Women Running for Freedom
Today, we focus on something that is such a base part of our human existence, and yet gets stripped away from us. Today we’re talking about running. Now, I know what you’re saying, “This has got nothing to do with me”. Wait for it. From our Native populations across the Americas to modern day, women have been denied the most base joy of running. And running freely whether it’s for health, camaraderie and well being.
Now, you may be thinking that running is open to everyone by just going out their front door. Or, that this episode isn’t for you because you are not a runner. And yet, after listening to this episode, I hope you value your part in providing safety and well being for our amigas to joyfully run, whenever and wherever they want to go.
So, before you hit pause, consider this. You need not be a runner to join in with your friends. Women on the road and trails are vulnerable to threat and we can all do our part to navigate their safe return. Just do a search. Type in “women running alone” and see how the recommendations just strip away the freedom, and therefore the fun, because of what you have to do to feel safe. Things like don’t run with headphones, don’t run alone. Don’t run in the dark. Don’t run in isolated areas. There’s so much thumping in your head at that point.
Sadly my running days are limited now, but trust me, I know the joy that running provides and if we can help more women revel in that joy freely and safely, then yes, we are all runners.
That is the key to today’s episode: How to gain awareness of another person’s situation. AFrom that, develop empathy for them and then, take responsibility to offer support back to them. The beauty of learning this today, in this simple, but necessary, example is that it applies to life in general for so many of us.
And, as, always, I have a humorous personal story to set the stage. Basically, a creeper story when I was running as a teenager and how my mom played a key role. This story really highlights the danger we put ourselves in when we are unsupported in our diversity and how easy it is for others to participate in our diversity and keep us safe.
Women Were Not Allowed to Run
First, let’s catch up on some history because it always helps to frame our today and understand where we are based on our recent past and just what we need to do to secure our tomorrow. This is going to sound shocking to you, I bet. Running wasn’t part of the fitness routine, even for athletes, until the 70’s. There were definitely phenomenal track athletes but for the general public, no, not a thing.
Women were not allowed to run in general because the male medical society thought it would damage our baby making parts and leave society childless. Isn’t that something? So for all the women you see running pregnant, oh, that would not have been allowed 30 years ago.
The first women’s Olympic marathon event was held in nineteen eighty four, nineteen eighty four. Most of you were born. This is in your lifetime when women were not allowed to run an Olympic event over 1500. That’s basically a mile. I hear you. This is where most of us tap out anyway and that’s okay. But still, to be literally denied running is ludicrous, whether you love it or hate it.
Women were not out running in their neighborhoods, the beach, the trails. You can see how far we have come in your lifetime. But, this is here in modern age America. In Native America, North and South, indigenous women have been running for ages. It has been a part of their culture history with spiritual or competitive purpose behind it. Fast forward to today, and indigenous women from the Americas are seizing both the accolades of ultramarathons and pure companionship of a weekend escapade. But still, in these bookends of time, they were also denied running.
Yet, women, especially women of color, still have barriers to running freely and safely here today. Over 65% of women say they are harassed or feel unsafe when running. Runners stay on busy streets for safety but that makes them vulnerable to harmful traffic accidents.
The frustration is palpable. How could you get so cornered to frame how you run when all you want to do is walk out your front door? How can something so base and simple as running become such an out of reach activity. Why should we feel so threatened to enjoy this basic human freedom?
How To Get Involved In Each Other’s Life
Honestly, this is just one more example of the stratospheric change of recent generations and the delayed societal reaction to accept the change while still demanding the results. Where past generations did the battle, current generations are still fighting to get the reward but,all the while being expected to act as if they have it.
We see this everywhere. For instance, women in the past fought for Equal Rights, then passed the baton to the next generation. Society as a whole wasn’t too keen on providing equal rights so that generation had to deal with harassment at the workplace and less pay and barriers to even entering the fields, like the STEM fields. Today’s women can be CEO’s and Founders but are expected to do so without access to funding, support or accolades.
So, whereas we are allowed to do things; we are allowed to run; we are allowed to have a job. But in one generation you’ve gone from being allowed to do it, to being expected to break down the barriers and be uber successful without any kind of infrastructure in society wanting to help you.
The struggle is real and the expectation is so high. We can do great things but we still have barriers to hurdle and the burden of high expectations from others, even ourselves. This is why we must gather in support of each other even though it may not be in an arena that we are interested in, like running.
Okay. Are you getting the feeling that this isn’t necessarily all about running? This is more about creating ways in which we can get involved in each other’s lives to create the support in society for all these new areas that women are only now, in your lifetime, being allowed to do.
But that’s ok, now. We have the answer now. Together we are stronger and what works for one of us will work for all of us. That is the empathy that we are trying to build across women-world: Understanding and feeling the need of others so that we are quick to act in their favor.
Why we need Non-Runners to Run With Us
Now, running may be completely off your radar to the point of not worrying about whether other women are running freely. I get it. Not your interest, not your problem. We all have a lot on our plates. We can’t be worrying about everybody. Or, could we?
