- If you feel an urge to beat up someone who is out for a run, seek help. Tell a trusted friend what you're feeling, and have them stay with you until you can get in touch with a doctor or counselor.
- If you feel an urge to beat up someone who is out for a run, run in a group. Odds are good that your companions won't want to beat up other people, and they can keep you from hurting someone.
- If you are tempted to catcall someone out for a run, try wearing blinders and listening to music, so you can distract yourself in the moment of temptation. If that doesn't work, try muffling yourself with a gag, or pinching yourself until the urge passes. Be creative!
You get the idea. Look, I'm realistic. I live in the real world, and I know that there are creeps that brutally attack women who are out for a run. Taking basic safety precautions is something everyone should do: run in groups or with a friend if you can; let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return; carry ID, a phone, and water; stick to well-traveled paths, roads, and trails so that if you do get hurt, someone can find you and help.
To be clear, this is advice anyone should follow. Men are often bigger and stronger, but they can be targets of violence, too, and defending oneself in the middle of a long run or hard workout is easier said than done. And an injury can strike at any time.
What's frustrating, however, is that when this advice is targeted at women, it shades easily into "you should stay indoors to be safe." I don't think anyone means to lock women indoors. But when my mom hears about such attacks, her response isn't "what a bad man" but "maybe you should think about not running on the trails."
Stranger attacks are fortunately very rare, but they are often horrible, and they make headlines. I'm not inclined to change my behavior much for an extremely rare incident, when I weigh the risks against the benefits of being fit, and so forth.
Harassment, however, is much more common. And the thing is, it's not my fault if someone harasses me. The fault of the harassment is on him, and while it makes sense for me to take sensible precautions that any runner should take, the burden of change should be on him. If I can run only when I have friends to run with, then it would be impossible for me to train for a half. I might get out once a week. I have a job and a toddler and a husband who dislikes dogs, so I'm not going to get a dog just so I can run. It's good advice not to wear earbuds when on the trails, but that's so I can avoid being et by cougars, not because that extra awareness would keep me from getting attacked.
Plus, if fewer women are outside running, then any woman who does is an outlier, and looks like more of a target to those creeps.
So this makes advice difficult to give, and I completely understand the delicate balance. On the one hand, one doesn't want to be naive and ignore good safety advice, and there are creeps that target women, and women need to know that. (Advice about routes and social media apps strike me as particularly important, because it's not always obvious how much those give away.)
On the other hand, such advice runs the very real risk of reifying the idea that public spaces are not safe for women, and that women who leave their houses should be on their guard not just for practical reasons, but because if they don't, what happens to them is their fault because they were unprepared because they didn't adopt and train a puppy before starting a couch to 5K program. Ms. Waddell didn't do a damned thing wrong. This attack wasn't her fault, and removing an earbud wouldn't have made a blessed bit of difference.
I wish there was an easy solution. But on balance, I'm inclined to think that the risks to men and women who run outside are roughly equal, and so the advice given to them shouldn't differ. Everyone needs to be careful. Everyone has the right not to be harassed or harmed when they're enjoying the outdoors.