Arghghghghg: A Tale in Sharing the Track

Over 17 years of competitive running, I am quite fortunate that my truly frustrating moments of harassment while running are few and far between.  Mostly, the situations have bordered more on bizarre than actually threatening.  For instance, the one that sticks out in my mind the most is the man who drove up to me while I was stretching in front of the Armory on 30th St. and threw chili peppers at me.

For the past year, I have peacefully and amicably coexisted on my favorite track with a variety of people from all backgrounds.  This has become one of my favorite spaces in Indianapolis.  The track sits next to a quiet cemetery with some of the oldest graves in Indy; on the other side are the mounted police stables; the track is also built on the grounds of an abandoned mental institution with a fascinating history (Central State Hospital); the Indiana medical museum is only steps away; there is a large organic garden where you can pick your own seasonal produce and pay only a fraction of what you would at a farmer’s market; a brewery is a few steps in the other direction, as well as a charter high school and section 8 housing.

The track is in a “not so nice” area of town, on Indy’s west side.  Despite this, I have never once felt unsafe.  I primarily share the track with groups of teenagers of all ethnicities – mostly Hispanic – who play soccer as religiously as I do my track workouts.  We don’t seem to speak the same language, but we have forged a friendship.  I toss back their soccer balls, and they cheer for me as I run past.  Recently, a younger boy asked me if I was a professional runner, since I run so fast.  These soccer players are extremely respectful and do their best to alert me of wayward soccer balls and make sure that no one accidentally gets in my way.  We have a perfect relationship.

Two weeks ago, an adult football league started using the astro turf as their practice field.  From the moment they arrived, the atmosphere markedly changed.  They were rude to the soccer players when balls crossed the invisible boundary, and make loud, xenophobic remarks.  Last week, I had to ask them to please leave lane 1 open for me during my mile repeats, and choose another lane for their core workout (I had been using the track long before they arrived).  After that, they seemed to go out of their way to play chicken with me in lane 1.

This week, I got to the track a little bit earlier in hopes of beating them.  My workout wasn’t going to be super long – 6 x 800 – so I was happy to see only one football player warming up when I started my workout.  With two 800s to go, the rest of the team arrived.  Again, I was dealing with large men making eye contact with me as they stood in lane 1, blocking my path.  Asking them to move resulted in taunts.

The last straw for me was on the last 800, when I ran by on my first lap.

“Mmmmm, skinny girl with a big juicy ass.  That’s what I’m talking about.”

I had heard similar comments from them last week, too.  Mostly in the form of “look at her, she’s fast and she has a huge ass.”  While both sets of comments are inappropriate, the latter was nuanced in a way that pushed me over the edge.  It also made me run way too fast for the 400, 72, and I paid for it.

Afterwards, I asked a player who had just arrived if there was a coach nearby while I piled onto him how sick I am of the behavior of his teammates.  He pointed out the owner of the team, who was still in the parking lot.  I walked over explained the situation, to which I don’t think he actually believed me (”what do you mean they’re in your way?  we don’t use the track…”).  He said he would address the situation.  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’m also not sure I’m going to feel comfortable going back to the track alone.

It’s not so much the comments that bother me, but I am paranoid about being forced out of lane 1, or being accidentally tripped.  Maybe I’m overreacting, but the last thing I want to do is shift my focus from my workout to my personal safety.

I’m frustrated that in 2017 I can call myself a professional runner and not feel safe running by myself, whether on the trails, on the roads, or the track.

I’m frustrated that I have never once had an incident with the demographic of people that society tells me to beware of.  In fact, the worst encounters I have had with strangers have all involved white men.  The most encouraging occurrences (and indeed the times when I have admittedly been somewhat reckless) have all happened in areas where people would otherwise caution me not to run.  For instance, one year in college I spent Spring Break in Philadelphia, visiting my sister.  I was on a desolate stretch of the Schuylkill River trail, completely alone, when a man that I can only adequately describe as “thug” stopped me to tell me I was doing a good job.  Another time, I was on Lafayette St. on the west side of Indy when a man in a tricked out Escalade with rims and tinted windows pulled up to me, rolled down his window, and asked if I had run in college, because I looked like a really good runner.

Contrast that with the time I was just outside of Speedway and a group of white men on Harley’s surrounded me to tell me all the wonderful things they would like to do to me.

I’m frustrated that with the mileage that I run, and the sheer amount of time that I have been running, it’s only a matter of time before statistics catch up with me and a situation more serious arises.  I’m much more cautious now than I ever used to be because of this, and I rarely ever run without a partner or a dog anymore.

The worst part is that I am not alone, either as a runner, or as an athlete.  Stories abound where high school and college coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and staff have forced female athletes to put up with dangerous environments if they want to continue participating in their sport.

I’m frustrated that Dave is so angry for me that he is contacting the Indy Parks Department and the owner of the team.  While I appreciate his concern, it underscores the role that men play as protectors in our lives.  He will either be taken more seriously than me, or his involvement will cause me more problems if I go back to the track alone.  Also, to put the situation into perspective, if Dave was being harassed on a run it would never cross my mind to call anyone to complain.  Just one more example of the patriarchy, I suppose.

Ironically, I posted this to instagram earlier in celebration of my “big juicy ass.”  For runners, glute strength is one of the most important components of being a strong, powerful runner.  People laugh at me when I say that I build muscle easily, but my glute gainz are literally all from using a 10 lb kettle bell or body weight.  Last year, most of my injury issues in my right leg were directly related to not properly activating my glutes.  I have worked really hard to strengthen my hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors, as well as increase my hip mobility.  Since people have been asking what I do for strength, I guess I’ll include it here:

– 3 x 6 – 8  single leg russian dead lift with 10 lb kettlebell
– 3 x 20 kettlebell swings
– 3 x 10 each leg lunge with twist
– 3 x 10 bird dogs each leg
– 3 x 10 donkey kicks
– squats on bosu ball with kettle bell

I superset these exercises with arm or core exercises, such as tricep press, russian twists, etc.

So, I guess I’m also just frustrated that something I celebrated earlier is also what made me lose my shit today on an unsuspecting straggler just trying to make it to his football practice.

I guess the most important part is that I got in a good workout, despite my frustrations.  6 x 800 in 2:32, 2:30, 2:31, 2:30, 2:29, 2:29.  I’m also really sick of this midwest wind.  I keep reframing it, knowing that running in the wind is making me a stronger and tougher runner, but I’d be cool if I could get a warm track workout in with no wind (or people in lane 1 or comments about my body) soon 🙂

Originally published on Going Big, or Going Home 
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