As I prepared to head home from work on Tuesday, I noticed a notification on a closed group I am a member of on Facebook. A coach from our running team had shared a post that mentioned a woman had been beaten and sexually assaulted in Central Park the day before. While I will not go into more details of that attack here, if you want to read the report you can do so here.
As I gathered my things at the office, to head home to run, I started thinking, and my feelings overwhelmed me. If you do not know, I typically meet up with my team at Central Park on Mondays and Wednesdays. This woman, a 28-year-old, was jogging in the same park as me, near the same area and at a time not too much later than when I left to head back to Brooklyn. We hear stories like these and they often feel so far away and it becomes easy to distance ourselves. However, this story connected with me in a way that had me in tears.
Although I do not personally know this woman, I imagine her story is somewhat similar to another female runners' day to day. I picture her training weeks, her upcoming races, and the voice in her head pushing her to get those miles in each day. The circus act of juggling work, family, and training can feel like there simply is not enough hours in the day. But it's true that if you want something bad enough you find and make the time. This is why my heart aches as I applaud this runner for grinding and getting those miles ran, probably in the only time she had that day.
In the same train of thoughts I got to thinking about what was taken away from her. Running is such a freedom. It's a medicine that can get you higher than any drug. It's a de-stressor, an anxiety healer, a healthy addiction, and a dream to many that share and partake in this sport. But when things like this happen, it can tear you down. It's so easy to create a sense of fear that keeps you from pushing forward.
I also realized how fast others were to blame the victim stating, "Well she shouldn't be running at night," or "She should have had mace, or a weapon."
NO. THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Why do we spend our time when such a tragic event takes place, looking for a way to blame the person suffering rather than looking at why a female runner is dealing with this type of issue?
My first thought, from personal experience running at the park as summer has faded into fall, was complete anger. I've noticed quite a few lights along the path in Central Park that are out or not lit at all. From my understanding, they are looking to improve the lights, which has caused many to be out temporarily, but there should be signage that states this. I also wish there could be temporary lighting to fix this issue until construction of the newer lighting is complete.
Another thing I notice, that strongly differs from my neighborhood park (Prospect) and Central Park is the police presence. When I run at Prospect, I constantly see police officers patrolling the main loop or parked in various sections. In a park much smaller with this type of patrolling, you would assume that Central Park had even more officers on duty. However, from my experience, running miles in many various spots there in the park, I have yet to see patrolling like this.
Sadly, it often takes situations like these to open up our eyes and push us to speak up. As a runner, I want to know what is my community doing to help women, like myself, feel safe? Where can we share our story and open a conversation that expresses why these simple things are important. I encourage runners to talk about situations like these with family, friends, and even at community gatherings or town halls. Someone must shed light into best next steps and it may be up to us to be that voice.
Now I will mention here that no matter the precautions and steps taken, I know things can happen to any one person at any given time, night or day. And I refuse to let fear, uncertainty, and tragedy keep me from running. I hope if you are a runner and you are reading this, you understand the spirit and resilience that comes with each step on that treadmill, pavement, or trail.
With love, I want to share with you some things I personally use when running by myself at night or dark. I hope these can provide some type of option if you ever fear lacing up and heading out the door after work:
Companion lets you reach out to family, friends, or your public safety department to have them keep an eye on you as you travel late at night. Anyone in your contact book can be your Companion, they don't even need to have the app installed! My boyfriend always asks me to send him this. Also my best friend in KY has even tracked me!
Although I rarely listen to music when running, if I am on a night run, alone, I take my phone to enable the above app. However, as it is dark, I need my senses heightened so if my earbuds are in, I turn the music really low, or completely off for precaution.
This is a picture of Mile 7 at my first Marathon, The Flying Pig. That's me in the blue shoes. The man with his arms raised is my buddy Tim and on the other side is my awesome friend Shari. I trained side by side with these two and spent so many dark nights with them! I encourage you to Google running groups in your area and make an effort to meet others!
Please comment below if you have any other tips for what you do to take precautions running at night. If y'all have any questions, I always would love to chat. I know this was so difficult for me to swallow and I hope we can move forward and can continue running in celebration of strong women like this one at Central Park.