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How to handle harassment while running on the road

Running & Fitness
Saturday, February 29, 2020

A group of some of my running friends were sitting around telling old stories about some of our more fun runs. Most of the retelling of the adventures were humorous and memorable runs. The topic changed course when one of the friends told about a couple of runs he had that were less than fun. We all had similar stories where we were harassed by drivers passing by. There were a few instances where they were targets for a thrown beer can. It seems there are a few people out there that do not like runners trying to get healthy. 

Whether it is this positive outlook on life that some people take offense to I am not sure. It leaves you on the angry side knowing that a single mistake in aim, or control of the wheel, can mean a serious, if not life threatening, injury to you. My story was a time running against traffic heading back home on a country road. A lady on a bike was on the opposite side of the road and the car behind her slowed down to pass her. The car behind the first car was impatient and tried to pass. What he didn’t realize was the first car slowed because there was an oncoming car coming toward them. The second car did a 90 degree turn in front of the first car, almost hit it broadside, and fishtailed back and forth down the road. The back end of that pickup was a direct path toward me. I jumped off the road and the truck straightened out and went on down the road. How that truck kept from rolling over sideways I will never know. But, I never ran on that road again.

It is not a regular thing in running but it happens often enough that causes concern with runners. Women runners meet with these same hazards as well as meeting up with problems that men seldom experience. The harassment and cat calls from passing cars occurs much too often. The car or truck will pull up alongside them and the occupants begin a harassment that may escalate into more derogatory remarks. The woman is somewhat at the mercy of this harassment because if her desired comeback remark is made it may antagonize them. The possibility that the individual will get out of the car and physically hit her or attack her is very real. It takes tremendous will power to ignore the comments and continue on running with the hope the intruders will become bored and drive on. 

There are several solutions to getting out of a stressful situation with passing motorists. The easiest one is to turn around and start running in the opposite direction. If there is a store or familiar house on the run a quick stop into the building will often be enough. If the occupants follow you into the store you will have the teller and any other shoppers there to back you up. While this does not happen to men as often as women, it does occur and the tactics work for men as well as women. 

One woman was actually hit by the beer can while she was running. If you take the speed of the throw and add the speed of the car to the projectile, it can be serious. The beer can hit her in the head and she fell down. The fortunate part of this event is that the car behind the thrower followed them until he had their license plate number. He then went back to aid the woman and called it in. A few days later the father of the thrower was at work in his place of business when the sheriff came in and arrested him. Handcuffed him and led him out. Talk about an embarrassing situation. He was not the thrower. It turns out his son and some friends, borrowing dad’s truck, were the guilty party. 

Talking with police officers, this type of situation is called “disorderly conduct” and is an offense that can be handled by the police. The officer I talked to suggested that the women not give the offender any reason to escalate the situation. She, or he, should take down the license number and be able to recognize the person making the remarks. It helps if the runner can recall some of the remarks that were made. The best thing in today’s modern world is that most runners have a cell phone on them while running. A quick camera photo of the car and occupant as well as the license number will back up the complaint. I have a quick dial on my phone for police that I can pass on to the dispatcher about the situation. In many cases when the driver sees the runner taking a photo of the car, and recording the conversation, that is often all it takes for the people to move on. The incident has been reported and the person is now a marked vehicle. The report follow up may take a few days but chances are good that the complaint will be handled and the person arrested on a disorderly conduct charge. 

These harassment situations lessen when there is a group of runners. Even two runners together offers some relief from being harassed. Situations like this often depend on where you run. In neighborhoods, or on city streets, the chances of being harassed are less. Lone runners out on a county road need to be aware of the dangers. I know some runners carry a can of mace, or pepper spray, on a belt for safety. A little protection will work against dogs as well as humans.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666