I went for a run yesterday. I was out for about an hour and twenty minutes, in a nice part of a big, nice town that is a really good place to be a runner. Here’s pretty much everything that happened:
First, as I ran from the grocery store, a man whistled at me from his car. I was surprised because cat-calling isn’t normal in my mountain town oasis, but memories from my adolescence reminded me that the voices of passersby are a big part of being active in urban areas. Clearly, my baggies and t-shirt were too much for him to handle.
I kept running.
Then, a few miles later as I jogged through changing pines and freshly mowed lawns, I was startled by the honk of an oncoming sedan. I looked up just in time to see a flying paper coffee cup before it collided with my torso. A man in the backseat of the sedan was angry and yelling (and, apparently, throwing things). I couldn’t make out all that he shouted at me, but I distinctly heard one word that started with a “C.”
I was surprised, confused. But I kept running.
After a few minutes of traversing through less-busy streets, I made it to my old neighborhood, where nothing has changed aside from the addition of a freshly cemented sidewalk. A group of young men, likely high school cross country, were running opposite me on said sidewalk. There were a lot of them and only one of me and we were headed straight for a collision course. It didn’t look like they were planning to make space for me to pass by them without having to run off the path.
But, I kept running.
I kept running, down onto the quiet streets of my youth, down to where old oaks line the streets and shelter historic homes under canopies of green. I had traveled a small, unintended trail underneath those trees so many times that it felt like mine. I passed a series of other runners, mostly after-work joggers and middle school boys. Cars stopped to let me cross the road. People said hello from their garden beds. I felt good and strong, wholly welcome.
So, I kept running.
I ran through the community gardens, past young couples stealing kisses, alongside the pond and families enjoying the warm, late summer afternoon. I thought about my current and future projects, my dreams in business and the world, and what I would eat for dinner. I thought about the marathon I’m running, and how good it feels to move at tempo.
This was the first time I saw another female running. It was a group of them, maybe middle school-aged, running laps around the park as I had done so often in my school days. First came the fast ones, competing with each other at the front of the pack, jockeying the lead shoulder-to-shoulder (as is tradition). Then the medium speed ones, who were mostly socializing, but running nonetheless. Then the stragglers. One girl, out of sight of her coach, had lost her motivation to run laps. On a hill incline, she started walking.
As I passed her, I told her what so many coaches, teammates, and parents have told me: “You’re doing great. Keep running.”
She kept running. So did I.
I began to run back to my car, back at the grocery store, unperturbed by the sea of traffic passing by. I kept my keys between my knuckles, and an eye on side streets, just in case. I stopped for a few minutes to make a business call, which I floated through with a sense of confidence. Then I kept running.
I made it back to the grocery store without much drama. As I unlocked my car, I felt sweat running down my arms and face. It was sweat from exertion, an apt accessory for my journey. I felt so fresh, motivated, and strong. It just took a few miles to get me there.
This is an 80-minute example of what it is like to be a woman in sport.
Unfortunately, for most women, participating in athletics will at one point or another include sexualization, discouragement, and even full-on assault. In a lot of places, and for a lot of people, being female and choosing to exercise is both a sexually and politically provocative act. I’ve experienced these aggressions on a micro scale because of where I was born and the sports I chose, but the barriers to sport are much greater for many girls and women across the country and world.
So, let’s be clear on one thing–to the people whistling, yelling, and throwing things: my running is just not about you. Stop making this about you.
It’s about me. It’s about health, education, and exploration. It’s about feeling energy and motivation and teamwork. It’s about accomplishing goals, about doing something that feels productive in a world that feels increasingly counterproductive. About separate lessons in independence, teamwork, and mentorship. It’s about having fun.
And to the girls in the pack running, the little nuggets just learning how to ski, the teenagers chasing podiums: my running will always be about you.
It’s about fostering a world that supports people making goals, pursuing health, and having a great time with their friends. It’s about learning, teaching, and cooperating. It’s about enabling anyone who wants to pick up a ball, strap on some skis, or lace up some cleats the chance to dream.
There have been a lot of obstacles to that dream, and so far we’ve done a good job helping each other overcome them.
We just gotta keep running.
I’m running for myself, but also for a cause. This November, I’m taking on the TCS New York City Marathon as a representative of the Women’s Sports Foundation. To help me on my quest to give more girls the gift of play, donate to the Women’s Sports Foundation, $10 can make a difference in a girl’s life.