Running Safely: My Story

I was inspired to write this post after reading It’s National Running Safety Month: Stay Safe with These 9 Tips over on rUnladylike.


Just so you know, this is not a post about how to run safely. This is a post about my attack years ago when I was running and why I think you should read Jesica’s post about running safely. It will also help you understand why, when I read your running stories and you tell me about your early morning solo runs, I feel scared for you.

In 1992 I was a fairly new, but very enthusiastic runner. Living in the small town of Desert Hot Springs I had no access to a gym, so for years I exercised to aerobics videos. I wanted to try running but it wasn’t really a safe area and at that time I didn’t know any other runners.

I was thrilled when we moved to Palm Springs. We were in a much nicer, and presumably safer, neighborhood. I started running. I’d always been a morning exerciser, so I became a morning runner.

I. Loved. Running. It quickly became my exercise of choice. I started reading a little about running, and though I didn’t have a thought about running a race, I started increasing my mileage.

That meant, if I wanted to run before work I needed to run in the dark. I really didn’t think twice about it. I was young, strong, and I lived in a nice neighborhood. I guess, in hindsight, I’d call it stupid cocky.

October 16. I remember the date not because of the trauma, but because it was my sister’s birthday (my middle sister Susan, who passed away in 2003). The weather was still nice so I was wearing running shorts (Dolfins, remember those?). My regular route headed first east, then north, making a six mile loop for my weekday run. Sometimes I’d add a little distance by doing some laps at Palm Springs High School before running the last mile home.

Dolfin Shorts Richard Simmons

Yes, those are Dolfin shorts that Richard Simmons wears. Photo source.

I was less than a mile from home. Me, being the anal runner that I am (I need my mileage to be exact!), took a detour through a little neighborhood that would add about .10 to my run. It was about 4:30 in the morning. As I ran past a house that had an open garage door, I could smell cigarette smoke. I didn’t think too much about it and ran on.

I turned a corner back onto the main road, which at that hour was deserted. I soon was passing a golf course, which had a row of tamerisk trees which bordered the road. Suddenly, someone, a man, was running alongside me. Even though he greeted me, I knew immediately that I was in trouble. He was wearing jeans and a t shirt, not exactly running clothes.

Then, he shoved his body into mine, knocking me onto the ground. He started grabbing at me and tearing at my clothes. It seemed like an hour that we struggled, but it was probably a few seconds. We wrestled.

He didn’t have a weapon, and didn’t try to hit me. He just tried to subdue me. What he didn’t know was that I was good at wrestling, having had a former boyfriend with whom I used to play/wrestle. I managed to break away.

And I ran.

I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could. I ran right down the middle of the street, scaring at least one driver when I tried to ask for help, but they just saw a crazy woman waving her arms in the air.

I stopped running when I just couldn’t go anymore. I had turned a corner, and I dived behind a bush in someone’s front yard. There I waited, seconds turned to minutes, while I watched to see if he had followed. He hadn’t.

Still scared I made my way home in the dark, sticking to the shadows so no one could see me. My shorts were ripped, I felt bedraggled, exhausted, and frantic.

I am sorry to say that I did not report this incident to the police. I know that I should have. If it happened today, I would do it in an instant. Back then, my fear was more than I could handle. I kept my story to myself.

I didn’t run for more than a month. I couldn’t walk to my car without looking over my shoulder. I had a physical reaction if I smelled cigarette smoke in certain circumstances, if a man got too close to me, or if anything reminded me of my attack or my attacker.

When I decided to try running again. I waited until it was daylight, then I ran loops around the parking area of my apartment complex. I eventually moved to the high school track, driving there, running in circles around the track, where I could always see if anyone was approaching.

I didn’t run in the dark again until I met Alan and we started running together. Even then, I was nervous, carried pepper spray, and was always on the alert.

These days, I will run in the dark in my La Quinta neighborhood. While I prefer running with my husband, I occasionally run with just my dog Penny to protect me. I an always on the alert, have an escape plan, and I don’t go too early (no more 4:00 running for me).

I was really lucky. My attacker didn’t have a gun or a knife, and didn’t try to hit me. I really think he was some random asshole, probably up all night, smoking in his garage, thinking he’d take advantage of circumstances when I ran by. While it changed me permanently, it could have been much, much worse.

The attack happened a long time ago, and I’ve overcome many of the fears that it caused, so don’t worry about me. Just please, please follow Jesica’s advice if you’re going to run alone. Be safe out there.

