In high school, running scared was my favorite thing to do.
I had a very different definition of running scared back then.
My senior year of high school, my 4×800 meter relay teammates had a knack for handing me, the anchor leg, the baton in first place. I’d accept the exchange, and run like hell, visualizing my competitors on my heels. I never looked back, always willing myself to reach the finish line before I was caught. For an entire season, I fearfully ran myself across the line first. Running scared was fun. Running scared was a thrill.
Today, I’d do anything to no longer run scared.
This evening, as I laced up my Cliftons, strapped on my Garmin, and situated my phone in my Spibelt, I left my headphones behind. I almost always wear headphones when running alone. I see running as time for myself and enjoy listening to my favorite podcasts on easy days. I keep the volume low enough to hear my breath and my footsteps but today, that didn’t feel like enough. I approached what should have been a relaxing and stress-reducing recovery run with fear and trepidation.
Less than two minutes into my run, my heart raced as I made eye-contact with a man walking diagonally across the street toward me, only to realize he was on route to the entrance for CVS. As I continued up the street, I took a wider than normal breadth around male pedestrians. By the time I reached the National Mall, I was holding back tears, my fear juxtaposed to songs of ice cream trucks and idle chatter of tourists. Continuing on, I noticed every man I passed and felt my stride quicken just slightly each time one reached his hand into his pocket. In my 15 years of running I’ve experience catcalls, cars repeatedly passing by, harassment, and men lunging at me and as a result, I haven’t felt truly safe in a long time. But now, this fear is heightened as I am faced with the question of whether or not I will make it home alive each time I leave to train.
This may sound dramatic. It is.
This evening, I exhaled a sigh of relief as I walked back into my apartment building upon ending my run. Relief because I’d made it home, something Wendy Martinez was not lucky enough to do just two nights ago. But with this relief came grief and guilt, as well. Guilt and grief over the fact that on Tuesday evening, I ran the streets of D.C., just miles away from where Wendy would be murdered roughly an hour later.
This is not the first incident of its kind that has led to the feelings of grief, fear, and anger I am currently processing, but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t hit me a little harder and make my fears feel a bit more real. This time it was Wendy, but how easily could this have been me or one of my closest friends? We all run these streets, and like Wendy did, we often run them alone.
We’ll see articles and news reports filled with safety tips for runners. Uninformed men will ask why we don’t just run inside or find a male friend to run with. Someone will try to make this Wendy’s fault. To all of that, I give the middle finger. The problem is not that we, as women, are making unsafe choices. The problem is a world where women are unsafe simply existing.
To be very blunt, we live in a world where women are forced to think, “I really hope no one tries to murder me on this run”, as we leave the house. This makes me sick to my stomach. And it sure as hell ain’t fair.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. And I’ll admit I considered staying in my apartment gym and running on the treadmill tonight. But in the end, I went outside because really, what else can we do? We female runners, will not retreat. We cannot and will not hole up in gyms and seek refuge on treadmills. We will not allow senseless violence to rob us of our passions.
Running is mine and I’ll be damned if I ever let fear take that from me. Yes, I am running scared, but I’m still running. And I’m running with a little more passion and purpose as I remember the lives’ of women whom I did not know. Women who were taken from us far too soon.
My deepest condolences are with the friends and family of Wendy Martinez. I did not know Wendy, yet my heart is broken.