I know, for me, that running can sometimes feel like a completely separate part of life to colleagues and other non-running (muggle) friends. I have spent hours trying to get my housemates, drinking buddies and peers to share my enthusiasm for the sport but, often, they just don’t get my obsession.
However, more often than not, the dangers that come with running, specifically street harassment, often leak much easier into our home and working lives.
In this post I speak to Hannah about how her running, and unfortunately the consequences of street harassment on her professional life.
Hannah is an awesome woman who refuses to let this get the better of her which, I think we can all agree, is easier said than done. It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t the only way of dealing with it. Some of us get angry, some of us write blogs, and some of us are Hannah.
Her story is an example of how harassment in running can be a gateway to the mistreatment of women in their home, or even working life.
Harassment doesn’t stop on the street.
Hey Hannah, so as with all my guests I like to ask them how they first got into running – tell us your story!
I first tried running in my teens but it was more of a punishment then because I thought I needed to lose weight so very quickly fell out of love with it. I did a few Race for Lifes, mainly 5kms but also two Half Marathons, yet still didn’t enjoy running, then I moved to Austria just before my 24th birthday where I met Eric Keeler (@run.the.usa) and quickly became best friends.
We would go on long hikes together and play board games on the nights we didn’t fancy partying with the rest of the town. One of my favourite days we spent together was a few months before he left to run across America, we took all the kit he had been gifted up the mountain to get some good photos of them for his social media. One of the things was “Bugster”, the pushchair he carried all his gear in during his crossing, and we got a lot of funny looks as we pushed it around, seemingly having left our child somewhere. When he crossed the finish line and his brother was running alongside him streaming it all live on facebook I was sat at home crying with pride (lets not say that too loudly though, he’ll get big headed haha). Since we have both moved back to the UK, Eric and I hardly get to see each other as we are now have a five hour drive separating us and not the seven minute walk we had gotten used to, and I miss him, so persuaded him to let me come as his date to the Running Awards last year (2019-I was 26) where, after a couple of glasses of prosecco and having a front row seat at the bloggers forum, I then saw the video clip of Loch Ness Marathon and found myself declaring that I was going to run it… not “I want to do that” but a very clear “I’m going to do that” and by the end of the week I had actually signed up. I didn’t expect to but, just as everyone had told me I would, finished race day buzzing, unable to walk but buzzing. I also never expected to fall in love with running but I have and over the first few months of 2020 it has saved my life.
Running is such a good way to make friends for life, it’s amazing you had someone inspire you that way, as I’m sure you did him too! So, outside of running for a second, have there been many incidents of street harassment you can recall?
I remember builders whistling and shouting all the time, in fact I don’t remember ever walking past a builder on scaffolding who has kept quiet. I couldn’t say when the earliest memory is but that in itself says it was too early. When it’s guys that far up on a building site I always feel uncomfortable but am able to calmly keep walking past, the few shouts I’ve had some someone at street level have led me to keeping one hand in a pocket with my keys between my knuckles just in case.
It’s such a shame that we feel the need to arm ourselves sometimes. I know I’ve held my keys in fear before too, I think most women have. In terms of running, then, have there been any instances where you’ve felt unsafe?
I live in a very rural little area so most of my runs are on country roads with very few others around. I have had a lorry honk at me once which took me by surprise and I jumped out the way, I didn’t look up at the driver as they passed so don’t know if their honk was actually intended to ask me to move but looking at the road they had plenty of space to get around me.
During the peak of marathon training there were a couple of days I ran the 13 km from home to town, then either got a lift back or looped around and turned it into an even longer run. Even though I had never experienced street harassment while running before, the first time I got into the town I was filled with a sense of dread and didn’t have my huge bunch of keys to keep between my fingers so felt even more at risk. I don’t recall being catcalled, maybe I was just too focused on getting out of the town again to notice, but the next day at work when I had 3 men in one day come up to me and comment on my legs, one even asked if I use any cream to stop my clothes rubbing, saying he would be willing to help me apply it. I simply told them they were being inappropriate and walked away. The team respected it but did make joking comments about me running around in shorts and a bra was asking for it.
Working in hospitality I am used to a certain type of banter amongst the team and we expect comments from some of our regulars, particularly a certain few older male regulars. Generally, if the harassment is just verbal we are likely to ignore it, but minimise our conversational time with them, if they begin to invade our personal space and/or touch us then that is the point a verbal warning is issued.
That’s not something I’ve talked about so much but definitely another of the darker sides of running – the sudden need for people you know to comment on your body too. Often innocently but it all adds to the normalisation of the sexualisation of women. Is there anything you think about regarding safety before running, any preventative measures?
If I am running into town I am a lot more conscious of the time of day I go and just keep my head down and focus for the few minutes it takes me to do the loop in and out again as well as keeping my cap pulled down quite low so if I do spot a customer, they hopefully won’t recognise me – yelling at me in the street is one thing but making me feel uncomfortable in the work place is a whole new level. I am looking at better route planning for this coming summer to give me other options to try through the town for if I want to go straight after work, or avoiding the town altogether when on my longer runs. I have invested in a hydration vest that has an emergency whistle on it too to get attention if I even feel unsafe.
Gosh, I can’t even imagine having to see the person who has cat called you in the street at work. How scary! Has any of this affected you you behave on a run?
Hell no! My behaviours do not need changing, it is those who think harassment is okay who need to change theirs!
I wear what is physically most comfortable to run in, I love my body, it gets me through a hell of a lot of sh*t, I’m not going to make it sweaty and uncomfortable just in case there are d*ckheads out there! I do, as mentioned before, sometimes think about the probability of coming across such charming individuals when route planning.
Love your confidence! I agree whole heartedly, we shouldn’t feel like we have to dress differently to avoid unwanted comments. Unfortunately, I know a lot of women experience negative feedback and victim blaming when it comes to the harassment they encounter, have you experienced any of this?
I have had jokes from those I am closest to in my team at work but only because our friendship is so solid and they know I would have sarcastically said the same things myself in an attempt to laugh off any unease I have felt.
Two of my ex boyfriends (one was already an ex, the other I was with at the time) have commented on it, both have had an education and lost the privilege of my attention…I learnt I need to refine my taste in men haha!
Do you notice an influx in it at any particular time? I’ve noticed a lot of it during lockdown, for example.
Not really, although I am very aware of people becoming more concerned about WHERE runners are than how we are dressed during lockdown, but again, living somewhere so rural I am not likely to see others on the road when I am running, they are all on the footpaths which go through the fields.
Finally, what changes would you like to see to avoid this happening to you and other women in the future?
I want to see more education on consent, unsolicited behaviour, and make it all equal. Yes we, women of the world, are more likely to be the victims and not seen as the threats our male counterparts are but if we act like we can get away with unsolicited behaviour then how are we ever going to teach men where to draw the line. E.g. a female customer found my colleague on facebook, sent him a friend request and became his number 1 fan and asked him out, this was seen as cute but when male customers do the same to us it is seen as creepy.
Hannah, thank you so much. It’s easy to get hung up of the running side of street harassment sometimes. We mustn’t forget the other implications and how its impact can follow us through to other areas of life. I’m sure a lot of us don’t have to worry about seeing our harassers often but, of course, it is life and a real issue for some women. Education on consent and respect really is the first stepping stone in treating each other like human beings and ironing out harassment once and for all!