Sharpe: Running scared, but still running

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Jennifer Sharp

I want to apologize to all the friendly drivers who honk their horns to say hello as I run down the road.

I’m probably ignoring you.

And although I know you have good intentions, I’m a woman who runs alone and you scare me.

This point needs to be made following the murder of Eliza Fletcher – the 34-year-old mother who took part in an early morning practice run near the University of Memphis on September 2 and never returned.

Oklahoma isn’t Memphis, but feeling threatened as a racer happens regularly right here on Oklahoma’s roads.

My typical run is five miles, on sidewalks and paths as much as possible. But sometimes I just want to run away from home, and that means about half of my route is on roads with no sidewalks.

I don’t dress provocatively — my uniform is functional, not stylish — and I’m 100% focused on my workout, which includes sweat, spit, and snot rockets.

And I was harassed.

Surprisingly, the authors represent a variety of ages.

Children yell at me from the back seats of cars while their parents are driving, telling me to “run faster” or “be careful.”

The teenagers also scream and often swerve at me when I’m on the road without sidewalks.

Older drivers also seem to find this motor chicken game fun.

Over the years and miles, I have developed a set of rules to follow:

  • Light-colored clothes, so that I can be seen;
  • No earbuds, so I can hear everything;
  • Run on the left side of the road when there is no curb, making sure there is enough space to leave the road when someone gets too close.
  • Communicate to my friends or family when and where I run.

I also apply my version of the common sense guidelines – no running without a curb in the dark, no running without a curb during times of heavy traffic, no running without a curb when the grass is too high (snakes!) , not running anywhere outside in snow or ice. There is a lot of thought that goes into planning a simple exercise session.

My scariest moment while running on a road in Oklahoma was in front of a church. I was about 300 yards from a school zone (and sidewalk) when a car of young men veered towards me with the windows open. The passenger in the front seat leaned out of the window, arms flailing and outstretched, attempting to punch or grab me.

I immediately jumped into the ditch. Then the adrenaline kicked in and I rushed to school, my phone turned off and ready to call 911 lest they turn around.

When my heart stopped beating and I caught my breath, I called someone who I thought would care and share my shock and outrage. But his reaction was dismissive – like I was exaggerating, exaggerating the incident.

There has been considerable backlash in the wake of Eliza Fletcher’s death – with people saying she shouldn’t have raced at that time, to that place, alone.

Judgment and condemnation for the victim? I am horrified that humanity has come to this.

Across the country, women are questioning their running routines, buying pepper spray and stun guns, taking extra precautions and literally fearing for their lives on the roads.

Next time you’re in the car and I’m running, do me a favor – please don’t honk your horn.

Jennifer Sharpe is Special Projects Editor for the Journal-Record. His opinion column appears regularly.

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