Anne Marie McNally: The Vulnerable Runner

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Anne Marie McNally

This is slightly off usual course but bear with me…or don’t, there’s a choice here!

I recently took up hill running/hiking. I’m still very much a newbie but nothing compares to the feeling of freedom and strength it gives me when I crest a summit and get back down the other side in one piece!

The thing is though, in lieu of friends willing to do it with me, it’s mostly a lonely trek; literally.

I tend to be a solo-soldier on most mountain trails I run and you’d be lucky to pass a couple of people over the course of 90 minutes or so.

When I started out I was immediately bombarded with the ‘don’t be daft, it’s not safe’ narrative. My parents were (and still are) up in arms about the idea of me running isolated mountains alone.

Male friends who care about me sought to reassure themselves that I carry some sort of weapon when I run (I don’t!), and the first question women ask me when I tell them of my hobby is ‘do you feel safe though?

Generally I do, in fact one of the benefits of the activity is that it makes me feel strong and powerful however there have been times when I’ve wavered.

Most recently the tragic case of Mollie Tibbets, a young woman abducted and murdered whilst jogging near her home in Iowa had me reading the online commentary with interest; male friends offering running company for female friends; women recounting tales of their own running experience and how they’ve had to adjust or often just give-up entirely on their activity of choice. It made for some sobering reflection.

Last week, after an absence due to illness, I took to a familiar trail and just as I was about to complete it – in view of my car and all, I let my concentration lapse and I took a nasty tumble.

As I lay there in agony and momentarily unable and afraid to move my damaged limbs, I felt immensely vulnerable.

That feeling was compounded by the subsequent chats with folks who cautioned about how ‘anything could have happened to you up there alone’.

Determined not to let my confidence be shaken any further I waited the week’s recovery out and on Monday evening I took off for the same trail.

All was going well until about 5km into my run when I rounded a bend only to see a man on his own up ahead who didn’t appear to be kitted out for what was quite a crappy weather evening up the mountains.

Something primitive kicked in – my heart rate accelerated, my eyes immediately began scouting around me to locate possible exit trails/routes if required and I flexed my still-injured leg to try and gauge whether or not my sprint reflex would fail me if called upon to make a dash for it.

This all happened in a split-second.

The feeling of power I was enjoying on the run was immediately replaced with fear and vulnerability. It strikes me that too often people dismiss the notion of ingrained rape culture as something overly-dramatic; but the way I felt in that moment was absolutely a result of an ingrained rape culture.

A lone man in an isolated spot was enough to make me terrified – not through any fault on his part at all, just an all-too normal reaction of a woman in this situation. And how would the victim-blaming narrative have played out had something happened to me? ‘Ah well how stupid was it to be up there on your own?’ etc. etc.

When I was a young child (and with a broken arm at the time) I was attacked. On a bright summers evening, less than 200 meters from my front door, a car drew up, blocked my path and a man, naked from the waist down, tried to bundle me into the car.

Luckily both my fight AND my flight instinct kicked in and I screamed for my life, kicked and ran, done a Starsky and Hutch-like roll across his car bonnet despite my plaster cast and sling, and I escaped.

He was subsequently caught and jailed and was also charged in other attacks including a rape. So for me the stranger danger of sexual predators has never just been something that happens in TV crime dramas or crime novels however, until that moment on Monday evening I’m not sure I fully appreciated how deeply ingrained that fear is in me.

Interestingly, on the drive up to the mountains on Monday evening I’d been listening to Mary Wilson on RTÉ’s Drivetime interviewing an impressive UK female Labour MP, Stella Creasy, who deftly poured scorn on the question of ‘why would a woman enter politics knowing the abuse and misogyny they’ll endure?’

Ms Creasy, without taking a breath, challenged the idea that a woman should have to adjust her actions and choices just because the current narrative dictates that such a toxic culture is ‘just the way things are’.

She questioned why we would blindly accept that abuse and misogyny should ‘come with the territory’.Post-run terror, it struck me that the same applies- why should we just accept that as a woman alone I should adjust my behaviour.

Why is it that my male friend can take to the hills without a second thought whereas I’m branded as reckless and a risk-taker for doing the same.

I’m not naïve, I understand that for now that’s how things are and I’ll have to take precautions and deal with those heart-stopping moments of fear while my male friends will probably never fully appreciate how much it affects my choices and how I have to adjust how I approach an activity that I love.

What I can do however is challenge the narrative that it’s ‘just how things are’.

I can continue to highlight the need for awareness of real fear rather than dismissing it as ‘in your head’; the need to listen to the lived realities of women who live and breathe this every day.

I can continue to highlight the need for attitude shifts so that hopefully in 10 or 15 years’ time when my own daughter is running an isolated trail and comes across a lone male her first thought won’t be of imminent danger and the reaction if something bad happens won’t be to immediately blame the woman for choosing to pursue what should be a perfectly acceptable activity for either a man or a woman.

And to the man out on his solo hike, I’m sorry!

