It’s a common question. When people find out where I run and that I do so alone there are usually a few standard responses, either “I wish I could do that” (you totally can), “Your husband lets you do that?” (Seriously? WTF? That’s a WHOLE other blog post) and “But, don’t you get scared?”.
The answer is yes, I do get scared. We all get scared, don’t we? There are things that create fear in our hearts and minds, but it’s a choice as to what we do about that fear. How much power we give the fear and how we listen to it.
I run alone and at the moment I try and run every long run somewhere new, in an effort to mimic what will happen on race day where I will be running on ‘new to me’ trails and needing to navigate along the way. This can be scary, there is a chance I will get lost, or hurt, but I can’t let that fear dictate my life. I am a planner and I mitigate the danger as much as I can. I have a planned route. I tell at least two people where I am planning to run, how long I should take and when to start worrying if they haven’t heard from me. On every mountain or long run I take a full pack of gear, I always have, whether it be here in New Zealand or back in the subtropical National Parks of NSW and South East Queensland. In my pack I have dry thermals, a raincoat, beanie, spare food, water, a bivvy sac (think sleeping bag made out of space blanket material), first aid and a headlamp.
Knowing I have these things in place helps me manage the fear. I usually have more fear before a new run than during. I will stress about running in a new place or if I know the conditions aren’t going to be the best, but nine times out ten, once I am underway the fears drop away.
But this doesn’t mean I blatantly ignore that fear. A month ago during training I decided to take on a particular trail near Lake Hawea called the Breast Hill Track. It gets a bit scrambly up the top and anyone who knows me will know I have a fear of heights. It was a cold and windy day, there were showers forecast, but I thought I would give it a go. As I got to the start of the first short scramble the wind came up the face of the mountain and hit me. I sat and calmed myself, willing myself to keep going. Yes, I was scared. This willing myself forward, getting beaten back, trying to quell my fears went on for about a kilometre. Then I reached my point of “no more”. The fear was too great. The wind was too hard, the trail too slick and my heart could find no joy, no reason to continue. Why? Because I no longer felt safe. Not just scared but also not safe. So I listened and went home and found a different trail to finish my run on.
Running alone as a woman also brings a special fear, one that is instilled in us from a young age. That fear that we shouldn’t do something because of what other people might do to us. There is, unfortunately, a culture of telling women to adjust their activities to keep themselves safe from men who may be out to do them harm. There have been many posts written about this, many debates about victim blaming and putting the onus on victims instead of perpetrators. It is also one of the main reasons many women who find out I run alone tell me they don’t feel safe to do the same. In five years of running, predominantly alone, on trails I have only felt unsafe twice because of the people I met on the trail. The first, I believe, was unfounded fear. I was doing my first solo night run and toward the end of it, when I was tired and already stressed, I crossed paths a group of men in their early twenties who were bush walking. They did and said nothing that would warrant fear, but still I was scared and put as much distance between them and me as I could. The second time, is the one time I feel something could have happened, but I listened to my gut and took steps to make myself safe. As I came off the trail at Mt Barney, a young guy pulled up in his ute and hopped out and approached myself and a man I had been chatting to about sport watches as we had made the final descent to the carpark. As I set about doing my cool down at my car, thinking about my snack waiting for me on the front seat, they had a short conversation and the you guy called out to me a comment about me looking super fit and threw me a look. Alarm bells went off, so instead of getting my snack and sitting at the picnic table like usual I hopped in my car and drove down the road to a spot where I could eat in the car. Less than 5 min later the ute pulled up beside my car, so I packed up and left to drive to the nearest town. But I didn’t let that fear control me. I was out on the trails again the next day.
So yes, I do get scared and when I get scared I try and work out if that fear is a socially instilled fear (women should not run alone), a fear fed by a phobia (this is too high) or a fear stemming from something I need to listen to for my own safety. I get scared. Sometimes terrified. I will have tears running down my face. Then, I will stop, take a deep breath and try and look at the fear, where is it coming from? Do I really have something to fear? And what should I do about it? I try to keep a level head and make sure I’m not letting irrational fear or fear caused by the unknown or worst case scenario thinking, stop me from having the adventures and experiences that I crave, whilst being mindful that fear is useful tool and we feel it for a reason, to keep us safe.