WH is teaming up with Runner’s World, Hoka One One, and Garmin to create the Runner Alliance, an expert-backed campaign to make running safer for women. This article is part of that initiative.
As a woman who runs and hikes on the regular, getting questions like, “Didn’t someone get attacked on that trail?” “Are you really going out there alone?” and “Why don’t you just stay in the gym?” make me sad. They also make me angry.
I don’t want to be callous, dismissive, or disrespectful of anyone who’s been a victim of a crimes while out running, hiking, cycling, or, you know, simply being a woman. But the fact that these stories are very often the only stories told to us, with the purpose and intent of keeping us indoors, is ludicrous and stifling.
I’ve been known to venture out on trails both remote and closer to civilization in Wyoming, Colorado, New Jersey, and Vermont. I often do this alone, with a hydration pack and gels, a Garmin, my fully charged phone, and a wild sense of adventure. There’s nothing like being out in nature, depending on my own body to propel me forward.
It’s a heady experience being amongst the quietly rustling trees, taking in the scent of the damp earth, and feeling the hairs on my arms and the fuzz on my face move gently with the breeze. It’s what makes me feel empowered, strong, curious, and able. And frankly, I will not stop venturing outdoors. I’m not going to let the people who wish women would just stay home win.
That said, I do take basic precautions. I tell my son or a friend my planned route and my ETA. I never wear earbuds. But honestly, one of my best lines of defense is my intuition, something everyone can tap into when they’re running.
Last year, I arrived at the beginning of one of my favorite trails in the North Georgia Mountains. This was a popular route for runners and hikers, and I noticed that there was only one other car in the parking lot, which was unusual. I noted that yet continued to prepare for my run, getting my pack and GPS watch ready. Once I stepped out onto the trail, I was filled with a sense that something was different. Was it the trail? Was it the fact that on this beautiful early summer afternoon there was only one other person out there?
Regardless, I began my run on the fairly steep part of the trail. Then, almost immediately, the only other person on the trail ran from the other direction at a speedy clip. He seemed relieved to see me. I greeted him and asked how his run was.
“Um, it was short,” he said. “Listen, if you’re going to continue, you should be careful because there is a big bear on the trail.”
“Oh?” I responded. “So, I won’t be continuing. In fact, I’ll be running with you.”
I’d let my intellect override the red flags, but I should have acquiesced to my intuition.
The next day, I tried the same route and felt no inkling of impending doom. I finished my run, but with a heightened sense of awareness, and the knowledge that my intuition was strong. I knew that if I felt an any unease, I could and should act on it and turn back.
The truth is, there is always a small but nagging worry in the back of my mind about whether or not I’ll be safe. And it is almost never about the animals I might encounter (bears, moose, and mountain lions, most likely), but about the two-legged beings among us.
However, if I let my worry hinder me from putting on my running shoes and hitting the trail, I let fear win. I do a disservice to my body, my psyche, and my spirit. I hope that other women will take precautions for their own safety, trust their guts, and get outside too.
Mirna Valerio is a trail runner and author of A Beautiful Work In Progress.
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