Running while female

Ashley McNiff, one of thousands of runners in Monday’s Boston Marathon, is running because she doesn’t want to let what happened to her friend dictate to her. Her friend was a runner. Her friend was running in broad daylight. Her friend was raped and murdered and left in the woods.

“Ask any female runner you know: Odds are, she can tell you a story of suggestive shouts taking a menacing turn, unsettling stares from drivers on lightly trafficked roads, or bicyclists tailing her for uncomfortably long stretches,” Boston Globe/WBUR writer Shira Springer says.

Running for McNiff, as for many women, is an act of defiance.

Her friend’s killing happened during a nine-day stretch during which two other female runners were killed. All three were running in the daytime.

A Runners World survey found running for women comes with unique concerns for safety, the Globe said.

According to the survey results, a majority of female runners have safety concerns: 63 percent choose routes where they figure it’s unlikely they’ll be harmed and 60 percent limit their runs to daylight hours. Also, more than 70 percent carry a phone with them and let someone know their route and when they’ll be back. And 54 percent (compared with 7 percent of male runners) said they always, often, or sometimes headed out the door concerned that they “could be physically assaulted or receive unwanted physical contact during a run.”

The survey results aren’t surprising, at least not to this female runner.

Surprising or not, the risks of “running while female” should be talked about more often. When female runners have the courage to share what happens to them on a daily basis, when McNiff runs Boston in Marcotte’s memory, that can start a larger conversation about how to make runs and other activities safer.

It’s unacceptable that women who run either to train for marathons or just for fun often expect some form of harassment on roads and trails. Running should be an empowering, stress-relieving escape, not 5 or 10 miles in which you need to be on alert.

Women should feel the same freedom choosing training routes and training times as men. We shouldn’t head out the door worried about being harassed or assaulted, or view pepper spray as a running essential (21 percent of women runners carry it, at least sometimes, according to Runner’s World).

In her defiance, McNiff says she’s not ignoring safety concerns.

“I want to get to a place where women can live free from the fear of violence. I want to go for a run at 5 in the morning and not worry about anything bad happening to me,” she says.

“That’s my dream, but I know that’s not the reality. But I’m not going to stop running. I’m not going to stop doing the things that I love.”

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