Attacks are Changing the Sport of Running


By now, I’m sure most of you have heard the unfortunate news about the 25-year-old woman who was choked and strangled to the ground Saturday morning in Chicago. While her attacker is still yet to be found, the good news is the woman survived to tell her story, just left with minor injuries.

Others, though, have not been so lucky. Earlier in August, two women in New York and Massachusetts were also attacked while on their runs. Neither women from these unrelated incidents survived; one died on the scene, and the other died shortly after arriving at a hospital.

Before I go on, I want to take a moment to remember these women, who, like many on a daily basis, went out on an innocent run, and probably had simple plans to eat dinner or watch Netflix upon their return. Not only were their lives affected, but the lives of those around them were changed because one person felt the need to hurt a harmless person.

A similar situation happened when I was back at college in May. A path right by my old apartment, called Constitution Trail, was a very popular spot for runners, walkers and bikers at all times of the day – I would run there multiple times throughout the week, and never did I feel unsafe because it was usually very populated. However, an Illinois State University student went out for a walk one morning around 10 a.m., and was ambushed from behind, left with several bruises on her face.

Although the girl was able to recount a pretty specific description of her attacker, he was never found; many speculate that he was on the trail, doing something he wasn’t supposed to be, when the girl ran by, so he acted out of panic. Whatever the reason may be, these attacks need to stop.

Personally, I look forward to my runs each day; not only is it a designated time for me to relieve any stress I may have, but I also enjoy the time being alone and unattached from my phone, and I can really feel free. Since these attacks, though, my mindset on my runs has changed.

Unless I am running along streets the entire time, I feel on edge and paranoid; I am constantly thinking, “what if someone is behind that bush?” or “what would be the smartest exit if someone does try and attack me?” Obviously it’s good to be aware and have a plan, but having these thoughts clogs my head rather than clears it.

In the last few years, the news has been filled with events of gun violence and other attacks, that cause a general increase of paranoia among U.S. citizens; police departments across the country are now forced to implement the “buddy system” due to the amount of police brutality happening recently, and there has been several other changes due to negative events. But you’d think people just trying to get some exercise would not be required to take extra precaution.

After Saturday’s attack, Fleet Feet Sports Chicago released safety tips for runners to follow. While helpful, many of them were already well-known among runners; “don’t run alone,” “don’t wear headphones” and “be visible in low light situations” are among the suggestions. While ideally, runners would follow all of these tips and be safe, it’s not realistic.

As I mentioned above, I look forward to my runs because it’s my chance to be alone and just think – while I do enjoy running with a buddy sometimes, it’s also nice to have that alone time. And running without music? Do people actually do that? I know I can’t. I will continue to have my phone on me when I run, and I may invest in a can of pepper spray, but there’s only so much to be done.

While this may just be me being stubborn and set in my running-ways, I think it’s more of me being upset that these attacks are changing the sport of running. Never have I heard of so many people (and unfortunately mostly females) being at risk from just going for a run. Especially in Chicago – while the woman from Saturday’s attack was running early in the morning, you’d think that Chicago is so crowded, and you’re always safe. And most people probably feel the same way about their neighborhoods, too.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is here – people can continue to provide safety tips, and runners can become more conscious of where, when and how they run. But really, it seems that the theme of all these attacks is that innocent people were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s not fair.

There has to be some reason that runners are targeted; maybe because we’re vulnerable when running, as we’re tired and not 100 percent aware of our surroundings. But until that reason is discovered, and these attacks stop, I just pray that those in my running circle remain smart and safe on their runs.

If you haven’t read Fleet Feet’s safety tips yet, you seriously should, and let’s all stick together, as runners, to prevent this from happening again.

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Holly's running career began in high school; after being bummed about not making the volleyball team her sophomore year, she decided to join some of her middle school friends on the cross country team. She also did track in the fall, where the 1600 m race was her niche. Since then, she has run several shorter distance races and two half marathons. Her goal for 2017 is to try a triathlon, and eventually do the Chicago Marathon. She graduated from Illinois State University in May 2016 with a degree in journalism. Working at Chicago Athlete, Holly has been able to explore photography a lot more, which is one of her main hobbies. She enjoys taking photos at endurance races, and is also passionate about nature photography and portraiture.


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