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Digital Running Club » Columns, Fitting it In » Garbage Running

Garbage Running

This entry marks month three of the long (and frustrating) process of getting back into shape. Running is slowly becoming part of the daily routine, and I’m starting to enjoy the zen of the treadmill a little more. I’m a long way from getting back to where I was when I was in really good shape, but my times are getting a little faster and my jeans are a (tiny) bit bigger— progress is progress. (I’m starting to suspect that my love of french fries and steak hibachi are getting in the way of said progress, but I’m more concerned about establishing new, good habits before I start on the old, bad ones).

The problem with running right now isn’t necessarily finding the time, or even the motivation. It’s the people. And not the other runners. I don’t know if this is an experience related only to my gender, or perhaps even only my town, but I seem to attract a great deal of entirely unwanted attention whenever I run.

Usually I don’t like to rail on feminist issues, but I’m going to be honest and say that it’s getting to the point where I dread going outside to run because I know that I’m going to either have something thrown at me or have something lewd shouted at me from the window of a passing car.  It’s unfortunate because I love running outside. When I first started running, it was always outside, and I find that it’s much more interesting than the repetitive scenery of the treadmill with the added fitness bonus of varied terrain— but what I don’t appreciate is the added element of danger.

I’ve been hit by milkshakes, garbage and what I hope was only warm soda. I’ve been followed by creepers in vans, asking me how much I charge per hour and been whistled at enough to start my own spaghetti western soundtrack company. I’ve heard every dirty pick-up-line in the book and some that clearly didn’t make it past the editing process. There have been days when running past the byway turned into less of an awesome uphill running course and into a weird game-show-like experience about running through the Trucker Trash Gauntlet of Garbage.

This piece was originally going to be about the lack of maintained running routes and my deep hatred of potholes, but I’m at a loss about what to do with this new situation. Tonight, I was followed by three large men as I was ending my workout and I realized that this situation has come to a head– but the problem is that as a runner, I’m powerless to do anything but hope that things will get better. I try and make smart choices – I choose either well-lit running paths or stick to main roads with lots of traffic. I’ve stopped wearing my headphones when I run outside and I never wear anything more revealing than a baggy t-shirt, hoodie, leggings and shorts. This may prevent some sort of movie-of-the-week kidnapping situation, but it sure as heck doesn’t stop people from throwing refuse and yelling obscenities. I got away from the three men without much incident–a gym employee came out and threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave me alone— but it still shook me to the point that I spent the rest of the night looking up runner’s self defense strategies online.

I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is that I’ve been doing to make observers so mad. The only thing I can figure out is that I look happy about what I’m doing— because I’m starting to remember what it was like to be in shape (and fit into my skinny jeans), and it must fill them with fury to see someone enjoying themselves, even in inclement weather. I tested this theory once by scowling for the entirety of my run, but I was informed by a thoughtful passerby that he, in fact, knew a number of lewdly interesting ways to make me smile.

What I don’t understand is that some people feel as though it is their right to make a complete stranger uncomfortable – and as I’ve been progressing, it’s become less about being uncomfortable but more about my interrupted run. I’m starting to be able to run for distance, and it’s hard to build up stamina when I have to stop to brush garbage off of my shirt. The situation is also embarrassing to discuss with my friends… poor, poor me getting paid to write about running, getting attention from boys because I’m starting to look better in my clothes… I sound like that girl at your high school who lamented the fact that she had five boys ask her to prom.

I will admit that yes, sometimes on the days when I’m feeling particularly overweight and unattractive, it’s nice to have a complete stranger do a double-take or tell me that I’m beautiful, but it’s somehow cheapened by the fact that it’s shouted out of the window of a passing car. And yes, I’m a grown-up. I know that there are many people out there with dirty minds (and I count myself among them) but I don’t know if the corner of 5th and Main is really the place to air your favorite innuendos.

I will wax poetic and say that I think it is a wonderfully fantastic thing that we live in a world with free speech and that I live in a part of the world where women like me are allowed to run on their own and enjoy their own pursuits. Heck, being able to find the extra time to exercise is a luxury that millions of women around the globe can’t afford. Having enough food to keep me going and clean water after a run is a blessing. I know that people yelling at me isn’t the worst thing in the world, I just suppose that I like to look at the world with optimistic writer eyes – and having someone interrupt my run on a beautiful sunny day with some crude comment about my body is like having someone put a big red hand print in the middle of Starry Night just to be funny.

I had to make a 12-year-old cry to learn my lesson about yelling profanity. Granted, the kid wasn’t running, he spent an entire online gaming match sitting in a tower and sniped me at a highly critical moment, and I was entirely enraged. So I, being a firey-tempered young lass with a way with words, did what I do best to those who cross me— I reduced him to a quivering pile of humanity with a few choice words about what I thought of his gaming tactics. It was only after I heard him literally crying that I stopped to think about what had just happened. Here I was, an anonymous stranger, cruelly berating someone for doing what they enjoyed doing. In the middle of writing an article about how I hated being interrupted and accosted while running, I was interrupting this kid’s daily routine to give him a hard time, for no other reason than he had gotten the better of me. Life lesson number #467: Practice what you preach or people will throw garbage at you.

I feel like I’ve discovered the seedy underbelly of society – that deep down, we all want to throw milkshakes at the ones who look really happy about exercising. Bastards.

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Catie Osborn is a recent graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where she received her BA in Theatre Arts and spent a year abroad in England studying Shakespeare and what life is like with a credit card. She is a jack of all trades, including (but not limited to) play and comic book writing, sandwich making, wedding planning, slam poetry, musical theatre and excessive video gaming. She has a number of cold blooded pets, her favorite being a chameleon named Yoshi, but she's holding out for a puppy.

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