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  1. says

    This is one of the most traumatic stories I have read in awhile. I cannot believe you mustered up the courage to run outside again. I would have been a gym rat for life after that. I am so thankful he did not have a knife or other weapon either. So thankful!!!!!! Debbie, I love you, I don’t want ANYTHING bad to happen to you! Please be careful. And I am so glad you know how to wrestle! I definitely would have been a GONER!

    • says

      Awww, thank you πŸ™‚

      It took a while before I could do anything without checking my back all the time. I really am careful now. I used to run at 4 or 4:30! Now, if I’m out in the dark, it’s closer to 5:30, just almost getting ready to get light. That plus my fierce Dalmatian will keep me safe.
      Debbie Woodruff recently posted..Running Safely: My StoryMy Profile

  2. says

    Oh Debbie! Thank you for sharing your story. I am a early morning runner and have run by myself. I try to follow the safety rules of staying in well light areas, carrying protection, etc. At first it didn’t bother me at all but over the past year I’ve gotten a little bit more spooked. I’ve got a running buddy now so I do feel a little bit more safe.

  3. says

    Oh wow. This just breaks my heart for you. So so scary. so very glad you were ok. I have such mixed feelings about running solo in the mornings. I love that me time, the quiet, the peace. But when it’s pitch dark, I am so jumpy. I always carry mace, but I know that might not really be enough. I have had a few scary incidents myself. Each time I have stopped running alone for a few weeks. but I can’t always have a partner with me, so then I just have to get brave again. And try to always be hyper aware of my surroundings.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so easy to think that “it won’t happen to me.” I used to run in somewhat isolated areas at night and my gut told me to stop. I also won’t run in the morning because of incidents with a man exposing himself to runners. Sometimes I feel like I’m being too cautious, but your story validated my feelings. I’m glad that you weren’t seriously hurt physically and have been able to continue running.

  5. says

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so easy to think that “it won’t happen to me.” I used to run in somewhat isolated areas at night and my gut told me to stop. I also won’t run in the morning because of incidents with a man exposing himself to runners. Sometimes I feel like I’m being too cautious, but your story validated my feelings. I’m glad that you weren’t seriously hurt physically and have been able to continue running.

  6. says

    Thank you for sharing your story Debbie. I read it with my mouth hanging open. I truly can’t even begin to comprehend what those moments were like when he grabbed you and when you were sprinting away. I’m so glad you were not harmed more, and I’m so grateful that you shared your story. Thanks also for linking up to my tips. I hope no other runner has to go through what you went through. xoxo

    • says

      It really can happen to anyone. There was a recent story about a young female cross country runner who was attacked in broad daylight not too far from where I live. I just hate that we are vulnerable, but all we can do is do our best to be safe.
      Debbie Woodruff recently posted..Running Safely: My StoryMy Profile

  7. says

    Wow – I’m so glad that you could defend yourself and get away. I can’t imagine that.
    And – I think this is an important message to share. For years I used to say that the super early morning hours were safe because all the “bad” people were sleeping – I realize it makes no sense but I used it to feel safe running in darkness.
    Kim recently posted..A Valuable LessonMy Profile

  8. says

    Wow, thanks so much for sharing your story. I think a lot of us take for granted that our neighborhoods are safe, or let our guards down. It’s so important to be aware of your surroundings. I usually have a running buddy and run in the daylight.

  9. says

    Wow, your experience was like reading a story out of a book — I’m so sorry this happened to you. I know I shouldn’t be as shocked as I am that this happened in PS, but because I lived in LQ for four years, it definitely hits home. These type of unfortunate circumstances can happen ANYWHERE, and it’s important for us to be prepared. I know sharing your story will absolutely inspire me — and others to do a better job of running safely. Thank you for sharing Debbie!!

      • says

        The world just gets smaller & smaller, doesn’t it!? I lived in LQ from 2005-2009 and absolutely loved it! Haven’t been back since, but I definitely miss it at times. A special kind of beauty, and the location really suited me since I moved there from Maui. When I first moved there people would always warn, “oh, small town this or that” and I’d always laugh saying or thinking, “I’m from an ISLAND!” LOL! πŸ˜‰

        Thank you so much for following my blog, too! I don’t post as often as I’d like, but I’m trying to get back into because I miss everyone so much!
        Jenn’s Adventures recently posted..Raw Carrot Pulp Bread + Spicy β€œCheese” Spread!My Profile

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