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Is it safe to run alone?

The terrible murder of Sarah Everard last month has sparked many conversations over how safe women feel walking, or running alone.

Keen solo runner Pascale Holden explains how she feels when she’s out on her own…

Why I run alone

I love events, group running and chatting, but I do most of my running alone. Why? Because I’m juggling a full time career and sole parenting of two school age children, which often means running at unsociable hours and needing to be flexible.

I’ve been running prolifically for about 15 years now. I started to keep fit and sane while I took a break from rugby to start a family and got hooked. I enjoy events, but primarily, I run for sheer joy. I just love running. It makes me feel good, helps me switch my mind off for a while, keeps me active and excited about life and provides a community, which has both entertained and supported me through thick and thin.

When I feel most safe

Fitting running in around life often means running in the dark, especially in the winter. I favour early mornings. I somehow feel safer in the morning than in the evening. In my head, potential threat is more likely at night, malingerers aren’t early risers. There’s some logic in this, but of course it’s no guarantee of safety.

Nevertheless, I need to feel that what I do is safe. Since my husband died, it’s never far from my mind that I have to stay safe and healthy to bring the boys up. I can’t afford to take undue risks…but neither can I live my life in fear. That would be living half a life and setting a poor example for my children.

Being made to feel uncomfortable

Like many runners, especially women, I’ve had experience of being made to feel uncomfortable when running. From men leaning out of their van windows to shout obscenities, someone honking a car horn right behind me, comments about my clothes, my body, the fact that I’m out alone or even just an intimidating physical presence. The latter last happened just two days ago.

It was daylight, but I cut through the churchyard towards a narrow passage between houses. As I approached the passage a tall, heavy set young man shuffled out, looked directly at me, unsmiling and stopped between me and the entrance. He said “Hello”, still without smiling. I was on high alert, but still managed a smile and a bright “Morning? You alright?” To which he replied, “Yes thanks, you have a good day” and set off down a different footpath. I exhaled and carried on running. Was he ever a threat? Had he decided I was not a good target or was too nice/confident to threaten? Or was he just a surly youth unaware of the effect of his demeanour on a lone runner? I’ll never know, but it’s on my mind now.

How I stay safe

I’ve only recently stopped to consider how much thought I put into running alone, particularly in the dark.

  • I tell someone how long I’m planning to be out for and roughly where I’m going.

  • I choose night routes by lighting, reputation and likelihood of other people present.

  • I never run with headphones, to stay aware of my surroundings.

  • When running, I notice everybody and assess whether they might be a threat.

  • I greet everyone I see. I do it because I’m friendly, but I also assess their response and reassure myself that I’ve been noticed by the friendly, benign people out there.

  • I’m on constant alert for poorly lit areas and dark footpath exit points, which I will cross or run in the road to avoid.

  • I find vans threatening, especially if the engine is running so steer clear

  • I have some self-defence training through doing Taekwondo and keep that in mind.

In addition, I try to radiate confidence and happiness to remind myself and anyone else that I have an indisputable right to be there (no matter what threat my head is preparing for in the background).

The right to run alone

It rankles that I feel like I have to think like this. I should have every right to run alone when I want and feel safe. But if I were running in the mountains, I’d prepare what I need to be safe, so I need to think of it in the same way if I’m running alone at night.

By contrast, when I’m running with a group, I don’t give my safety a second thought! I happily run down darkened streets and alleyways or off-road, through the woods in the dark with a friend or several, only focussing on not falling over and enjoying myself. So I guess that’s the quick and easy answer! Just not always practical for me.

Stay safe! But don’t live in fear. Enjoy your running.

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