*Disclaimer – I wrote this post 4 weeks ago and I wasn’t sure whether I should publish it. It could be something: it could be nothing. It has stopped me from running and I need to get over that. I need to run again*
I have recently started running again. On the one hand I loathe it, on the other hand I love it. I am always aware of the precautions I need to take, how I need to be aware of my surroundings for my own safety. I usually run in areas where there are plenty of people around and I normally choose to run at a time where I know there will be plenty of dog walkers and other people exercising.
Every time I dig out my running shoes and lace them up I am mentally running through my head the best place to go running – nope, that route is too dark and there is an isolated stretch. Nope, not that route because you have cars that go too fast down the lane. I plan it out meticulously. Yet, I am also aware of the fact that a lot of it has to do with luck. You can simply find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was once mugged on a busy Sunday afternoon in a phone box. There were plenty of people around, yet I was still mugged.
I often remind myself of that when I am seeking reassurance, when I am feeling nervous about going for a run. The likelihood of anything untoward taking place is remote. I am safe. I especially think this because I live on Jersey. An island with a low crime rate. Perhaps it was my surroundings that led me to ignore my gut instinct the other weekend.
Ignoring My Instincts
It had been a lovely Saturday. I had risen early and I decided against a run as I needed to get in a HIIT workout in before we headed into town. After a morning running errands, we dashed home to watch the football. We then rounded off the afternoon with a trip to a local pond to feed the ducks.
As the evening drew in I noticed the sky was turning a glorious pink colour and I decided that it would be nice to go for a run so that I could enjoy the sky before it finally gave away to night. I laced up my shoes and the doubts started. Should you be running at 9pm? I pushed them aside and chided myself for being so silly. Why shouldn’t I run now? I had every right to go for a run and I shouldn’t feel afraid. I chatted with my husband the best route to go. We decided that one path was too remote and eventually decided on some lanes that should be quiet but still had houses at certain points. I told my husband my exact route. I took those precautions.
As I headed out into the evening I felt fantastic. The lanes were dusted in a beautiful pink hue and everywhere looked magical. I also felt rather smug. Going for a run now was far more sensible as it was cooler and I could enjoy the peace and quiet and unwind from the day. I had my headphones turned on low so that I could still hear cars approaching and I focussed on putting one foot in front of the other and breathing properly.
I then came to a narrow lane that slowly winds down to the sea, but as a car you can only get so far. You would only go down the lane if you lived there. I jogged down noting the huge conifers on my right sending shadows across my path, dwarfing my own shadow. On my left was a huge house, but obviously no one was in as the windows were just holes of blackness and there was no car sitting on the drive. I jogged on past the house and came out on the other side to be greeted by the glorious pink sky and the sun now hanging heavy. It was almost touching the sea. I calculated that I had about 20 minutes before the inky blackness would descend. I drank in the vista, and stopped my heel touches to enjoy the view for a moment. It was then that I became aware of a car. I looked back and noticed that it had what looked like fog lights on. It wasn’t dark enough for headlights so I wondered what they were doing. I carried on jogging forward and picked up the pace.
I was coming to a bend in the road, and it’s here that you can either take a desolate path down to the beach or stay on the road and it takes you to the other houses and sweeps back round on itself. The car was still behind me. It was going extremely slowly and I now felt my nerves prickle. Something wasn’t right. Why were they driving so slowly? I tried to make the decision as to which route to take, all the time the car crawling slowly towards me. My instincts started screaming that I had put myself in danger. Yet, another voice told me off for overreacting. I told myself to calm down and decided that I would wait for the car to go past me and then I could make my decision.
The car had now almost reached me and I could see that it was a man with glasses driving. I stood back on the grass verge to make sure that I could give him plenty of room to pass. He crawled up to me, and stopped. I could now feel my heart in my mouth. Perhaps he was lost, my mind scrambling to reassure me. I waited for him to speak as I found that I was unable to speak to him. The air suddenly felt thick, and I felt like I was being strangled. My voice had fled.
