It was just a tweet posted at 1:21 p.m. on a Wednesday asking how women protect themselves when they go for a run.
The tweet’s author, TV and comic-book writer Amanda Deibert, had no clue it would be shared more than 15,000 times and start a global conversation on what women face when they hit the pavement. The replies were enlightening, she told “Good Morning America.”
Deibert said the nonchalance of the women who replied made her realize that women typically feel unsafe when exercising outside no matter where they live. Some of the replies included running on an indoor track at a community center in order not to be alone outside; running with a large, ferocious-looking dog; and carrying a knife or gun.
In Houston, well-populated public parks and running clubs help to create a safe space for women who run — but that’s sometimes not enough. Women take their safety (and pepper spray) into their own hands.
A recent thread on Reddit.com led to Houston runners dissuading a newcomer when she said she ran before sunrise.
What to carry if you’re a woman who runs
1. Hand-held pepper spray with a strap that goes around the hand or Mace
2. Kitty keychain
3. Ring kKnife (Go Guarded Ring Knife)
4. Headlamp and reflective gear
5. Whistle or sounding alarm
6. A charged cellphone with location services turned on for close friends and family
7. If you run with music, run without headphones or earbuds or find ones that allow for you to hear your surroundings.
8. Car keys
9. Large dogs
10. A smartwatch with geolocation
“Pass on running alone at night. Even during the early mornings it’s a bit unnerving to run alone on the trail. Stick to daylight running, especially at Memorial Park,” one commenter wrote.
Another said, “I would not recommend running by yourself at Memorial Park when it’s dark out. Even though it’s well-lit, it feels very isolated. The street that runs around the park will be very quiet in the early mornings, and most of your fellow runners will be men, which doesn’t make me feel safer …. Also, I always run with a whistle. It’s easier to blow a whistle than to scream, and the sound travels farther. You can also use it before somebody gets close enough to Mace.”
According to Runner’s World “Running While Female” survey, 43 percent of women have experienced harassment while running compared to only 4 percent of men.
Five percent of women runners have been flashed; 18 percent have been asked for sex; 3 percent have been grabbed, groped or otherwise physically assaulted; and 30 percent have been followed by a person either in a vehicle, on bicycle or on foot, according to the same survey.
“My boyfriend doesn’t really understand why we have to do this. There’s a lot of crazy people nowadays, and it’s sad that women have to do these things to do something so simple and keep ourselves safe,” said Houstonian Emily Nguyen.
“Do men need to carry some sort of weapon when they go out for a run? They don’t. They get to run freely, and women really can’t.”
Here’s what other Houston runners do to stay safe when #RunningWhileFemale. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Cherington, 39
I’m a marathon runner (who has qualified for the 2020 Boston Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 16 minutes), and I train solo mostly in the Heights, Memorial Park and White Oak Bayou.
I run alone mostly on the White Oak Bayou, along Heights Boulevard and the Heights Hike and Bike Trail. I carry pepper spray, a small alarm and wear a ring that has a little knife on it. I do use headphones, but I pause the music when I am running along parts of the bayou that seem isolated.
Homeless people under the bridges on the bayou mostly leave me alone, besides a few comments I hear every so often. I have called 911 twice because of homeless guys passed out on the path who looked like they were in real distress.
My only real scare came last winter when I passed by a guy on a skateboard near T.C. Jester on the bayou. He looked at me and laughed in a strange way. After we passed, he turned around and started to ride right behind me very aggressively. I ran as fast as I could until I came to a bridge at the road. I ran up the hill to T.C. Jester and stayed there for 10 minutes. I didn’t see him again. My best weapon is my speed.
Kathryn Eccles, 28
I run at Memorial Park or a public place when I can, and I share my location on my phone with a family member. I tell them how long I’m running for and then I check in when I’ve finished.
I use a headlamp when running early in the morning. I have pepper spraythat is strapped to my hand in a “ready fire” position. It was $10 on Amazon, and it’s great because I don’t have to think about holding it. This has given me the biggest peace of mind.
I carry one of those metal keychains of a cat with pointed ears that hooks onto your (index and middle) fingers — the points of the ears act as a stabbing tool. I also keep my music down pretty low and do not use noise-canceling headphones.
AirPods or Sudio Tre wireless earphones work great because you can still hear your surroundings.
Emily Nguyen, 24
I started (competitively) running in middle school, and then I went to Stratford High School and ran my junior year. I went to college in Lubbock (Texas Tech University) and continued to run, but also picked up cycling.
During practice in high school, we were taught to be aware of our surroundings. Our practices were at 6 a.m., and since it’s a fall sport, sunrise wasn’t until 8 a.m. We never listened to music and always ran in pairs.
When running in college, I discovered running headphones and armbands. I always ran by myself. At this age, I discovered myself memorizing license plates in the NATO phonetic alphabet, plus the model and color of vehicles. Not only do I memorize cars, I try to remember people’s faces and anything particular about them — such as a mustache or certain facial features.
I am thankful enough now to have a significant other who runs with me and keeps at my pace. This past year, we discovered AfterShokz headphones — these aren’t earbuds, but bone-conduction headphones. It allows you to hear your surroundings and still listen to your music.
I have never run with a weapon of any sort, and I am so thankful for my running journey. I also try to suck it up in the heat to run during peak times at the park. One day, I do want to obtain my open-carry gun license and be able to run with something small, because you never know.
Alexandria Gonzales, 23
I make sure I carry my credit and ID cards in my phone’s case in case of emergencies. I hide my valuables in compartments of my car prior to running. I had my car broken into this past April, and it was not a pleasant experience.
When I have run in groups, another girl will have Mace with her, so the rest of the group can be on the lookout. (Mace and pepper spray are not the same).
If I stop running to walk a bit, I take out my earbuds to be aware of my surroundings. I never run at night or borderline sunset if I am able to avoid it.
If I am running alone, I put myself in areas with large crowds or at least somewhere near busy streets or where people are close by.
Sagrario Baca, 28, president of West End Running Club
I am a creature of habit who not only enjoys running tried and proven routes, but also running alone. However, with the ever-increasing dangers that surround us, particularly for women, I realize I should take some precautions, so here are my tips for safe running:
Do not run alone — while I say I prefer to run by myself, making sure there is a runner in front of me or behind me is something I always try to do.
Always let someone know where you are going (i.e. which park or route you will be running).
Stay on well-traveled and well-lit roads. If you have to run through a poorly lit area, plan ahead. Make sure to have a headlamp or use your phone light to be able to see your surroundings. This also applies if you cannot get your run in during the day.
Do not run with earphones. Be aware of your surroundings. I get that running is boring sometimes, but whether it be a short run or a 20-something-mile-long run, I ditch the earphones.
If someone or an area looks shady, cross the street or go the other way — there’s no point in putting yourself at risk to get that extra .25 mile. Trust your gut, always.