I have to admit, I almost always run alone. I often run on trails. I often run in isolated places. As a woman, I know there is always some inherent risk in doing this. I've been assaulted before (though not when running) and I'm not ignorant of the potential dangers. It's just that I refuse to live my life in a locked room, afraid of stepping foot on those trails. And the times I have on the trail are often pure bliss, I'm unwilling to give that up or even at times to sully my alone time with a running partner. Frequently, I enjoy running with friends, but not always. Sometimes I cherish my time in solitude.
So this article about the disappearance of 17 year old Cross-country runner Chelsea King brings the dangers back to the forefront of one's mind. It's important to look those dangers in the eye and think hard about what your response should be. I like the attitude of the author of the article, summed up as:
If a woman goes for a lone run, she must be a warrior, too.
Sometimes in my martial arts training, I'm so focused on the technique, on the moment, on the hand position or keeping my knee over my toe that I forget what I'm really doing. I'm training to be a warrior. And being a warrior is more than just knowing Elbow Techniques 1 - 20 and the kata Kyoku Godan. It's about awareness, about not blunting your senses with iPods or Bluetooth, it's about eyes and ears and a willingness to use your vocal chords, teeth, fingernails, and car keys as weapons. It's about carrying pepper spray in one hand and a cell phone in the other, even as you lose yourself in the bliss of running through an empty forest.
Sometimes I think that the best thing that martial arts does for girls and women is simply to teach them to kiai. The hokey "hi-yah!" in old martial arts films is more than a dubbed-in sound effect. Time after time I see new women and girls in the dojo give their first tentative breathy kiais, barely audible. Why are we women so afraid to make a strong noise? By black belt, they have transformed to warriors, unashamed to offer up a battle cry as they're throwing a punch or kick. When you have your voice, you have your power. If we can't simply yell, how we can we expect ourselves to fight back?
My heart goes out to young runner Chelsea King and her family. If her death accomplishes nothing else, let it remind you not to leave your cell phone in your car (where hers was found) when you go running. Even the day I broke my arm, I had not taken my phone running with me (not wanting to try and juggle both dogs and a hand full of phone), so that I had no way to call anyone to come pick me up and I had to walk home with the dogs in one hand and the other arm broken. Not fun!
Yesterday I went for a beautiful trail run, through the woods, alone. While there are never any guarantees that something terrible can't befall you, you can at least guarantee yourself the ability to sense it coming, and to fight back with all of your power.