Sunday, August 28, 2011

Watch Your Back, Girls.

I love running solo. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running with others, it’s just running alone energizes me like nothing else. Running creates a sanctuary for me – a time for me to reset my brain chemistry, pray, and reflect. Running alone is also when I have my best ideas. In grad school I’d be out running in the beautiful hills of Cape Town and before I knew it, I’d outlined an entire research paper. Sometimes, when I’m starting to doubt myself, all I need is a good run to get my confidence back.

My desire to run alone has often troubled people and left my family feeling a little nervous at times. Its not that I’m fearless or na├»ve—I know I’m not invincible and that bad things can happen anyone anywhere. In Cape Town I was constantly reminded of this. I met so many girls at my university who would say, “I would love to run but I just don’t feel safe here.” I wouldn’t have it. Cape Town was the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived with the most incredible hills and accessible trails. I was not about to let fear keep me from my long meditative runs.


This was one of my favorite hills to train on in Cape Town--sometimes shared it with the baboons. When the mist moved in the sun made the air sparkle and it was magical.

When we moved to Korea it was like stepping in to a different world. People were out and about until late at night. Kids were walking home from their English Academies at 10 PM. It was bizarre and it felt so safe.—almost too safe. I would go running or for walks after dark while Josh was teaching in the evenings. I felt no fear walking home from work at night.

Recently I have become more aware that the sense of safety I feel had caused me to let my guard down too much. Last week a girl we know was attacked and sexually assaulted while walking home in the evening. I’ve been hearing story after story of foreign girls being assaulted. A few months ago a man tried to grope me in the elevator (I let him know I wouldn’t have any of it). I’m sure it happens to Korean girls as well, but we hear about it more when it’s someone in the expat community. We also tend to get a lot of attention due to our western features—there’s no way to blend in. Its all been a bit of a reality check for me and reminded me I need to watch my back out there.

Here are some things I do to stay safe. They are are pretty basic but sometimes we all just need a little reminder (myself included).

1. I rarely have music and I NEVER wear headphones at NIGHT. Being able to hear a predator coming will at least give me more of a chance to respond. Also, in Cape Town I felt it was best to not have anything on me that would tempt a passerby to jump me.

2. If a car stops near me, I always keep my distance. Even if they look respectable, I don’t approach the car and I NEVER lean in to the car to help with directions. I was asked by a family to look at a map in Cape Town and I just said, “sorry, I think the place is in that direction.”


3. I cover up while running in more conservative cultures. I’m not about to go running in a sports bra in these parts—I stick out enough as it is, I don’t need to draw more attention.


4. If I’m going trail running I tell someone the area I’ll be in and when I plan to be back. If I can’t get a hold of someone, I leave a message on their voice mail telling them where I’m going and that I’ll call them when I get back. This way, if I don’t come back for some reason at least someone knows where to start the search.

5. If I have a funny feeling about something, I get the heck out of there—Call it intution or divine intervention, I trust it.


6. If there is a car parked on the side of the road or a dodgy guy/someone that looks out of place, I cross the road and run on the opposite side until I’m past them, then I perk my ears up to make sure I’m not being followed.


7. I always look each passersby confidently in the eyes. I want them to know I’m confident and that I could identify them.


8. My advice on dogs—a few years ago Josh and were surrounded by a pack of dogs while running on the res near our house in AZ. If you’re approached by an angry dog, act scary as hell. Scream, shout, throw rocks. Don’t be worried about hurting someone’s pet. We managed to scare the pack off with our ferocious gestures and screaming.


9. I carry a small amount of cash with me on long runs.


10. Carrying ID is never a bad idea either—it can just be a piece of paper with your name and a person to call in case of an emergency—stick it in your shoe. I have an ID bracelet that I wear on longer runs (it probably wouldn’t hurt to wear it on all runs).


11. I carry Pepper Spray if I'm running in the dark in unpopulated areas.


12. If you think something bad is about to happen, RUN LIKE MAD and make yourself seen- scream, wave down cars, etc. I believe that if I can outrun them for the first 400 meters or so and make a big enough seen, they're going to back down. If its too late to run--fight and be as loud as possible.


I never feel foolish for making moves to protect myself. Sure, I’m not going to let fear keep me from running alone, but I’m also not going to be foolish about it. Aside from the dog incident, I’ve never gotten in to trouble while running but I’ve had a lot of moments where I had to think quickly and make split second decisions. Be smart and be ready!

What do you do to keep safe on runs?

Run safe, girls!



2 comments:

  1. Nice reminders Melissa. I have the most annoying siren that I clip to my shorts when I run alone. One pull, and that thing scares police officers. It's a great little friend. I never take ID. Think I will start now. I have a little spandex wrist wallet that I wear all of the time now. I will make you one for your runs. You will find yourself dumping your purse and simplifying to this little handy way to keep the necessesities. Julie

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  2. I like the alarm. Where did you get it? I'd love if you made me a little wrist wallet! I used to have one but it was a little stiff (not spandex) so it would kind of irritate my skin. I'm laughing thinking about the alarm going off.

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