Tuesday, November 15, 2016

An Open Letter to Men from Female Runners

We are about to enter an interesting time in the United States.  As a woman, I am concerned.

For anyone who says I shouldn't be ... maybe you should read a letter like this and think twice about what kind of world we live in. 

Because I had already been taking precautions like the below, and that was before someone who openly admitted to sexual assault was elected into office.


An Open Letter to Men from Female Runners
By Dorothy Beal

On the surface, the question was relatively benign, aside from an abrupt delivery: “Do you know what time it is?” he asked.

“No, I'm sorry I don't,” I said as I picked up the pace a bit.

I could tell he didn't like my answer. I was wearing a watch and holding a phone, after all. I could check the time if I wanted to, but that's just it—I didn't want to.

“You can't check on your phone?” he said, with an agitated tone to his voice. No, no I can't, I thought.

Still, the part of me that was raised to do as she was told and to be polite to everyone ignored my inner voice and forced a reluctant glance at my phone before shouting back the time. Simultaneously, I picked up the pace even more.

I'm not sure what his intentions were. Maybe he did need to know the time, but the fact that he noticed I had a phone didn't sit right with me. Was he trying to catch me off guard? Was it just an attempt at getting me to stop? Thoughts swirled in my head over a seemingly innocuous interaction.
Then I got mad—mad at him and mad at myself for the way I felt.

I don't like judging others by looks, their gender, or even a few words. I don't like thinking about whether you really are lost and in need of directions or if you see me, a lone female out running—miles from any help—and think that this is your chance to have your way with me.

It makes me sick to think about but, as a female runner, this is the world that I live in.

I've been called vile names after not returning a hello to a passing male runner. I've listened as a male volunteer at a marathon pointed out another woman’s “camel toe.” I've had stuff thrown at me out the window of a car by a man. I've been whistled at, cat-called and objectified by men. I've had to call the police on more than one run because of a man.

So, here's my open letter to the man on the trail—and to all men, really. I'd like for you to run a mile in my shoes.

That time you asked me for directions and I said, “No, sorry, I'm not stopping,” I wasn't being a jerk. I was worried for my safety. These days I worry about my safety more than ever, as stories of women being attacked, raped or even killed while out for a run continue to surface. I worry that if I don't take extra precautions, I will become a victim. I need to be extra careful around people I don't know.
I think I know you are probably harmless, but there is also a part of me that doesn't know. Men sometimes react in ways I don't understand.

One day, a man yelled at me out of his car window while I was pushing my three children in a running stroller. Regrettably, I reacted in the heat of the moment. I didn't know that showing him a certain finger would unleash the beast inside him. I didn't know that he would turn his car around and chase me down. I didn't know that morning when I went for a run that I would fear for my children's lives.

But back to you.

The day I saw you walking along the dirt trail, it was hot. Do you remember? You were dressed in black pants, a long-sleeve black shirt, and a hat. It seemed like an odd choice for such a hot day. You turned around and we made eye contact, making it more difficult for me to decide what to do. I didn't want to offend you by turning around but I was also afraid to run past you.

When you said good morning, I didn't respond because I was out of breath. I was running fast—as fast as my legs would carry me, actually. I wanted to get around you and away from you, just in case. I'm sorry I didn't say good morning. I hope you understand.

The day you came up behind me on your bike, you were just being friendly. I know that now. When you said “nice” as you passed me, a thousand thoughts went through my head before the next word followed. In that moment, I wished I was a huge football player with the strength to push you off your bike. I wanted to make you feel fear and pain. I was ready for your words to make me feel gross for wearing tight shorts that day. Then you said “pace” and instantly I felt remorse for wanting to hurt you.

Thank you for that compliment. I was running fast that day, wasn't I? I didn’t mean to be, but I began to worry that I’d gotten too far from home and I was low on energy. When I get low on energy, I worry—not because I'll have to walk, but because I'm concerned that, should things go south, I won't have what it takes to fight someone off.

Remember that day you were out running, blowing off steam? You saw me up ahead, your eyes never leaving me, so I averted my gaze—something I do often when I pass men. You said hello and I didn't respond. I should have said hi, but I was worried that if I did, it would seem inviting. I wasn't sure why you were staring at me.

You cursed me out because I was quiet. When people are silent, it's often for a reason. I didn't deserve those words. I wonder, do you speak to women you know like that? Or just women you don't know? Either way, you scared me that day. I wanted to tell you that you were frightening me, to leave me alone, but the car incident I mentioned above taught me to run from people like you.

Then there was the day I fell off my bike. Thank you for asking if I was okay. You looked friendly and I thought it was nice that someone cared enough to pause and check on me. Here's the thing, though: Even if I was hurt, I would have told you I was fine. I immediately texted a friend, not to tell her of the fall, but because I wanted you to see that I had a phone. I know it sounds crazy, and it is, but the world is a crazy place and sometimes even offering help can seem threatening.

My husband understands, but only because I've taken the time to explain to him how men can make female runners feel. He doesn't approach women when he is out running. If they appear to need help, he asks and offers assistance from a distance. When running past them, he announces his presence while he’s approaching. He doesn't want to startle them. He says hi with no expectation of a response.

He's a guy—a good one—but he also knows how some men think. One morning, as I walked up my driveway after a 4 a.m. run, he jumped out and scared me. I was angry, and rightfully so. He said he wanted to teach me a lesson that morning beneath the moonlight—and he did.

“Don't let your guard down when it's dark,” he said. “You felt safe because you were close to home, but you aren't safe until you are inside your home.”

I don't like always feeling the need to be on guard, I want to get lost in the moment and just run. But he was right.

So, man on the trail, as a mother to two amazing boys, a sister to a wonderful brother, the daughter of a loving father, and the wife of a strong husband, I don't hate men—nor do I think that all of them are evil and out to get me. I worry for my safety, mostly for my children's sake. I don't want them to grow up without a mother.

I don't want to stop running, either.

You are one of the good ones, but don't forget that the woman you see out there running doesn't know that. Unfortunate as it may be, she—like me—has to consider whether or not you intend to hurt her.

Her life literally depends on it.


  1. Very sobering, but I can relate. I used to hate the treadmill, but I use it a lot more these days than I used to because it's so much safer than running outdoors in the (now early-approaching) dark alone.

    1. *Sigh* I know. Not to mention the pending snow that us Midwest folks love so much! Ugh! What a life.