I will be the first to admit I am stubborn, and having been transplanted to Philadelphia from small town Massachusetts for college I got really good at being independent. Almost too good it would seem. I was good at never needing a boy around to take care of me and even after two years of dating Boyfriend I forget that he worries about me so much being alone on the road getting my miles in. If not for him I would not be carrying my phone in a SPI belt that night and for that (and many other reasons) I am so grateful that he watches out for me.
It was a crisp and chilly Tuesday night, Boyfriend and I were out running together which was unusual but in a good way. I love when we get to run together and my training doesn't feel like something that keeps us apart but rather something that keeps us together. But Boyfriend had 3 miles on the calendar (per his wonderful coach - me!) and I had eight so at 1.5 out he turned around to head home and I kept going, ready to get into the meat and potatoes of the workout. Last weeks tempo miles were consistent but too fast, this week I wanted them to be perfect.
Everything about the workout was going perfect. I was dressed just warm enough to be comfortable but not too much to be hot. My pace felt right on, and after every quarter mile I would look down at my watch and see perfect numbers. I was right on pace, and couldn't be happier. And then I heard the voice behind me, "Hey Ma'am".
I looked back to see a man on a bike pedaling towards me. I was more annoyed than surprised, I had encountered this guy on this same trail before, but I had sped up enough and there were enough other people around for him to get distracted and leave me alone. From what I observed he seemed to be a bit mentally slow, and went up to various women asking their names. I guess it was nothing but harmless if he leaves you alone, but when you're running and he gets up close to you, it gets a little scary.
Ten fold when it's dark, and you are alone. I know I shouldn't have been out there alone (anyone want to be my running buddy for the next four weeks). But I was out there alone, and I was having an amazing run until this guy got right up next to me and asked for my name. This is going to sound crazy but my first thought was actually "this guy is going to totally screw up my pace!!" I wasn't answering him, I pretended I was too out of breath to answer his questions, but he wouldn't let up. I told him I couldn't talk right now and he asked if he could follow me. No you cannot follow me, and I slowed down hoping he would just pedal away. But he didn't, so I sped up, I told him to go away, and he said he wasn't following me. I tried to stay calm, I really did, but at this point I didn't know what to do. He wasn't going away, and he stayed so close I was afraid he would run into me.
I was only three miles out, one mile left to go before I turned around but two extra miles wasn't worth dealing with this. I figured if I just turned around he would keep going and I would be fine. So I made a quick switch of direction and headed home. For a second he kept on course and I almost breathed a sigh of relief. Almost. Because then he turned around and got close to me again. All calmness and rationality in my brain left me and at that moment all I could think about doing was yelling. So I yelled "stop it, STOP IT" and at a last minute thought I pulled out my phone desperate to do anything to feel safe. And it worked. He turned around and headed away but the damage was done. I was completely freaked out.
Its funny how in a matter of seconds you can go from feeling invincible to feeling helpless and you can never go back. I know that this guy never did anything to really threaten me, but knowing I had no control over the situation and I didn't know what his next move would be left me shaken. I was comforted by the fact that two others out that night heard me, a runner and a biker, and stopped me to make sure I was ok. And on the way home I saw a cop and stopped to report the whole thing to him. We live in a scary world where you want to believe everything is going to be ok, but at the same time you want to do everything to protect yourself. You don't want to have to be paranoid, but you want to be prepared.
This is a large part of what kept me from running last week. I was just plain not ready to run at night, and was hating that my only other choice was the treadmill. I wish it didn't have to be this way, that we always have to watch our backs and be afraid of the dark. But it is, and we do. Be careful out there, wear light colored clothes at night, reflective gear if you have it. No headphones either and carry your phone with you. Right now I'm looking into carrying pepper spray with me - but I think it scares me just a little to know I may have to use it. Who knows what will happen in the next few weeks as I finish up my training for Philly. Maybe in part I am glad this whole thing happened so I can wise up and watch out for myself. Often times it takes something happening before people will change their stubborn ways. I just hope that by sharing this at least one person reads won't have to wit until something happens to change.