You probably felt as uncomfortable as I did in the moment because this toxic culture does neither of us any favours and if both sexes work together to eradicate rape culture, abuse culture, general misogyny and sexism then we’ll both be better placed to pursue our passions.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally

51 thoughts on “Anne Marie McNally: The Vulnerable Runner

  1. Scundered

    Leaving the sexual angle out, it is fairly daft to be running or hiking alone, purely for the fact that it’s very easy to bust your ankle in the irish landscape, heather often covers the holes, I’ve seen people drop in up to their chests, and you will often have no phone reception in the mountains. Plenty of groups on meetup.com for hiking etc, and all levels, or at least take a bivvy bag if going solo.

    1. Cian

      This.

      And make sure you tell someone that you are going out, where you are going (what route), and when you expect to be back. And get into the habit of always updating them once you’ve finished the run.

    2. Clampers Outside!

      +1 all the way.

      Also, where did this idea that men do not adjust their behaviour when finding odd out of place people on treks (or anywhere) as described.
      It is complete nonsense that only women adjust their behaviour when alone when confronted with someone you may deem out of place or make you uneasy.

      if fella did get mugged, I’d say to him exactly what was said to Anne Marie… why were u alone…etc. It’s not sexist, it’s not mysoginy, it’s common sense.

      1. Freedom

        You have to be one of the most genuinely angry people I’ve ever seen in the internet .. please seek help

      2. Nigel

        Oh thank goodness, I was worried that there might have been some sexism involved in the way victims of rape or attempted rape are treated based on the experiences of the victims themselves, but then you said that if a man got mugged you’d demand to know what he was doing out on his own and therefore completely proved them wrong.

          1. Nigel

            Me: ‘but then you said that if a man got mugged you’d demand to know what he was doing out on his own’

            Clamps: ‘No Nigel, nit what I said at all.’

            Also Clamps: ‘if fella did get mugged, I’d say to him exactly what was said to Anne Marie… why were u alone’

          2. Nigel

            When oh when will I remember you will do anything to avoid dealing with the implications of the things you say.

          3. Nigel

            That’s what you say when you can’t handle other people pointing out the implications of the things you say.

          4. Clampers Outside!

            SWAYSI is not pointing out anything.

            It’s lieing and making stuff up because toady idealogues like yourself cannot see anything else but what you want to see due to your fuming indignation.

            It is comical, yet mildly annoying like a spoilt child, in fairness.

  2. Ollie Cromwell

    Stella Creasy is one of the more impressive Labour MPs, prepared to stand up to the endemic anti-Semitism and vindictiveness of the Corbynistas.
    The rest just stay muted on the threats of deselection and online abuse that most Labour MPs who dare to speak up now face.
    On the subject of solo female running in isolated places I’d be careful.Very careful.
    And vary your route and times.
    There are just too many nutters out there.

      1. dan

        Ah the insightful political commentary from ‘Frilly Keane’. You should submit some of your posts to Foreign Policy or The Economist.

      2. Miggeldy

        Can you translate what you’re saying in the comment at 3.31pm, into at least one proper sentence? Thanks.

        Not sure how your posts don’t trigger something in the, ever so sensitive, bad language delay/block on here, write properly or fk off.

          1. Miggeldy

            If you’re trying to ‘communicate’ with others, speak their feckin’ language, instead of trying to make all cork people look like thick clowns.

  3. MaryLou's ArmaLite

    Is there a rape culture in Ireland?

    For sure there are bad men that rape women, but a rape culture implies it is something that most males engage in.

    1. dan

      Not any more than there is a ‘terrorist culture’ among Muslims. Yet the same people that immediately say #notallmuslims after a terrorist attack deride those who write #notallmen after a rape case.

  4. kellMA

    Ann Marie, I agree that we need to get away from the victim-blaming approach that prevails all too much. However, personally, I don’t see how I could ever get to a place where I wouldn’t be cautious in the situation you describe. Most sexual crimes are man on woman and men are usually stronger than women.

  5. Marbe

    And don’t be telling the world that you have no weapon of any type with you, at least carry a spray can of lurid coloured paint.

  6. rotide

    Horrible story from your youth , Glad nothing worse happened.

    Bearing in mind that story, I find it strange that you used these two lines before mentioning it:
    ” it makes me feel strong and powerful”
    “The feeling of power I was enjoying on the run was immediately replaced with fear and vulnerability.”

    Feeling confident is one thing, but feeling strong and powerful does not make you strong and powerful. It’s Spice Girls psyche to think that it does. Knowledge should give you power. The knowledge of your own abilities and strangths and weaknesses. While I fully sympathise with your nervousness, I’m not sure that seeing a randomer on a mountain and him making your nervous indicates a rape culture in ireland. Would a man being nervous of seeing that same man indicate a murder culture?

