An Open Letter To My Daughter
23 October 2020
By – Adam Martin – Newton Running Ambassador
For those who follow my blog, I occasionally make note of my daughters (I have two). My eldest - who is four, absolutely loves to run with me. In fact, one particular day this summer, I decided to attached my GPS watch to her simply to see how far she actually goes. She logged close to three miles in one afternoon at the park. I have no doubt running is in my girls’ future and I look forward to the many miles we log together.
That said, the 2016 Runners World survey and article listed that 43 percent of women at least sometimes experience harassment while on a run, compared to just 4 percent of men. Of those women, 18 percent have been sexually propositioned, 30 percent followed by a person in a vehicle, and 3 percent have been physically assaulted. (1) As a Dad, this not only concerns me, it terrifies me. These women are not only daughters, they are wives, mothers, friends, and family. The issue is not only an issue of physical harm, but mental and emotional harm. The fear that accompanies these stats runs far greater and deeper than I can understand.
As a male, I do not have the gut level understanding of the fear that women face when preparing to run outside. My fear roots out of love for my daughters and wife who, themselves, run the same trails, sidewalks, and streets I run. Because I lack that deep gut level understanding, I decided to take this post in a different direction than the usual “Five Tips for Staying Safe on the Trail” - as that assumes a comprehensive understanding, which I do not have. Rather this post will be addressed as an open letter to my wife and daughters and their future in running.
My hope for this post is two-fold. First, I hope it encourages the women in my life to be bold and continue running while also being safe and aware. Second, I also hope that it empowers men to protect our girls and women and to fight for change because the statistics listed by Runners World are horrifying. As I bring it all together, below is the open letter to my wife and daughters that I hope provides a glimpse into something helpful.
My Dearest Daughter,
I remember the first time we ran together. You were four. We ran about a mile hand in hand. Barefoot at the park. You called it a “Marathon” and I smiled - my heart smiled. I remember when you crossed the finish line on your first solo race at the Turkey Trot. These past years of watching you grow have been the best years of my life.
And now, you are on your own and running is still a part of your life - as much now, as it will ever be. I see your runs in the early morning - and if life doesn’t allow a morning run, you make time for it later in the day. You seem to find joy in everything and it is wonderful you see you find so much joy in the the sport.
The other day while I was running, I had a driver throw objects at me from their car window. Fortunately, I was not hurt as it missed and hit the fence behind me. Through all this, I do think about your safety while you are out on the trail. This was the first real incident I have personally experienced of being harassed as a runner. It left me feeling confused and fearful, angry and vulnerable - a mixed bag of thoughts and feelings. Since that day, I have avoided that neighborhood.
As I think about you on the road, I am haunted by the knowledge that women runners experience harassment in one form or another ten times as much as their male counterparts. There are many dangers on the trail and I hope you are aware of them but do not let them discourage you from the joy you find in running. As I think about these things, I wanted to share some ideas that I’ve had over the years for being safety aware while running.
One thing I learned not-to-long ago in site security was to create layers of safety around you. For my advice here to you, I tried to mimic that idea. First is creating a layer of safety around you through awareness using your senses and intentional placement of yourself is safer areas and reserving personal defense items as secondary. My thinking being, if you can avoid a fight or altercation, why wouldn’t you?
In creating a buffer of safety around you is first to be smart about where you run. Do your research before hand - what do other runners say about a place? Are there trail reviews? Trust your gut about what feels safe and be smart about where you run, be picky about your safety. Go for a drive along a potential route, does it look well-lit and is it open and visible to the public?
Next, is to stay aware of your surroundings while you are running - including people and terrain. I know you love to run with music, you have always loved music, but I encourage you to run without music so that you can hear what is going on around you and have that extra layer of awareness around you. Making note of people and structures you pass is very important. Make a habit of looking people in the eye and acknowledging their characteristics and clothing (the casual runners wave makes this less awkward). If something or someone feels unsafe, get out of there and somewhere safe as quickly as you can.
Finally and secondarily is to prepare yourself in the event of an incident. Carry a noise maker or a personal defense item such as mace. Also, a personal defense course is not a bad idea. Whatever you decide on, I support you.
I hope you do prepare yourself but also use personal protection as secondary to being smart about putting yourself in certain situations and being aware of your surroundings while you are running.
I hope you take my advice and use what you can and consider the rest. Im writing as your father and friend.
I hope the sun brings you new energy by day, the moon softly restore you by night. May the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being, may you walk gently through the world and know its’ beauty all the days of your life.
Written by Adam Martin