The deaths of Eliza Fletcher and Mollie Tibbetts might have female runners thinking about one thing: their safety. Because in a world where simply existing in public is a safety concern for women, running puts them in an especially vulnerable situation. That's even more true for women who run when it's dark out — something that’s bound to happen more as winter approaches and it gets darker earlier.
How safety concerns impact female runners
In a recent Instagram poll, theSkimm asked its followers if they worry about their safety on runs. Nearly 90% said yes. When asked what scares them most, many cited violent crimes, including assault, theft, rape, murder, and stalking — especially while running in the dark. "I won't run unless it's broad daylight out for optimal visibility," wrote one follower. Another said, "I enjoy running alone, but running alone at night/with headphones feels vulnerable." About 19% of respondents specifically mentioned men as a source of their fear.
Seventy-three percent of runners who responded to the poll said their fears sometimes prevent them from running. Emily Abbate, a journalist, certified run coach, and host of the wellness podcast “Hurdle,” says she has mostly stopped running in the dark following Fletcher’s murder and a subsequent eruption of conversation about the realities of running as a female.
This not only hurts women’s physical health but their mental health as well. An Adidas survey found that the majority of women who experienced harassment while running reported feelings of anxiety, and 46% said they have now lost interest in running. “So many women feel as though they can't do this thing that brings them so much joy and gives them so much solace because they are unsure about their safety,” says Abbate.
The pressure to adopt safety precautions — especially when it’s weaponized to blame victims like Fletcher — can be infuriating. But for Abbate and many others, taking steps to manage fear and feel safer is a better alternative than letting it get in the way of doing an activity they love.
How to manage your fears
If anxiety is preventing you from enjoying your runs or causing you to stop entirely, there may be ways to help you wrestle back control and increase your comfort level, according to Abbate. Here are some ideas:
Bring a buddy. For some people, running is a solo activity. However, if you’re experiencing anxiety or feeling fearful during runs, having a companion that makes you feel safe could put you at ease.
Be aware of your surroundings. Tuning into your environment by using headphones that don’t block out surrounding noise or have a transparency mode might help, according to Abbate.
Tracking apps. Use devices like an Apple Watch or apps like Strava to share your location with chosen friends and family. That way, you’ll have some peace of mind knowing that you can be found if something goes wrong.
Plan your route. “There's nothing I love more than exploring a city using my two feet,” says Abbate. “With that said, I also want to make sure that I'm choosing routes that are safe and that are, generally speaking, highly trafficked.”
Female runners shouldn’t have to run in fear. While the onus shouldn’t be on them to take precautions, the reality is that doing so might be the only thing to help ease their anxiety.
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