Realities as a female runner


Laura Heckenlaible

Night or day, sports bra or sweatshirt, alone or with others, women deserve to feel safe while running.

Laura Heckenlaible, Perspectives Editor

My name is Laura. I have blonde hair and blue eyes and measure at around 5’3 on a good day. I am a junior in high school and am only 16 years old. Going beyond these basics I am also a runner. Though I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything different, the exhilarating thrill of my feet hitting the pavement faster and faster with each step can sometimes be forgotten when my vulnerability as a female runner is taken advantage of.

A little over a year ago, when I started running, I did not expect to be honked at by men in big trucks, cat-called by boys leaving a convenience store and ogled by old men passing by. While doing something so mundane as exercising, is it too hard to ask to be left alone? 

A rage sparked inside me when I heard the news of the case of Eliza Fletcher. On Sept. 2, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee, Eliza Flecher, teacher, mom of two and avid runner/marathoner was kidnapped, harassed and murdered while on her early morning run by a male felon. My growing anger was significantly fueled by the unwanted attention being gained on social media. Instead of finally realizing the true problem at hand, people on the internet were quick to blame Fletcher and question her choices for running “too early” and “without other people.” Some comments even asked questions as pointed as “what was she wearing?” 

All the seemingly small comments show the disillusions and limited knowledge males have of the realities of being a female. The reality that the world was not built for women to be independent. It wasn’t built for women to feel good while being on their own. The most heartbreaking reality of all is that some men use the female disadvantage for their gain no matter how cruel, unkind and uncomfortable it may cause women around them to feel. 

Fletcher is not the only one. With a simple Google search, tons of cases can be found of women whose lives ended during a run. While it does not always lead to such extremes, according to a survey done by Runners World, 43% of women have endured harassment while running. With almost half of female runners being affected by this ongoing issue, it is disappointing to see that conversation is rarely fostered and nothing is being done to spread awareness or ultimately prevent it.

The government is not helping and men are not even acknowledging the problem thus leaving women to do what they have done since the beginning of time: adapt to a world built against them. Precautions such as being aware of the surroundings, running with a phone, participating in a group run (if applicable) and running without headphones or with just one earbud. Many females also carry some sort of protection which can range from pepper spray, and a knife to something like a key held between two fingers, whistles, alarm necklaces, a tracking device within a GPS watch, phone or even inside a chip connected to a bra strap or shoelace. These needed precautions are used to combat the constant anxieties and fears that stay trapped inside each female athlete before and during their run. Women have become accustomed to this unsafe feeling.

To begin, a change needs to be started in the men behind it all. Here are some simple actions that men can take to provide a tinge more comfort to the female runners around: keep provocative thoughts, comments and honking of any horns to themselves and most of all allow for some space. Men should not run closely behind a female. It is much easier to just pass on the side. Lastly, a friendly smile or a wave is always welcomed. 

This change cannot be made overnight and the ultimate change won’t be made anytime soon but to get to a turning point where women can experience some relief, a discussion must be formed and the little actions taken by those around female runners must be taken. No harassment should stay unknown. Fletcher’s case and the many other cases just like hers can not be pushed aside once again. In a world built against women, it is time for some power to be taken back.

With all that women have to go through, the most remarkable revelation is that females are still running. It is insanely scary and at times very dangerous but every anxiety and every reality is no match for the ultimate feeling of reward when able to run. Like so many other instances in history, women will defy the statistics, the comments and the dangers to do what they know they are rightfully entitled to do. 

At the ripe age of 16, no matter what has happened and may happen in the future I will continue to run. I take my power back by running in the sports bra, going for my run in the early hours and sometimes, just on the occasion, flipping off the man who decided to honk at me. I run for Eliza Fletcher and all the brave women who lace up their sneakers and hit the pavement each day.