If we’re not interested about running then maybe you’re not interested about math either, or politics or government. You see where I’m going with this? Choosing not to concern ourselves with subjects that we’re not interested in, can leave other women, in those fields, feeling isolated and left alone to deal with the lack of support.
Think about it, if half the population is already neglecting the idea of women in running or math and science and government, and we add another percentage of women, then woof! What are we doing to each other?
So, what does it look like to support women who are entering this literally freshly paved road of running. Remember, this is new territory and although many more women are part of the field, society is not ready to accept it as a whole, to normalize it and not cause issues when they see women running.
But, women are so quick. They figure out what they need. So, now it’s up to us to increase that framework to normalize it in society. That is the key. Normalizing our interests to the point that society accepts it so that the barriers are broken down, expectations are equalized and support is widespread.
I often found myself alone in my interests, partly due to society as a whole, at the time I was doing it, and often due to my cultural identity. My mother insisted I become a doctor, lawyer or engineer but refused to permit me to interact with other men. But, guess what? That’s all there was, other men. Cal Poly accepted me in their Engineering program but then the professors told me to go into Home Ec.
If women of my generation had only been my allies and helped speak out against the bias, then all of this could have been corrected, even silenced, in the moment. Instead, women were more in agreement because they couldn’t understand why I would put myself through it.
It felt really defeating. No matter where I turned, I didn’t have support. It was really the worst feeling of isolation. It’s one thing to not take interest in somebody’s activity. It’s quite another thing to not take interest in them doing the activity. We should always care about each other.
Solution But No Soul-ution For Running Alone
Now, one of these moments was when I really could have used some allies, ladies, was when I discovered I loved running. It gave me time to think, to decompress and I just felt stronger by the end, which was pivotal at this time because this was high school – those “glory years”. What it didn’t do was give my mom peace of mind. She was totally against me running alone because it fed into her fears that I described in last week’s episode. If you missed it, you can catch Episode 30 on any of your favorite listening platforms or listen and read the transcript on our website, at TheLnxx.com, that’s L N Double X.
So, to avoid worrying my poor mom, I would tell her I was going to Church, that way she wouldn’t ask too many questions. Then, I’d go to the local park and get changed in the restroom. Go for a quick run, come back and clean up. So, by the time I swung by the Church to pick up the daily bulletin, (always thinking ahead) proof that I had gone to Mass, and returned home, I was basically back to cool, calm and collected. And, I thought, okay, here’s my solution.
Then, one day, I thought, “ok, I’m just going to run” and walked out my front door. While I was running on an isolated road, I realized a car was behind me and refusing to pass. It seemed weird at first but then it became creepy. My mind started racing on my Six Scenarios of what do I do? What’s the worst case scenario? What’s the best case scenario? All the time thinking, oh man, this is not going well.
In my neighborhood, people’s houses were far apart, there were no fences, sidewalks, street lights, you name it. It was pretty country-like. And, no one exercising on the streets.
I decided to glance over my shoulder and size up my situation in order to make a plan. And yes, the drama entered. So, I’m expecting a white windowless van or massive pick up truck. So, I was relieved to see this pale yellow car. My brain relaxed just enough to begin panicking because I realized it was my mom, in her massive 1969 Chrysler New Yorker, following me. Ugh, so busted!
How To Be an Ally When It’s Not Your Field of Interest
My words here cannot do justice to the visual. You have not seen a car this huge. First off, this car was so big that my brothers could lie across the back seat without bending their legs. They were almost six feet! My tiny mamacita could barely clear the steering wheel. You saw more of her white gloves on the steering wheel than that beautiful face. But I knew what that face would look like if I could see it and there was nothing to do but just head home.
If only I had some girlfriends that would at least ride their bikes with me, I could have kept running, just around the house. Instead, the only time I could run was when I was away from my neighborhood, far from what I knew and out of distance of my mom. Looking back on it, I really put myself in vulnerable situations just to be able to run without being followed in her massive tank-like car. I’m not a fast runner. I didn’t think cars could go that slowly.
I wish I had the support of my peers back then, even if they weren’t right next to me, just to support my desire to run.
So, being an ally for women really helps them personally, in the moment and in the long run – no pun intended. The more support we have from the beginning, the more likely we will persevere and become successful at it or stay with it just for the fun. Wouldn’t it be great to help someone feel validated and safe just by being near them? What a gift!
More so, being an ally for others, in areas we may not have interest in, gives us the opportunity to meet badass chicas that may otherwise stay out of our friend pack. We may miss them altogether in our lifetimes. Instead of living in silos of self interest, how about celebrating all of us together in this wide open arena of empathy for each other.
Running for Others by Not Running
Hopefully, you are a little more enthused to do something for your girlfriends who love to run. Let’s illuminate three areas of how to support women runners, by not even running. First, and most accessible, is being part of their run route, which gives you so many opportunities to bring your true self forward.
This is where you can be very creative with your own personality, share your enthusiasm while adding safety for your runner girlfriends. So much fun and it’s so helpful! Ugh, I don’t have anyone who runs with me today!
