We had an intense Saturday and Sunday at the clinic this past weekend. It was our second and final weekend of baseline concussion testing, and this meant two extra-long days at work. My role as a clinician was to conduct station #1, medical history and memory testing; this meant I sat at a computer all day, asking question after question, a new athlete coming through every four to five minutes.
I asked those same questions 111 times over the two days, and to stay sharp and keep my restless legs at bay, I knew I needed to find time for fitness. With early starts and late finishes, I got up early to put in some miles and bring some welcomed fatigue to my muscles. I know myself, and I know that I function best if I’ve incorporated some sweat into my day, so out into the 6:00am pre-Autumn blackness I went on Saturday morning.
That’s where my story begins:
I was planning on a 10km run, 5km out-and-back, along my favourite North Shore stretch. I figured I could catch the sunrise along the Lake Ontario shoreline on my way back home, throw some hills into the mix, and aim for a negative split to satisfy the competitor in me. The streets were quiet as I left my driveway, most of the city still asleep, just how I like it. Early morning is my favourite time of day, like a little portal into peacefulness that can only be accessed through the conviction of an alarm clock. It’s my reward for getting up, my compensation for lost sleep, my high to start the day. I ran down the middle of my road, reflective hat on, earbuds in, my only concern being neighbourhood skunks still foraging on sidewalk boulevards.
I ran along the lakefront promenade, the pitch black waters illuminated by the pier and the streetlights, one or two people out, getting an early start on their dog walks. I felt safe. In fact, I almost always feel safe running in Burlington; perhaps it’s naïveté, perhaps it’s luck, perhaps it’s because Halton consistently ranks as one of Canada’s safest municipalities. But I’m not reckless or inattentive and I’m always aware of my surroundings. I’m not naive enough to believe that dangers are not present for solo female runners, even nestled inside my little community cocoon.
So as I made the turn onto the deserted, shadowy North Shore Boulevard, my senses were heightened and I was aware of my vulnerability. I moved off the sidewalk and back into the middle of the road, away from the darkness and obscurity of front yard shrubbery and blackened driveways. I removed my earbuds so that my hearing wasn’t compromised, and I continued into the deserted dimness of my route. I saw a man ahead, probably 200m from me, staggering along the sidewalk on the South side of the road. He was a big guy, about as tall as my 6’2″ husband, and every few metres he’d jump into the air and swat at overhanging branches before stumbling onward. I pegged him as a University kid, wandering home in a drunken stupor, but my spidey senses tingled. I crossed the expanse of the road completely, running tucked along the wide curb on the North side of the street. He must’ve heard my footfalls, because he stopped, crouched, and pulled the hood of his black jacket tight over his face, tugging at the drawstrings so that only his eyes were visible. He watched intently as I ran by, from that crouched, hunter-like position, and I picked up my pace. I ran fast until I got several hundred metres down the road, frequently turning my head to check behind me, and as I wound along the familiar twists, turns, and hills, my heartrate settled and my pace began to slow.
At 5km I turned around, making my way back home along the road I’d just run, aware that this guy was likely still stumbling Westward. By now, the first taste of the sunrise was peaking through, and a few cars were beginning to pass by. I chose to head back the way I’d come, not feeling directly threatened, but slightly wary nonetheless.
This is the point of my story that many of you are probably wondering why I didn’t change my route and head home another way.
Perhaps I should have. In fact, my husband later asked me that very question. But the truth is, I stayed my course, because I knew that this guy wasn’t actually harmful, at least not physically. He was trying to intimidate me, yes. He was being creepy and disturbing, trying to frighten me, trying to show his dominance in a tough-drunk-guy way. But I could see that he was wobbly and the road was wide, and I knew I’d win in a foot-race if it came to that. I also knew that this pathetic wannabe predator would be too scared to cause me any harm as daylight came upon us and people began to stir.
And yes, the same thing happened on my way back home. The same crouch, the same jacket hood pulled low, the same intense, fear-provoking stare. Predatory. That’s what my husband called it when I recounted the story to him at home, and he’s right. This jerk wasn’t trying to hurt me, but he was trying to scare me. And if I’m being honest, he did.
The feminist in me is angry at the gender roles involved in this scenario- him, the larger, stronger male, and me, the smaller, weaker female. Meanwhile, the runner in me is angry that he took my power, made me feel vulnerable, and made me question something that I love so much. As a seventeen-year-old, I moved from a small town to a city to attend University, and I can remember my dad giving me a can of pepper spray. It’s not until now, two decades later, that I wished I still had it….