A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece over at RunHaven about what it’s like to run as a woman vs as a man when it comes to being harassed and worrying about your safety. Being transgender, I feel like I’m in a pretty good place to be able to describe how different running can feel out there depending on your gender. As I do with most of the things I write and am proud of, I posted the piece on Reddit. I wanted people to read it. Of course, I’m not naive enough to expect this to ever go well. I’ve grown to accept the cesspool of comments Reddit is so great at dishing out.
The comments alternated mostly between people focusing on my being transgender–which is especially annoying because the piece had nothing to do with being trans, it was only mentioned as a frame of reference for the fact that I’ve experienced both sides of the subject–and a lot of men telling me I’m paranoid and being dramatic and “playing victim.” I didn’t engage the latter comments.
Now, let’s fast forward to last night. I didn’t wake up to run before work yesterday morning. I could have willed myself to get out of bed, but the extra sleep and hours of rest for my legs seemed more important and I didn’t have anything after work preventing me from running. Now that it’s still light out until after 7, I thought I could just barely squeeze a five-miler in before the dark. I left work a little early to give myself more time, but I still didn’t get home, changed, and warmed up until 6:45. I started to worry a bit about finishing my run in the dark, but I didn’t want to skip my run.
On the way out on my regular out-and-back route, I passed a group of three younger men. As I was approaching the group, one of them looked me up and down and I heard him say “damn, that’s nice.” While it didn’t rattle me, it was a little annoying and probably primed me a little bit for what happened a few minutes later.
I turned around at two and a half miles and made my way back home, I was feeling pretty bummed about my run. My legs just weren’t feeling great and were giving me some cause for concern (I canceled my spin class for this morning because of it). When I got about a mile and a half from home, I was still maintaining the 8:30 pace I had been running. Out of nowhere, I hear someone running behind me. I hadn’t seen anyone else around at all and I didn’t hear him until he was about ten feet behind me (I don’t wear headphones) so it didn’t seem like he had been running behind me for a while and was finally just passing me. Hearing him freaked me out a little as it was now dark in the park, but I assumed he was just another runner at first and tried not to worry about it.
I expected him to pass me quickly, considering how he quickly he came up on me. When a minute went by with him staying ten feet behind me, I started to get a little scared. At first, I slowed slightly to see if he’d run around me. He didn’t. Then, I started picking my pace up from the 8:30 I had been running. He stuck with me. There weren’t a lot of people out, but there were enough cars and people around that there was never a moment I couldn’t see another human.
As I picked up my pace more and more, he stayed right behind me, never losing (or gaining) a foot. Eventually, I was running a 7:15 pace. This is pretty much 5k pace for me and I was already four miles into my run. With how my legs felt and where I’m at right now with running, this wasn’t exactly a comfortable pace for me…not to mention the fact that it was not a pace I wanted on last night’s run.
As I made my way toward the park exit, he was still right on me. I considered stopping to tie my shoe or something as I passed other people, but I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I hooked a right at the exit, hoping he’d be going a different way, but he followed me there too. As I made the turn, I figured if he was going to make a move, this was going to be the spot. The way out of the park is a dark .15ish mile path with some high grass on the side you could easily throw someone into. I gave it a little extra here to get through quickly.
The park exit I use dumps me right onto the end of the street I live at the corner of. Five or six blocks down. Right away, there were more people and lots of light here. I figured if I made it a few hundred more feet, there was no chance he’d try anything. That’s where he finally backed off a little and turned down a different street.
Really, I have no way to know if he was some creep with bad intentions or just another runner. I’ve been trying to come up with a reasonable explanation that doesn’t involve him wanting to attack me, but I just can’t shake the feeling he wasn’t just another runner. If I hadn’t varied my pace, sure, maybe we were just running the same pace and I somehow didn’t see him coming from a different direction when he ended up behind me. But he kept right behind me when I slowed down. He kept right behind me when I heavily picked up the pace. Maybe I was just serving as motivation for him and he was using me to push himself. That’s possible. I do that sometimes with other runners. But there’s a pretty big difference between running at 8:30/mile and 7:15/mile…and keeping that 7:15 pace for an entire mile? And keeping that close to me?
I never took a good look at him. I was afraid to actually look over my shoulder for more than one brief second while he was running behind me. When he ended up turning, I took a quick look and noticed he was wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. It was almost 50º out. His attire didn’t really scream runner.
But here’s the real problem, I’m sitting here trying to figure out some way to make him not be a sketchy creep. I’m trying to justify him running ten feet behind a woman at night for a mile and a half. Our society pushes us to justify aggression instead of calling it what it is. Commenters on Reddit would describe me as being dramatic and paranoid rather than simply saying “yeah, either he’s a creep or he should know better than to do that.”
Let’s say he actually was up to no good and tried to attack me. How many people would have said it was my fault for running in the dark? How much would I have been blamed for that?
We don’t live in a world where my fear in this situation is even remotely unwarranted, yet many will still blame me and dismiss me for it.