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First thing yesterday morning instead of going for a run in the cold, I was sitting at my desk waiting for a call from BBC Radio London to speak to the Vanessa Show about the concept of women being heckled while out running.

This was off of the back of an England Athletics survey that revealed that,

Over 60% of female runners interviewed feel anxious about running alone and for nearly 50% personal safety is the main concern.

The interview went well, I told Vanessa about the experiences I have had in the past of having some kid shout Run Fatty Run at my first ever race, having my bum slapped by a guy early one morning when returning to the sport after having my daughter, and having a drink purposely thrown out of a passing car at me while out running one night.

Vanessa Feltz expressed her disbelief that this kind of stuff goes on, but then disappointingly dismissed the idea that anything could ever actually be done about it.

Boys will be boys hey?

Being heckled as a plus size runner kind of comes with the territory, I have got used to it over the years although of course I don’t condone it….,and even if you’ve never had it happen to you, the fear of it is almost as bad as the reality.

What would I do?
Would I respond?
Would I answer back?

Sadly this kind of behaviour is widespread, and ironically yesterday one of my Clubhouse ladies Liza who is deep in marathon training, had a horrific run home from work in East London.

Bloody hell.
At least 4 different men tried to harass me whilst I was running tonight. From a drunk man at a bus stop trying to grab my arm, to two men on bikes trying to run me off the pavement. What on earth do these (insert bad word here) actually get out of such bullshit behaviour?

This kind of behaviour is not just exclusive to overweight women, as many of the smaller members of my running club explain, Phyllida who is also marathon training and very petite said,

I’ve been spat on and heckled before whilst running by a group of kids…as for feeling safe it’s a sad state of affairs that I do feel vulnerable as a woman running on my own around Bristol.

There was a lot of media attention around this yesterday, with no real solutions offered, just lots of talk of group running as a safe running opportunity for women and it has only really hit me today what bullshit that is.

So the men (and it is normally men) behave badly, and we as women have to change or adapt our behaviours and run in groups for safety. How is that right?

What if you can’t or don’t want to run in a group?

I am not a massive fan of group running? In part because I am frequently left behind so might as well be running the route alone (even with a back runner this can feel shitty), but also I find it difficult to run and talk, and I hate the pressure of having to keep up or slow down.

Besides, most group running happens in the evenings and weekends. I am a single parent and that means it just doesn’t work for me. This is true for lots of kinds of women.

  • Shift workers
  • Women who travel a lot for work
  • Women with families

England Athletics say

The research that we have conducted has identified a significant societal issue for both men and women, but in particular women. 

The fact that a third of respondents said that they had been made to feel uncomfortable through the negative actions of others is something that needs to be addressed. It’s definitely a subject that will affect whether someone starts or continues to run.

And I agree, a bad first experience or feeling intimidated early on in your running journey can absolutely have you believe the sport is not for you.

But what is the answer? Reporting it as a crime? Education? A public service announcement “just don’t be a dick?” kind of thing?

In my experience heckling comes in 3 forms, kids thinking they are being funny in front of their mates, men doing the same, or being purposely aggressive and intimidating just because they can, or older people who are patronising by giving what they think is support.

Loose some of that weight my dear and it will be a whole lot easier

That’s my experiences anyway.

England Athletics went on to say,

Through further research we also know that running with others helps to sustain a running habit. Those that run together with others are 23% more likely to be regular runners than those that only run on their. 

They finished this off with a plug for their new programme Run Together, a group running programme which you can find out more about here (disappointing that the opening video on the website has nobody over a size 12-14…us larger ladies do run guys, and you know this…I could have hooked you up with some larger ladies)

The thing is…as the governing body of sport, England Athletics are of course going to promote group running as that is the foundations of their sport, traditional running clubs, and community programmes led by local run leaders they train up…which of course have their place and are popular.

But as I well know, there are some people that will never enjoy group running, like EVER!!! And if we are trying to get all those inactive people moving shouldn’t we be thinking out side of the box?

Plus you can absolutely get the support and sense of community that group running gives you in other ways these days. My virtual running club The Clubhouse is a perfect example of that. Most of my members run alone at times that suit them and are not part of traditional running clubs (a few are), although many take part in parkrun and in races and meet ups.

The sense of camaraderie and opportunity to reach goals together is still there among our 250 members, and women support and encourage each other from across oceans, with little chance of ever meeting in person. That is the joy of technology.

The sport of running is evolving and I think it is a shame that we are focussing so much on the traditional model of running still, a model which in some case excludes slower runners and doesn’t fit in that well with a lot of women’s lifestyles.

scream-mockupI talk a lot about this in my new book “Scream if you want to Run faster” about the gender divide in sport and running specifically, how quite often women with families have to do all kind of planning, compromising and coordinating to make their weekly run happen…and also have the fear of being harassed by men to deal with too.

Men on the whole can just go out and run whenever and wherever they like and can priorities their running goals easier.

Women in my community and elsewhere run for many different reasons. Of course they run for fitness (and often weight management), for their mental health and often for an opportunity to do something just for themselves.

Please let us stop with the narrative that we are only safe if we go out in organised groups, official groups, traditional groups…let’s not perpetuate the belief that it’s not safe to run alone…because most of the time it is.

Let’s focus on normalising sport for EVERYONE…and make it socially unacceptable to poke fun at people who are exercising, no matter what they look like or how fast they are running.

If you are a female runner (from anywhere in the world) who doesn’t really enjoy group running for whatever reason, but would still like support to improve as a runner and to feel like you are a valid part of the running community, check out The Clubhouse the worlds only running club specifically designed for plus size women…although we have women of all sizes in there from a size 8 upwards…its just an inclusive lovely place to be and we don’t discriminate.

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