It takes some coordination, but that’s a tool for nurturing relationships. Making time for others and reaching out to the other first, “Hey, if you want to go for a run this week, I’m available”. Also, in this way, women will share their routes, start and end times, and have someone fabulous, like you, to look forward to along the way.
Consider riding or scootering with them on their route, especially with the long distance runners. You can carry snacks and water for you both, have a speaker playing, that way you don’t have your headphones, or have a good conversation. I did this for my daughter when she was training for the LA Marathon. It was her 12 mile run and I was puttering alongside on this scooter, and I was like, “God, this is fun!” But, then the scooter ran out of battery and I got stranded. She kept running. She finished her 12 miles. I had to walk back. So, be prepared for that!
Or, how about meeting them at an endpoint, like a park, beach or outdoor cafe! You can both share your locations to make the meet up timely. No worries if you are running a tad late because your runner amiga, she could take another lap around the block or decompress and stretch. But don’t keep her waiting too long because you want to celebrate together. Have a good time!
Running Events for Your Amigas
Second, create a running event for your favorite road runner amigas. Now, these may be less frequent but you can gather more friends and family! Think about how often you have casual parties or bbq’s on the weekends. What if you were to frame one around all your friends who love to run.
Establish a starting point that you meet at and send them off from, with hugs and laughter. Bring your lattes and cafecitos with some noshies, in case anyone needs an extra boost. Be prepared at the finish line with water, fruit and more hugs. Have the music playing and cheer them over to you. Revel in their love of running and feel the love in return.
Third, if you can’t get to where your friends are, then perhaps contribute to running groups in their area. Running groups are organizations that provide camaraderie and safety for runners who don’t like to run solo. They also provide support and advice on how to stay healthy or even prepare for races.
So these groups often need help with donations for fees, equipment or volunteers. The beauty of volunteering for the groups is you are guaranteed to get outside and you’re surrounded by people having a great time doing what they love. There’s always snacks, goodies and beverages around. Passing these out to runners will make you their best friend for the day.
Perhaps you travel to one of the race locations and double it as your mini or long vacation, like when I ran my marathon in Florence, Italy. Oooh, soooo much better than running a local one and I would have loved to have all my friends cheering me on along the route. That would have been a party.
Again, this is a great way to become part of a larger group of friends by association. This helps frame your participation as a member, even without the running. Normalizing our participation in other people’s activity helps break down the barriers, helps equal out expectations when you have a better understanding of what they’re experiencing.
Bring Empathy to Areas Outside of Your Interests
So, let’s flip that. What are your favorite interests that you wish others would support you in? How do you envision them participating with you? We could learn so much from each other by opening up, sharing and learning on how to be part of someone’s life, even if we don’t really get it.. like math.. and running.
Because this same methodology is applicable to any other interest where women find themselves in newly cleared territory with no infrastructure. We are actually building this infrastructure while you are in it, trying to succeed. We practice thinking beyond our own experiences and interests and we make ourselves available to others. We practice empathy. This increases support to women in areas where they find themselves often alone and vulnerable.
Just striking up a conversation with them, listening to their day and truly, truly trying to empathize with what they are enduring or celebrating, is a way to break through that isolation. Take it to heart. Put yourself in their shoes to feel what they may be feeling. So much love, this creates so much love, and less division; better understanding, greater diversity. Normalization of what other people want to do as not being separate from yourself.
This is my diversity that I live out loud. My Hispanic heritage fuels me to think of others and what they love to do. It is such a natural part of being for me that my friends are constantly coming to mind during my day, when I’m just out and about. Whether it’s food, or a funny joke, or a beautiful day, something will remind me of my friends and prompt me to reach out to them, maybe invite them over or at least, shoot them a text.
It’s this type of empathy that I would love to grow here where so many people find themselves isolated and vulnerable.
We needn’t share the same interests in order to join and support each other in what we love individually. It’s the core of creating intersectionality and inclusion within our communities. Practicing empathy brings us together, even when we don’t quite understand, to normalize seeing women in careers, activities, relationships that weren’t even allowed 30 years ago. Weren’t even allowed when you were born.
We need more than a role model. It’s not just not enough, the idea of seeing it, to be it. It’s seeing that people care about what we do, value our enthusiasm, protect our vulnerability and become our loudest advocate. That’s how we get ahead. This is how we normalize our diversity, create empathy and compassion and discover our part in each other’s lives, even if we haven’t experienced another person’s pain or struggle or joy.
Normalize Women’s Choices
We would love to see how you support your women runners and the fun events you’ve created, so tag us on Instagram or Twitter @LifeLnxx. Let’s normalize women running independently and feeling safe from harm. Let’s normalize women being in relationships and careers and activities that they choose to do.
Let’s show them we care and be present in their journey because if we can do it for running, then we can do it for their choice of partners, careers, lifestyle, anything.
Big shout out to our global audience. So grateful you are here with us every week and learning to support each other and keep our human touch. I would love to see your running adventures where you live across the world.
Step into your truth, ladies! Ciao!