Abuse on the Run


I’m sick and tired of people who shout, heckle and randomly abuse runners.

In the space of a week I’ve had two different men shout personal abuse directly at me as I sped past them. Both times, I found it very difficult to just laugh it off. What disconnect is there in people’s heads that makes them think it is acceptable to loudly pass derogatory comments on those trying to better themselves? Does the fact I’m moving in the opposite direction make them think there’s no chance of me responding? To quote Shakespeare, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” The fact is I came very close to stopping in my tracks and having it out with the abusers these last two times.

Every week when I run with my crew general banter is thrown at the group as we run. Much of it can be laughed off, but it doesn’t make it acceptable. I find myself getting angry when comments are made about women’s physical appearance by bystanders on these runs. Are we right to run on, or should we be stopping and challenging these people?

Most human beings have some degree of body image issues. I’m not immune to these and having people criticise the way I look upsets me. There was a time when I used to run in tracksuit bottoms in hot weather, because I was self-conscious about my slim frame. Being slim does not make you immune to the slings and arrows of criticism, but it can make you a target. Since this latest barrage of abuse my self esteem and confidence have been knocked and I find myself thinking twice about what I wear when I go for a run.

It is wrong that I have to pluck up the courage to wear what is most comfortable.

It is wrong that I brace myself for further abuse and spend some of my run in a tense state.

I would never shout at anyone as you never know how they are feeling beneath the surface. I’m resilient enough to keep going, and am helped by being part of a great running community, but I’m sure others must be put off running for good. I’m certain women suffer more abuse than men, and salute everyone who continues to do what they love in spite of this idiotic behaviour.

Has anyone out there had direct experience of challenging these abusers? Because that’s what I want to do, on behalf of all those who can’t just pull on summer clothes without a second thought. I want the abusers to learn how harmful their comments can be, to care, to reflect and to change. Unlikely, I know, but if we do nothing, it will continue. By running on these people are emboldened and more likely to repeat the behaviour again. However, there’s a concern it’ll end up in a physical confrontation, which wouldn’t solve anything.

So let me know your thoughts. Because enough is enough.


13 thoughts on “Abuse on the Run

  1. It is not unusual at all, I often run with a group of people and most of the women who run with us are constantly being beeped by drivers! I often feel so strongly about this that I really want to throw two fingers up to them!
    That aside it does seem to come with the territory and my philosophy is that these kind of comments are born out of those folk who ultimately are projecting their own frustrations, and are probably unfit and unhappy with their own lives..
    Keeping that in mind I just keep on running and smile knowing that I am the one who has the upper hand in the knowledge that I am fit and enjoy running!

  2. Sometimes it’s funny like the random homeless person shouting “you’re all gonna die anyway!” I thought there was some profound truth in this kind of heckling.
    Other times were not as funny. “Keep moving, you fat cow!” as I was the last in the crewrunning through holborn after an 11k loop through the town – that stung. I’ve started running seriously a few months back and I find encouraging wolf whistling nearly just as off putting as verbal abuse. I would first of all wish for more solidarity among solitary runners. Sometimes I try to catch people’s glimpses when I’m out on my own. Maybe give them a smile but somehow it’s all serious business and no one ever acknowledges anyone. Everyone out there runs with their own thoughts and insecurities bouncing around in their head. It’s as if hecklers can see that. They want to trample on anyone they think acts superior.
    Maybe I’ll start giving out little cards with “You’ve just pointlessly heckled a runner. Maybe you should try running yourself and you’ll be a more balanced and happy person. The NHS recommends… (And the a link or something.)”
    I’m not sure I have the confidence yet though.

    Ha, I just typed this on a phone. I early care about this a little too much but it’s an important topic so thanks so much for raising it!

  3. I’m sorry to hear about your and other runner’s experience with heckling. I consider myself really lucky for not having received any abuse simply for running. Or maybe I’m so into running (I do get into a zone) that I just don’t notice.

  4. I feel bad to hear this, it makes me really sad that we seriously have to take this day in day out.

    Since I started running, this has started being the reality of my every run. Every time there is someone who feels that it’s totally necessary to somehow make me feel uncomfortable. Few years ago, when I was still living in Helsinki, Finland and was working as a bikemessenger, I never had this problem?! Maybe the culture is different in the North, but I just don’t remember ever feeling like I do these days, every time when I go out, and I mean even when not running. Just yesterday I was walking with my dog in the morning, in shorts and a hoodie and some truck driver felt the need to honk to me…
    Here in Hannover, Germany, I have felt really unsafe because of this kind of behaviour. I feel the stares and shouts and weird remarks on my back every day. And I also feel that I can’t do anything about it, because if I would react and show some international hand gestures I feel that I could end up being even more unsafe. So I’m in this “I can’t do anything, while feeling like I have to be afraid” situation.
    The thing that really bothers me is that the people who do these idiotic things, don’t understand that they are killing the main thing from this thing I love. I don’t feel free at all anymore, thank god sometimes but not like I would want to.
    There are days when I go for a run to clear my head and want to get rid of some bad feeling in me, and then come home feeling angry and hurt and even more shitty, thank you awesome people for that!
    Do we ever go and show some hand signs or shout something about your clothes, car, whatever to you while we run past you?! NO.
    The fact that we don’t respect each other enough to let anyone do what makes them feel good, is just insane to me.
    Why can’t we just SERIOUSLY be nice and respectful to each other and not try to make others feel bad about something that has no point in any world.
    This topic makes me always boil over big time, but when you have to be afraid when doing what you love… It kind of is given.

  5. An honest piece of writing. I’m glad you have the strength to write this as I think it’s good to get it of your chest. You have a passion for your craft(s): running and teaching. You have the support of your friends, online and off-line. Don’t let the buggers grind you down! 🙂

  6. I ran in San Francisco for the first time a few weeks ago and it felt a lot free-er. Probably because it was so much hotter over there, but I generally felt a lot less stared at because of my running kit and there was less shouting (I don’t think there was actually any shouting at all!). Normally I just run quickly and speed past groups of people in London to get it over and done with, but it’s not always something I do on purpose – I just find myself semi-sprinting past feeling a bit uncomfortable – and often really mucks up my speed. I don’t mind being in public running, but I do mind comments. It’d be nicer to run past people without even accidentally changing pace or thinking about it at all. It really shouldn’t be a thing.

  7. I have often thought that those who hurl verbal insults at others are the ones who are insecure with themselves and they don’t have the strength to do anything about it. Fortunately I’ve never been the recipient of any comments whilst running, knowing me for the 39 years I have I would be surprised if I would remain silent in response but thinking about it silence would probably be the best way as some people just like confrontation! For me running past these people in silence shows who has the strength even it they don’t realise it!

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