When I was mugged all those years ago I was furious, I screamed and shouted for help. People chased after my mugger. This time I had no one to turn to, no one to scream for help. I wondered if my screams would be heard. Would the house round the bend hear me? I decided that my screams would probably end up being swallowed up by the vast landscape or carried away on the wind. I waited and tried to ignore my heart hammering against my chest, I ignored my hairs standing on my arm, and I told myself that this was a perfectly normal situation. There was nothing to fear. I waited. I don’t know how long I waited. It must have been less than a minute but it felt like forever. In that time I noticed that his glasses were smeary and that his eyes were glazed looking. He appeared to be under the influence of something. I told myself that was why he was driving slowly. I waited. He never spoke. He opened his mouth and then nothing came out and he abruptly turned his head and focussed on the road and crawled forward again.
Arguing With Myself
In my head I was still telling myself there was nothing to fear. However, I decided that it would be foolish to go in the same direction as the car and I decided to start walking back the way I had come. I started walking and looked back to see that he had stopped again. Now I started to panic. I fumbled for my phone and tried to make a call to Mr C but my headphones were still connected and my brain wasn’t working properly and I couldn’t work out how to disconnect them from my phone. I sent a message, told him that a man was acting strange. I said I was on my way home. I then looked back and the car was now reversing and facing in my direction again. It then just sat there.
I started to jog back up the long road, keeping one ear for the sound of the car behind me. I was coming to the big house and after that there was a long stretch with just the big conifers. I tried to make a decision and I looked back to see that the car was crawling again. I couldn’t stand and wait for it, I had to run. I jogged to the house then took a deep breath and sprinted past it deep into the shadows of the conifers, the darkness swallowing me up. I ran as fast and as hard as I could, my breathing laboured and loud in my ears, until I was spat out of the shadows and back into the lane. I threw a look behind me and the car wasn’t there. I slowed down a bit and chided myself for my over-active imagination. I continued to jog until I became aware of the crunch of tyres and the low hum of an engine. Suddenly it seemed to splutter and it was right behind me, its owner obviously having put its foot down. It was now very clear that something wasn’t right about this situation. I legged it to the nearest house and ran right up their drive and made out I was going to the front door, the car rolled past, almost slowing to a stop, before it suddenly sped around the corner.
My legs shaking I stumbled back onto the lane and checked that there was no sign of the car. I then ran all the way home to find Mr C waiting for me at the top of the drive. I didn’t know if I had overreacted but as I struggled to get my breath I relayed my story. His theory is that perhaps the person driving the car was drunk, they were being paranoid about speeding, and that they were lost. They had decided to take the back lanes to avoid being picked up by the police and then lost themselves in the maze of unmarked lanes.
Whatever the reason, I was angry with myself, angry for putting myself at risk and angry for feeling scared. I have always felt that I have taken precautionary measures and I have always been careful but now this incident has thrown me. As a woman I should be able to go out for a run without any fear. The reality is that isn’t the case because statistically women are more likely to come to harm than men. That makes me so angry. We are told to go running with a buddy but I don’t want to. I like the time to gather my thoughts, I like the solitude. We are told to stick to well-lit paths and again this path wasn’t. But, I shouldn’t have to feel that way, I shouldn’t have to feel like I can’t go off exploring. I shouldn’t have to feel like I can’t have the freedom that a man can so easily have.
It’s now the next day and as I sit and type this the sun is shining and I can hear the birds chattering. On the surface it’s like any other day. I haven’t been for another run because I didn’t have time this morning and now I don’t feel confident enough to go this evening. I don’t want to let the weird events of yesterday change what I do but at the moment they are very much in my thoughts.
You might be wondering if I reported this incident to the police, I didn’t. What would I say? He hadn’t committed a crime, it was all just suspicions. I also didn’t get the number plate and I couldn’t tell you the make of the car, just that it was old and an estate of some sort. I couldn’t even tell you the colour, it was possibly green or maybe brown. I panicked and as such I forgot all of the important details and now I am just left feeling impossibly cross with myself.
I will carry on running but I will always be looking over my shoulder.