Runner’s High: For some, running is a form of activism

Isaac Wendland 7dczgkyp8vw Unsplash

Photo by Isaac Wendland

Around this time last year, evenings were eerily quiet. With restaurants closed, little to no traffic, and everyone working from home, people in my neighborhood spent those twilit hours outside. Parents pulled kids in wagons, runners wove around other pedestrians and walkers chatted softly with each other. It became a shared ritual, something we could do together when so much seemed uncertain and unsafe.

On one of those occasions, I remember choosing a pair of running shoes: the annual Pride version. With a rainbow going up the shoe’s tongue, they were lighthearted, bright, and fun. As I laced them up and headed out the door, it never crossed my mind they would draw unwelcome attention. I felt secure in my neighborhood, confident my peers would, at worst, consider them a bad fashion statement.

After I’d been running for about fifteen minutes, a blue truck drove past me. It seemed to slow, enough for me to feel a moment of tension, but then turned at the next cross street. I continued on my way, only to be alarmed when I saw the same vehicle coming towards me. Tension turned to anxiety, so I made a snap decision, stepped off of the road, and began walking across a field. When he passed me, the driver slowed once again, yelled out a predictable slur, and sped off.

It’s hard to describe the moment when you stop feeling safe. As I made my way back home, I envisioned what a full-size truck could do to an unwanted pedestrian. All because I’d worn a pair of multi-colored shoes and gone for a run.

In Kansas City, a route might take runners from Prairie Village, over to Waldo, down to the River Market and along Southwest Boulevard. And as we traverse different neighborhoods, with varying demographics, we assert our right to exist. It’s not always loud or obvious. But as so many women and marginalized communities know, the freedom to do something as simple as run or walk is not always guaranteed.

According to a recent survey of 2,000 female runners by Runner’s World, around sixty percent of women have experienced harassment during a run. The problem is even more grave for Black people. Only a little over a year ago, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while jogging through a South Georgia neighborhood.

I mention this not to discourage you from running, but to emphasize a point: for some, running is a public declaration of their right to exist and freedom to live as their authentic selves. So—whether you’re a woman in a sports bra, a Black man on a run, or a queer person rocking some rainbows—you deserve to do so without harassment or fear. As a running community, we must safeguard each other. If you’ve never been catcalled or insulted, you’re among the lucky ones. For so many, the sport we love is more than a hobby. It’s activism in action.

Categories: Sports