How many of you feel unsafe when you go out for a run? How many of you look over your shoulder to see who might be coming up behind you? Do you let a buddy know exactly where you are going and when you will be back? Do you carry a phone and a rape alarm with you? No, me neither but when one of my female friends was sexually assaulted last week whilst out running, my outlook has somewhat changed.
Generally when I head out of the door for a run I still haven’t totally decided on the route I am going to take let alone how long I’ll be gone. I usually just throw on my trainers and make it up as I go along. Sometimes I head out on the spur of the moment because the weather is right or I have a spare hour to kill. Safety is never something I have thought about too much aside from avoiding the obvious things like running alone in the dark or in unfamiliar territory. I wouldn’t say this was gung-ho, but I have never had any reason to behave any other way. I feel safe running in my local area and therefore my welfare doesn’t factor too highly on my to-do list.
That is what made it so shocking when one of my club-mates and friends told us she was sexually assaulted in broad daylight on a Wednesday lunchtime whilst running along a popular towpath. The Cromford Canal is a site I know well, it is a favourite with walkers, runners and cyclists alike due to its picturesque location and proximity to Belper and Derby. A site that is always relatively busy, I have never considered it to be somewhere I would need to be concerned and have visited it many times on my own. The flat terrain and well surfaced track have made it a popular spot for marathon training for local clubs for years.
This cowardly person must have known there were lone females using the path. He must have hid himself away waiting for the first one to come along. He had an escape route planned out in a premediated and calculated way so he could get away as soon as he had satisfied his goal of terrorising some poor female. We were all so thankful to hear our friend was not physically harmed, but the emotional damage from that event will last much longer. Those effects have also spread into the running community and made us all reassess our safety in the hobby that we so love.
For something like this to stop me from running would be a disaster. Running is my lifeline, it is what keeps me sane and gives me focus. My initial reaction to hearing about this incident was utter dismay and hurt for my friend, but also anger and rage that someone had the audacity to do something like this to another human being, how dare they?! As a club, and in particular the ladies of the club, we quickly got our heads together and it was suggested by my co-ladies captain that we hold a mass run down the same stretch of path a few days later. We wanted to try and show solidarity to our friend but also to the wider community that we would not let the callous actions of this individual prevent us from enjoying the hobby we treasure. Our streets and footpaths are there for everyone to use without fear of being attacked or harassed.
So with just a couple of days, the message was sent out on social media and I contacted the local press. We didn’t know who might turn up but we wanted to try and turn something so awful into something positive. To my total surprise and joy the local running community came together and on a cool and drizzly morning we had runners and walkers from Belper, Matlock, Derby and Ripley in attendance. The Derby Telegraph sent a reporter, as well as BBC Radio Derby, East Midlands Today and a local news story. Maurice Flynn of the BBC told me afterwards that in all his years in journalism he had never seen such a positive reaction to something so dire.
We are now a week on from the incident and everyone has had time to think about what happened, what might have been and what that means for the future. I will still run as that is what I do, but I will now pay that little bit more attention to making sure my friends know where I am, that I am contactable and I will be more aware of my surroundings.
Happy running x