Why Are We Not Talking About The Danger Of Running As A Woman?


Women's Health |

Image from Kelly Herron’s Instagram 

Here at WH, we’re massive fans of running. For many women, it’s their go-to New Year’s resolution to get fit and lose weight. But there’s one very real problem with running when you’re a woman: the possibility of being attacked. 

Running Can Be Dangerous 

In America, one woman went viral when she posted a picture on her Instagram, detailing her account of being attacked by a man while she was out on a run.”My biggest running nightmare became reality – 4 miles into my long run Sunday afternoon, I stopped to use the restroom and was assaulted by a man hiding in a stall (that is my GPS in red lines). I fought for my life screaming (“Not today, M**F**er!”), clawing his face, punching back, and desperately trying to escape his grip – never giving up,” Kelly Herron, the woman who was attacked, said in her caption on Instagram. Eventually, Herron managed to lock the man in a bathroom until police arrived on the scene. She credits her survival to a self-defence class she’d taken three weeks prior.

A post shared by Kelly Herron (@run_kiwi_run) on

Herron isn’t alone. A quick Google search brings up a slew of nasty results on our home turf. Last year, Franziska Blöchliger, a teenager who went for a run in Tokai Forest, Cape Town, was brutally assaulted and murdered. This year, a woman in Golden Harvest Park, Joburg, was stabbed and robbed while out on a run. Then there’s the woman who was attacked, held captive, and raped while on a run in Newlands Forest. In January this year, another woman in Sandton was stabbed while on a run. And while you could argue your cellphone, iPod or fitness tracker makes you a target for attacks – lots of organised races now ban running with music — the real problem isn’t that women are being flashy, it’s that they’re women at all.

The Problem With Catcalling 

On a quick poll of Runner’s World South Africa readers, women opened up about their scary experiences while on the road. When asked “ladies, have you ever been catcalled, made fun of, or been harassed by a man while out on a run?” over 90 comments ensued, most of which were from women retelling their stories. “One guy even passed me and turned back just to drive next to me making remarks for more than kilometre. And I felt intimidated and scared but I just kept running and increased the volume on my iPod,” one user remarked. One woman confessed to running with a knife for safety, but now that she has a newborn son, things are different. “I used to ‘flip them the bird’ or tell them to bugger off but I can’t now. I can’t risk my son’s life over something stupid like that.,” she commented on their Facebook post.  One caveat: lots of women commented that when they ran with a man, the comments ceased all together.

How To Deal 

For women, the reality is that running is a dangerous sport. And it’s not our fault: men’s attitudes need to change. But until then, a few initiatives have sprouted that offer solutions to women who want to run smarter and safer.

Defend Yourself 

Take a self-defence class. Herron credits her survival to that two-hour session. “The basic concepts and little phrases I learned—like ‘hard bones to soft fleshy places’—really stuck,” Herron said in an article on Women’s Health US. “It’s not like I was taking notes and trying to actively memorise the class. Your brain is built to survive, but you have to put the right information in it.” Try out a Krav Maga class: the Israeli military fighting techniques equip women with vital moves for fighting off an attacker, and there are even classes that teach you how to disarm a weapon. For a self-defence video showing some moves, check out this video.

Be Prepared 

Apps like Strava offer a breadcrumb feature that allows someone else to track your run and make sure that you’re safe and on route. There’s also an app in the works that connects people who have similar activities, so they can do it together.

Looking for more? Here are four moves that could save your life 

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