  7. Blonto

    The vulnerability and fear that women feel in situations like this is a societal issue, and more importantly, a male issue. Why do women have to feel afraid walking home alone or in small groups. And not just on quiet roads. Even city centres.
    Too often men intimidate and threaten women – by the way they talk, invading personal boundaries, cat calling etc. And its a disgrace. Nobody has the right to make anyone else feel inferior. Weaker. Vulnerable.
    Anyone who does needs to have a long think about their values. How they were raised. How they are living.
    And then they need to think about how they would want their (potential) daughters, nieces, sisters, mothers to feel as they try to go about their business day to day.
    There’s been some changes in equality lately. But there’s a whole lot more needed.

  8. Bort

    Certainly rape culture exists, it’s about fear and “you should’ve known better” etc

    You know what else has always exists in Ireland but for males, that my wife, sister or mother never understood.
    Likely to get the sh*t kicked out of you anywhere at any time culture. In most towns and certainly where I grew up in Dublin from about 12 up you’re fair game for a kicking. It can be taking a short cut through another estate, after school, in/outside of a disco. Hanging out in a filed. Then when you get older, it’s inside/outside pubs, chippers, down the town, walking home at night. Then it’s the city centre, waiting for a taxi, in a nightclub. You’re never far away from a kicking for no reason. When you’re about 25+ you’re wise to it, you know what to watch out for, you’re less of a target or you don’t go to certain places. But when you’re a male in Ireland from about 12-24 you better watch out cus there’s a baiting never too far away. Everywhere I ever went on nights out or sketchy places I always kept an eye open and I got punched or kicked about plenty of times and I’m sure most lads have.

    It’s the same reason rape culture exists; too many scumbags, too much drink/drugs, not enough police, not enough safe areas, not enough cctv, poor conviction, violent culture and low sentencing. Men get the same response; You must have been asking for it, were you mouthing off, what were you doing there/at that time. Gardai are not too interested in assaults on males unless there’s a death. Of course the factors above apply for members of the LQBT community, minorities etc.

    When you scrape beneath the surface we live it quite a violent culture and there’s little fear of convictions or lengthy sentencing for the perpetrators. it’s not such a safe society out there.

    1. Cian

      This is, sadly, all too true.

      Can I just add that this isn’t just “men are violent and will attack other men”. If I were to see a group of women ‘hanging out’ – I would (sometimes) be uncomfortable that they may be violent toward me.

      As Bort says – you try to avoid these situations if possible – but if it another man/group of men you have some hope – but women can be vicious; and you can’t win a fight against women.

  9. Bort

    Certainly rape culture exists, it’s about fear and “you should’ve known better” etc

    You know what else has always exists in Ireland but for males, that my wife, sister or mother never understood.
    Likely to get the sh*t kicked out of you anywhere at any time culture. In most towns and certainly where I grew up in Dublin from about 12 up you’re fair game for a kicking. It can be taking a short cut through another estate, after school, in/outside of a disco. Hanging out in a filed. Then when you get older, it’s inside/outside pubs, chippers, down the town, walking home at night. Then it’s the city centre, waiting for a taxi, in a nightclub. You’re never far away from a kicking for no reason. When you’re about 25+ you’re wise to it, you know what to watch out for, you’re less of a target or you don’t go to certain places. But when you’re a male in Ireland from about 12-24 you better watch out cus there’s a baiting never too far away. Everywhere I ever went on nights out or sketchy places I always kept an eye open and I got punched or kicked about plenty of times and I’m sure most lads have.

    It’s the same reason rape culture exists; too many scumbags, too much drink/drugs, not enough police, not enough safe areas, not enough cctv, poor conviction, violent culture and low sentencing. Men get the same response; You must have been asking for it, were you mouthing off, what were you doing there/at that time. Gardai are not too interested in assaults on males unless there’s a death. Of course the factors above apply for members of the LQBT community, minorities etc.

    When you scrape beneath the surface we live it quite a violent culture and there’s little fear of convictions or lengthy sentencing for the perpetrators. it’s not such a safe society out there.

    I’m a big lad, I can handle myself for want of a better word, but I never feel 100% safe, especially when I’m on my own, not in the city centre, not in any town late at night. I’m not too keen in the woods on my own either. So no matter who you are be aware of your surroundings, everyone has the right to go where they like unhindered but in general, watch yourself. First thing they teach you in self defense classes is “don’t put your self in vulnerable” positions. Too many scumbags and psycho’s about!

    Be safe.

  10. Dub Spot

    Check out IMRA.

    https://www.imra.ie/

    I run with them the whole time. You can be assured the only harm will come to you when trail running will be the stuff done to yourself.

    Now, if you were a female cyclist in Dublin…

  11. Joe

    As an experienced hiker I’d not recommend anyone go hiking or hill running alone purely in case of injury. Hill runners seem to be most prone to going it alone and are very prone to injury due to the nature of the activity.

  12. Cian

    The perceived ‘rape culture, abuse culture, general misogyny and sexism’ is actually separate from the fact that a tiny percentage of men rape women.

    If we lived in a society where these were all eradicated – but there were still rapists – then Anne Marie (and single women) still would need to be careful going into the wilds on their own.

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