairs.
- Opt for boredom and safety over exotic routes. If you have to do tedious one-mile laps in your 'hood with street lights instead of an unlit park because it's pitch black at 5:30, so be it.
- Be aware. Yes, blaring Beyonce's Run the World (Girls) gets you pumped up, but her voice takes away one of your vital senses: hearing. If you're a gotta-have-tunes girl, try to run with just one earbud in. Keep the volume low enough that you can hear yourself talk at a normal voice. Keep your head and eyes up; when you get all slumped and downward gazing, you look more like prey than predator.
- Carry your phone and some form of ID, like a Road ID, and anything else that makes you feel safe, like pepper spray or mace. I don't carry any weapon-like things because I doubt my ability to use them if the situation would arise. I'm just not that coordinated and bold.
- Use your internal compass. We were talking about this over dinner the other night with three mother runners--Kathy, Laura, and Terzah--and Kathy mentioned she'd never approach a stopped car. I totally get where she's coming from, but if it's a woman behind a minivan wheel with two kids in the back, I feel okay helping her with directions. You may not; again, do what feels right to you.
- Don't be shy. If you feel threatened, seek safety however you can. Ask a fellow runner if you can run with them until you're in the clear. Knock on the door of a house you don't know. Yell for help; make a raucous.
- Take a self-defense class and up your confidence.
- If a car seems suspect--they're driving slowly by you or passing by you multiple times--make eye contact with the driver and let them see you're alert and paying attention. Memorize their license plate, then get to a safe place. (That's another Kathy tip.)
- Final Kathy tip: She says hi to everybody she passes; she wants them to remember her face and her hair color if the need arises.
Do everything you can to stay safe, then go and enjoy your run. You still run to feel good, to feel powerful, to feel alive, vibrant, and strong. You run because 99% of the world is good, and because you can't control everything.
Now you tell us: What do you do to stay safe on your run?
Also, wanted to let you all know that we've been in touch with Sherry's cousin, Beth from Shut Up and Run, about raising money in Sherry's honor. Once we get those details ironed out, we'll spread them far and wide.