The Armor of Running

Look! No fuel belt!

Recently, the following was posted by a virtual friend (he’s not “virtually” a friend; he’s an online friend. In other words, we’ve never met. But he’s not an imaginary friend, even though I don’t know who he is in real life. Crap.).  Anyway, he was responding to #4 of my 7/1 blog, and he brought up a point I’d never considered, but have always experienced: feeling safer when running.

Like a lot of the things people  yammer on about, it had never even occurred to me that I should be afraid or carry weapons while running. Honestly. I’ve run probably 25,000+ miles in my life in all sorts of places. I’ve run in all the sketchy neighborhoods of Boston. I’ve run in all kinds of cities where I had no idea where I was going and got lost in the hoods of Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Tucson, Washington, New York and many others. I’ve high fived gang bangers and traded playful cat calls with hookers doing the walk of shame at 6 in the morning in Atlanta. I’ve run on main streets and back roads. I’ve run on roads, sidewalks, trails, fields, highways, frozen lakes, bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, dry river beds, golf courses, industrial parks, college campuses, zoos, hospitals, military bases, beaches and everything else.

I’ve never once felt threatened on a run unless you include the mostly-harmless random high school kids yelling out the windows of their moms’ cars to try and impress their dumb little buddies in the back seat. I HAVE felt threatened while walking around certain places in street clothes or with my laptop bag over my shoulder. But on the run? Never. Even driving slowly through some sketchy parts of town can get a bit unnerving. But not running

But also–and maybe I have too much faith in my fellow man–I always get a calming sense of running being the great equalizer. Somehow when I run I’m not looked at as “whitey trying to keep the poor man down from the safety and comfort of his fancy car” or anything else. I’m out amongst the people, unprotected, unpretentious. I’ve sometimes felt an almost strange level of mutual respect from the most random people when out running. I’ve had crackheads look me in the eye and nod approval. I’ve had rednecks hoot encouragement from the front porch. I’ve never once felt the slightest bit of animosity. Maybe it’s just me and I’m the naive one, or maybe running puts me in my happy place but for some reason I feel safer when running than doing just about anything else.

So true. In all my years, I cannot recall a single time I’ve felt honestly threatened when on a run. I’ve been yelled at, honked at, had water balloons and beer cans thrown at me, been flashed twice by guys with really tiny weenies (one guy was actually wearing a trenchcoat!), been chased by drop-kick dogs, had snippety verbal exchanges with fatass cyclists in their Flags ‘o The World spandex costumes, and been forced into a roadside ditch due to the moronic stubborn refusal of the 5-across Desperate Housewives On A Walk to make any room for a runner coming in their direction.

Annoyed, amused, or wishing I had a small hatchet? Yes. Threatened? No.

I can think of one time that I felt only the slightest twinge of threat. I was running alone on the trails in the park nearby (the terror!), and I heard a runner coming up behind me. As always, I slowed down a bit and moved to the side so that he/she could pass me. But this guy slowed down and stayed right behind me for a minute or so. I glanced behind quickly and noticed he was wearing tube socks, a button-down shirt, running shorts, and tennis shoes. I won’t lie. This was startling.

We trotted along for another couple minutes like this. Then he suddenly pulled up alongside me and said, “Your stride is pretty good, but did you know you pronate?”  I was too stunned to respond with anything but “Um. Okay.” In hindsight, this was not the snappiest comeback. But then he was gone, tube socks and all. This is the best thing I can come up with that might be considered a “threat” in more than 30,000 miles (Quiz: How many times since this blog began have I gratuitously inserted either how many miles or years I have run ?).

Meanwhile, in boring day-to-day life, I have often felt threatened or concerned.  There are places I have run (mall parking lots, unfamiliar backroads, a trail in Alaska, a yucky treadmill in a scary motel) that I would feel nowhere near as secure if I were simply walking or hanging out. But running seems purposeful enough that the rest of the world will leave me alone while I’m doing it. And I never feel awkward or dorky when running, though I often do in non-running life.

Is this sense of security and confidence naive or delusional? Of course, to some extent. After all, let’s face it— I’m still a dork even in the midst of a 20-miler (come to think of it, I may be at my dorkiest around mile 18).  Even so, I can’t argue with the facts. I’ve never sensed real ill-will from another human being, not once, in all my thirty years of running.*


*Eight times so far for those of you who are curious but don’t want to go back and read every tedious blog.


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