On Wednesday, December 4, we are hosting the SAYSKY RunEase event for women only, to put focus on women's safety when they are running alone in the dark. You can read all about the social running event here.
In this connection, we have interviewed Laura, who thought she ran alone 3 years ago on an early December morning. She quickly found out that something was completely wrong and she has been kind to share her story with us.
Could you please let us in on your story as a runner? When did you start running and do you remember why?
I started running back in 2008. I was at a sports boarding-school where I played handball, and running was part of the training to become faster on the court. Time passed by and I suddenly liked running without a handball in front of me and that changed my whole perspective. I went from playing handball every day to be running seven times a week. In 2009, I ran my first ultra-run, which was a 63km distance. Since 2009 I have tried many different distances and my main focus is now the distances from 3 kilometers to half marathons.
You experienced abusive behaviour quite close to Christmas in Frederiksberg Garden, Copenhagen. Please share you experience with us and what happened afterwards?
It was the 22nd of December 2016, I woke up at 7:00am and did my usual morning routine by starting it off with a run in Frederiksberg Garden. I was running with my headphones on as I usually did when running by myself.
I just turned the first corner from the garden’s main entrance and ran along the track up to the castle. I could see out of my eyes that there was a man standing close to the bushes. To me it looked like a man who was out walking his dog. I ran passed him and I wasn’t thinking more about it. A few 100 meters up the track I could feel something was wrong, it just came to me out of blue. I looked over my shoulder and the man I just passed was right behind me. He grabbed my shoulder really hard, and I started screaming as loud as I could. Thankfully, he got scared and ran away. Lucky for me, a gardener from the garden was not far away, and he could hear me screaming. He ran as fast as he could to get to me and tried to calm me down while he was calling the police.
Sort of building on this, how did you feel about running afterwards? And being out on the streets in general?
Running was a big part of me from 2008 until that day, then running became a fear of mine. To start with, I couldn’t run. I was afraid when running, walking or doing everything by myself. Even walking out with the trash was a big barrier for me to break.
Thankfully, my boyfriend who’s not a runner at all, started running because he wanted me to start again and not being afraid of it. He also made sure that I could always reach him on the phone when I was alone. A lot of my friends offered me that they would join me on my runs as well. But the first year was tough after the episode. Being out on the streets alone was a challenge, I was afraid that everyone I walked passed would come behind and do things against me. I had that feeling for a very long time.
Now 3 years later, you are finally back running and can enjoy the sport you love. Do you think the thoughts of “someone out there” will always be with you? Do you feel extra alert when running outside alone?
Sometimes the feeling is coming back, especially when it’s dark outside and I’m by myself. I think that feeling will always come up now and then because it has happened to me when I was out running. I cannot run by myself in the morning when it’s dark and I’m never running with headphones on when it’s dark. I have to hear what’s going on around me. I’m running with a running crew now, where we almost run together every day and meeting up to do our morning runs together. I feel very fortunate to be part of a team now. That has helped me a lot, because I’m never alone, I always have someone to run with.
Do you have any advice for women out there running alone and feeling afraid of doing so?
Yes, it helped me to join a running club, meeting people who also runs and there is always someone to run with. That can be very helpful if it’s dark and you don’t like to run by yourself.
Otherwise you can run where there are people, traffic and lights. Unfortunately, there are only a few places here in Copenhagen where there are lights, if you want to run on gravel or in parks. There are lights around the lakes in Copenhagen, but it could be better.
What do you think can be done to give this “problem” extra attention?
I think it would be very helpful to have more lights around Copenhagen. Especially in some of the parks where it is nice to run; Fælledparken, Søndermarken, Damhussøen and Frederiksberg Garden. Right now, there are no lights or not enough, so you don’t know where you are running, and you don’t have a chance to see what’s around you.
Another thing could be that running clubs can give more information about that they are doing mornings runs, where people are welcome to join, so people can get the opportunity to run with others.