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
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.
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.