Do You Care What Other People Think Of You When You Run?

I think we all know what the answer should be, right? A big, fat NO – quite frankly it’s nobody else’s business what you get up to in your spare time and anyway yay go you for getting out there! But it’s not as simple as that is it, because unfortunately there are a whole load of haters out there who seem determined to feed those nagging doubts in your head.

I posed the question on social media to a wide spectrum of runners, of whether female runners in particular have ever felt threatened or have faced detrimental remarks whilst running and I was shocked at the results. The positive, optimistic part of my brain was hoping to be flooded with responses that indicated this kind of thing doesn’t happen, that society had moved on enough to mean women no longer experience chauvinistic and body shaming cat calls, unfortunately this is not the case.

From the slightly less harmful, but oh so highly stereotypical wolf whistles and the ha you’re so funny ‘run Forest run!’ comments, to being called ‘too fat to run’, ‘too ugly to run’, ‘too slow to run’, right through to being hissed and spat at, and most shockingly of all having food and drink thrown at them, all of these things have been experienced recently by female runners. The serial offenders are as to be expected – builders, white van men and groups of teenagers – however, they are not alone as my research has revealed that other runners can be just as cruel.

Battle of the sexes

For the main part, the running community is a highly supportive network; you only have to go to a park run or organised race event to see just how connected and positive fellow runners are to one another, but it seems things are somewhat different when it comes to standard day-to-day running. The women who responded, commented that when running solo there was a marked difference in the interaction they received from other solo female runners versus those received from men. Men are apparently more likely to respond with positive feedback; a nod of the head, a hello, or a smile. Women on the other hand, are far more judgemental; keeping their heads down when passing another female with little to no acknowledgement. However, this soon changes when a group element comes into play, as it appears men are not so keen to interact so positively with a group of female runners. I’ve experienced this myself, where a male runner upon noticing a group of female runners biting at his heels, suddenly plumps out his chest and ups his pace as if getting turbo charged with testosterone and grunting “me man, watch me run”, because heavens forbid a bunch of women might overtake him! And it’s the same with male, or even mixed, run groups – this sense that somehow by having males in their midst it makes them more elite, that they’re the ‘proper runners’, unlike these women that bless them are trying out jogging as a new hobby.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s like this everywhere, I know of groups that are incredibly welcoming and supportive of each other and big high fives to them ‘cos come on there’s plenty of room for everyone and hey it’s really not a competition, ultimately we’re all just here to run whatever our reasons and drive may be. And it’s also really not the case that solo runners have a negative experience each and every time they run. Indeed many of those I questioned, remarked that they had never experienced any nastiness whilst running and that often people would offer encouragement or as one woman put it, “I quite often get a cheery wave or encouraging comment from cyclists, dog walkers or other runners. It’s rather nice – like being part of something bigger that the folk sat on their sofas aren’t a part of.”

But the fact remains there are still way too many incidences of abuse and what I want to know is why is this still happening and what can we do about it?

There are a few different reasons as to why it happens, but for me the biggest reason has to of course be personal insecurity. It’s often the reason for a whole heap of negative behaviour, and whilst it definitely doesn’t excuse it, it does at least help explain it. Because you see, we’re doing something they’re not. We’re out there and we’re running, and when the haters see us doing something they don’t/can’t/won’t do, it chastises them, makes them feel insecure about their own demons, and the only way they know how to deal with this is by making us feel as if we are in the wrong.

How bloody dare they!

So, aside from only ever running through fields, woodlands and other low human footfall environments – I mean you might get the odd cow or two mooing at you but unless you speak fluent cow you’re never really gonna know if their intentions are bad –what’s the solution?

England Athletics carried out a survey at the beginning of last year that revealed a third of women have been harassed while out running alone. It showed that there was a serious need for women to feel safe, encouraged and empowered to continue or start running, thus the launch of RunTogether, a national programme providing access to 700 local running groups. The most important factor being that every level of fitness and ability is catered for and the ethos is that running is more fun when shared with other people. The ultimate aim is to get a million people into athletics and running by the year 2020 and as more and more groups pop up across the UK they are certainly making ripples of change in the running community.

As someone who regularly runs with a female run group, I can wholeheartedly vouch for the benefits that are to be had running en masse. For the most part we don’t take ourselves too seriously, yes perhaps we give each other a ribbing every now and again, especially if there’s a Strava crown involved, but above anything else we celebrate the fact we are out there doing it and support each other in our own individual running journeys.

Running in a group won’t stop the comments, but there is without doubt a strength in numbers, and although I’m pretty sure I’d struggle to come up with a witty one liner if a comment was aimed at me, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d be the first one to step up and defend one of the other runners should something be aimed at them!

And so we return to the question of ‘Do You Care What Other People Think Of You When You Run?’, and I urge you, for your own sake to stop giving a damn, to rise up above other people’s insecurities and opinions and do the thing you love to do…RUN!

Have you ever had a bad experience whilst running?

We’d love to hear from, so get in touch!

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