At this time of year, many women stop running in the dark. The same quiet roads that are great for training are precisely those that can make you feel vulnerable. Attacks, fortunately, are rare – but intimidation is not.
I don’t know a single female runner who hasn’t been heckled or mocked while out pounding the streets. And, yes, always by men. But there is something else you also occasionally see, too: male runners reminding you of their power.
Last week, the Team GB marathoner Lily Partridge spoke about two incidents, one where she and other elite women were “violently pushed around” at the start of a race, and another where she was followed by a man who ran “intimately close” to her.
There is something about fast women that seems to particularly get under the skin of some men. Some seem threatened; others see it as a personal challenge. Partridge said the “treatment by the males trying to get by for a start space was the worst I’d ever experienced”. I can imagine it all too well.
I’m just a club runner, but I’ve done races where I almost got trampled by big, aggressive men shoving past – only to finish minutes behind me. Of course the average man is faster than the average woman, but there is a small subset of male runners who can’t seem to comprehend that any woman could possibly be faster than them.
Recently I ran a 10km race and one man insisted on running just ahead – sounding like he was about to have a heart attack – moving to block every time I tried to overtake. Clearly, me beating him – despite the fact that dozens of men were too – would have particularly rankled. In cycling and running, there is actually a name for it – to be “chicked” means to be beaten by a woman. What does it say about the male ego that the term even exists?
Partridge appealed for “male runners to be an ally to women” – and most are. But those who use their physical advantages of height and weight to intimidate or block need to have a good, hard look at themselves – and get that ego in check.