Crunch, crunch, shuffle, shuffle. Instantly my heart is racing, a moment of panic sets in. I hear the leaves under my footsteps, but the sound I am hearing is distant. It is dusk, and the darkness starts to creep in a little sooner than I expected. I am back in my thoughts, spinning through all the why’s. Why did the day have to be so full, forcing me to delay my run? Why did I pick the busier trail where I thought I would be the only one? If only I could have met up with a friend. My heartbeat pounds louder in my chest as I am taken back to the nagging footsteps. I slow down and it is almost as if the sound disappears. I slow down, they slow down, I speed up and they speed up. I finally look over my shoulder rounding through a few corners. It is confirmed there is someone following me as I spot a colored top through the thick foliage. But then they disappear syncing to my pace, my breath, and my heartbeat. At first, I didn’t think much of someone behind me. Something in my gut tells me differently this time.
My mind is spinning with other questions. Should I worry about this person that seems to be following me? I mean I am bound to run into others and honestly there are many times when someone has followed me, and it has never raised any concerns. I decided to listen to my gut and begin to consider my options. Mace in hand, just in case, thank goodness I have it I think to myself. Maybe I should call my significant other to let them know my momentary panic. Maybe I am overthinking things. Am I being irrational and just distracted from the day’ events? I opt to be on the safer side and decide to reach for my phone in my vest pocket. But I instantly realized I had left it back in the car. “Darn, I forgot it” I say out loud. Luckily, I had been practicing various scenarios to equip and prepare me for safety when out on a solo run. My brain goes into Plan b mode. My confidence stems from knowing the trails like the back of my hand. I’ll simply cut my run and take the quickest route back to the trail head. Removing myself from this situation, one of the best tactics to practice. It will bring a feeling of safety with more people around too, I think.
As I enter the trailhead I am confronted by a man of average size. He is clearly out of breath but proceeds to narrowly look me up and down. It doesn’t completely surprise me though. Something is out of place and slightly off about this person in mannerisms. I reserve any response when the stranger proceeds to say, “wow you really are good on those trails, I had a hard time keeping up with you. It must be those tight speed shorts you’re wearing that make you so fast.” Meanwhile I am trying to keep my body and mind from going into fight or flight mode. I am asking myself what is happening? Is this person a threat? Do I scream? Do I spray him with mace and exclaim, get away? I whisper to myself, stay calm and remember the self-defense moves, you can defend yourself. With my own vote of confidence, I just take a deep breath and navigate my way to my vehicle. On my way I bravely mustered a response, “if you wanted to find a running buddy or partner then maybe you shouldn’t run so stalkerish. Oh, and by the way, what I am wearing has nothing to do with my speed, so I’d suggest you don’t follow people on the trails.” He replies as I am dashing my way to my vehicle, “Oh it’s just a joke sweet thang, don’t you worry.” I take a deep breath. Did I just say that? I think to myself that was bold. “Lock the doors, grab your phone and stay calm,” I repeat under my breath.
Deferring to my phone I calmly remind myself to snap a photo of this person as he moves through the parking lot. I proceed to take a quick video scan of the vehicles capturing license plates. All key actions to recall details if anything further ensues. My mind debates notifying the authorities. What would I tell them? Oh, hey officer I need some assistance out on the trails because of lewd commentary from a stranger. Or can you send an officer out to the trailhead, I had an encounter with a stranger that left me feeling unsafe? In the end I neglected to follow through with a call to the authorities. I didn’t ultimately feel that my life was teetering on a life-or-death situation and was thankful I had several means of protecting myself. I consider myself lucky that lewd commentary was the worst of what I had to deal with in this situation. But it continued nagging inside of me, what else could I have done to better prepare myself?
It is difficult to not have my mind flooded again with “what if” thoughts. What if something did happen? What if I had continued out on the trails with this odd individual following me? What if I didn’t have my mace? It was from that day forward I have chosen to live by a simple motto, “plan and prepare.” I didn’t want to be consumed with fear, worry or constantly looking over my shoulder on future runs. Taking my safety precautions seriously became just as important as the run itself. It led me to two non-negotiables while out on a run. One, always carry my phone. Two, always carry my mace. Since this incident, I have continued to add additional steps to my running routine and am always expanding on other safety practices. Whether that is grabbing my pocketknife, tossing a whistle in my vest pocket or even having a firearm to carry I have now given everything more thorough thought and consideration. Adjusting to the geographics, the weather, the terrain, the comfort and distance allows me to be flexible carrying various tools or weapons specific to a multitude of factors and prepared for any situation.
Ultimately in my safety pursuit I wanted to feel empowered. There are so many factors out of my control but one thing I can control is the ability to protect myself.
It led me to test, evaluate and try a vast array of products. With the number of items geared toward personal safety it might seem overwhelming to know where to start. My suggestion is to start with one. Practice, practice, practice and before you know it, it’ll be just like slipping on a pair of running shoes. Whether you decide to carry a weapon, a pocketknife, whistle, taser, firearm, or implement some other safety measure, nothing is too trivial when it’s your life you are investing in! Enjoying many years on the trails feeling safe sounds like a fun adventure to me. I hope you never have to encounter a sticky situation even if it’s lewd commentary but, in any case, feel equipped, empowered and continue adventuring on the trails with a few things in your run belt to give you peace of mind.
Cheers to safer trail runs, friends!