‘Running in the dark is a feminist act’ – here’s how to stay safe and be seen on winter workouts
Any woman who enjoys exercising outside knows all about the benefits. Getting fresh air in your lungs and being out in nature while you’re working up a sweat has the power to change your mood and leave you feeling like Superwoman – even if it rains.
But alongside the feelings of achievement and boost of endorphins, often we also have to contend with the risk of public sexual harrassment or catcalling and, for several months at this time of year, the added unfairness of feeling unsafe if we’re out after dark (so, 4pm then).
For Kate Dale, campaign lead for Sport England’s This Girl Can, it’s an ongoing problem that women shouldn’t have to – but unfortunately still do – have to deal with, when the hours of daylight are so reduced. “It is a perennial issue, of women getting, at best catcalled, and then potentially worse, which can increase after dark,” she says. “It annoys me that we’re still having to discuss it. It annoys me that if we do go out after dark, you make sure you look over your shoulder, if you’re running you only have one earbud in, somebody knows where you’re going, all the usual things. Why is it that women have to change the way that we behave? We have just as much right to go out running or to enjoy outdoor space.
“Absolutely, we should all be safe, and I would really encourage women that if you want to to get out there, to stick by the usual obvious safety precautions. But know that by you being out there, then you are helping more women get out there too. If all of us take to the streets and do it, then we are creating an environment where we can all go out and do it. I don’t want us all to be stuck at home, and nothing ever changes.”
Kate sees sticking to your outdoor exercise routine in the winter – even if you have to take extra precautions – as an empowering act, and one we should encourage each other to do. “We should think of running in the dark is a feminist act,” she says. “We’re not giving in. Whenever I see a woman out running, I find it really inspiring and I do always think, especially when the weather’s a bit rubbish or it is dark, I just think it’s fantastic and inspiring.
“So remember that, and if that helps you do it, think you’re not just doing it for yourself, someone else will see you and they might be inspired too and you’re making it feel safer and more normal for them. Because sometimes it takes knowing somebody who you feel is like you doing it to make you feel that you can as well.”
Stay safe checklist
1. Stick to well-lit areas. This may involve changing your route from the one you’d do during daylight, but you might end up discovering new routes you like even more.
2. Let someone know where you’re going. You could share your Google location with a trusted loved one while you’re out, or try the Best Bond Touch Bracelets. You wear one, your partner/housemate/mum wears the other and when you tap it, they’ll feel a vibration. You could have a code, such as three taps means: ‘I’m fine and still out running’.
3. Stay aware. Turning up the volume on your favourite running tunes is fine in the gym, but when you’re out after dark it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings and listen out for traffic cues.
4. Run against the traffic. Choose the footpath on the side of oncoming traffic to ensure you’re more visible to cars.
5. Light it up! The more visible you are, the safer you’ll be. Think high-vis, reflective stripes and flashing lights – scroll down for our round-up of great reflective winter workout gear.
6. Run with a friend. You’ll feel safer and more motivated to keep going on any tough bits. Plus, says Kate, “It’s a very good way of keeping up with people at the moment as well.”
Still need a little extra motivation to get you out the door? Kate reckons there’s an added benefit to exercising outside in winter that you can’t get from a sunny jog in the summer. “When it’s cold and dark and maybe a bit rainy, you I feel quite like Wonderwoman, really powerful,” she says. “I don’t want women to miss out on that. So yes, follow the advice and all the usual steps – but don’t be put off doing it, because we have a right.”
Ready to channel your inner superhero with an outdoor workout? You’ll need the right kit to keep you warm, dry and visible…