June 21 2016
When planning her honeymoon, Elizabeth Heidal was able to get one step further to her goal of racing in every state.
As the Web Editor for Women’s Running, I am constantly perusing different websites and social media outlets to stay abreast of what’s trending in running so that I can best serve our readers. This weekend, I came across a story that I could not ignore. I hope you will read it and find it a useful reminder, just as I did.
Elizabeth, from Running for the Bling, posted her poignant personal story of an attack she survived during a recent run. Read her story and the lessons she learned below.
I had 10 miles on my training schedule for Saturday’s run. I was physically and sexually assaulted on my run at mile 8.2. I will forewarn you, this post will be long. I want to get the details out, for me mentally, for those in Mobile, AL to be aware, and for the safety of each and every female runner I know.
I haven’t run in Mobile in almost a year. Running around my dad’s house can be challenging, there are no sidewalks and I don’t love the neighborhoods next to us, so I chose to go run in Cottage Hill Park. The loop at the park is just less than 2 miles and there are plenty of people out and about. I also planned on running in the neighborhoods around the park.
I started my run a few minutes before 8:00 am. I looped the park and headed out to run throughout Regency Oaks neighborhood. During my run, I saw several runners on the road. I felt very safe. People were out in their yards and driving up and down the street (this is a big cut-through neighborhood). I remember passing a woman, who was also running, and nodding to her as I headed back toward the park.
By the time I was near the park, I still wanted to run another 2 miles or so. I decided to turn into the Sutton Place neighborhood. I don’t know the neighborhood well, but did know it would be close to the perfect mileage for the end of my run.
All of the sudden I heard very heavy footsteps behind me (probably 25-35 feet or so from me). When I glanced over my shoulder, I saw a large man running towards me. My runner’s instinct was to step to the side and out of the way, in case he was doing sprints and I was in his way. I quickly realized that he was running AT ME, because when I stepped of the sidewalk and into the street, he did too.
He caught up to me and put his arms around me as I screamed, “HELP, HELP, HELP!” at the top of my lungs. I wiggled and tried to elbow him. He rubbed his hands all over my body including my breasts, grabbing my left breast hard two or three times. He smiled the entire time and never said a word before he took off running. It all happened so fast. I don’t think he groped me down there, as I think I would have remembered. I do distinctly remember the breasts – it was forceful and violent. I think any other private area would have felt the same.
I immediately started shaking and sobbing as I pulled out my phone to call 911. I was able to give the address of my location, using the mailboxes all around. I struggled to get the words out. Luckily two women, who weren’t running together, were finishing up their runs and heading home into the neighborhood when they spotted me.
One of the women was the runner I passed earlier during my run. She immediately said, ”He was the large, black man. I saw him following you.” I knew he had on a red Alabama hoodie sweatshirt on and I couldn’t really tell what kind of pants they were. She told me they were jeans. That is why she thought it was odd. Runners don’t run in jeans. She said he was good distance behind me (which is why I couldn’t hear him) but she knew something just wasn’t right. She also noticed a black car that was left running and parked off to the side in the neighborhood behind some bushes. She had a bad feeling, turned around, and saw that the man was heading back towards her. She ran back out on a main road and assumed the guy was leaving. Turns out, he must have known some sort of cut through (by foot, not car) to get to the other street where I was. I honestly don’t think he was on the main road that I was on. I’m not sure he could’ve run that far, that fast, or that long. I truly think he cut through the neighborhood and saw me again.
The police arrived in five minutes. There were three or four of them and several others out patrolling the area looking for the man. My dad arrived and drove around too. Another male that came by on his bike went looking too. Unfortunately, no one ever found my abuser or his car. The police mentioned my case is similar to two others where a male groped and grabbed a woman without raping her.
After returning home, I found out the neighborhood where the assault took place has security cameras. I received an email from the lady who helped me, letting me know that my assailant was caught on camera. Having the images from the video makes me optimistic that he will be caught. Additionally, the local news ran my story in hopes of helping to find my attacker. If they catch him, I will have to testify against him for sexual assault.
My stepmom took me back to my car later and I told her this man wasn’t going to take away my love. I had to finish the 1.8 miles I originally set out to complete. I HAD TO FINISH THAT RUN. I looped the park, adrenaline pumping and senses heightened. Running should be my empowerment, not a fear. This jerk won’t take running from me.
I hope the police catch him. I am thankful for their quick response and their help today. I am also so incredibly thankful for the other runner. She saw so much that I missed and was so kind to stay with me and take time out of her day to deal with the police.
1. ALWAYS CARRY YOUR PHONE. I don’t care if you don’t like a belt. I don’t care if you know your neighborhood. I don’t care if you feel safe. Having your phone ensures you can get help right away.
2. TAKE A SELF DEFENSE CLASS. We all should know how to protect ourselves from an assault. End of story.
3. CARRY MACE. Mine was in my car. I will admit, I would not have been able to get it out fast enough to do anything as the incident happened too quickly, but it’s worth the gamble to have it.
4. RUN WITH A GROUP (or pair). It’s funny, I was going to ask my girlfriends husband to run with me today, but he runs a bit faster than my plan called for, so I didn’t. Not to mention, it’s hard when you are out of town to find someone. I think I will be on the treadmill or finding a new partner in Atlanta soon.
5. MAKE SURE SOMEONE KNOWS WHERE YOU ARE GOING. My dad knew where I was, thank goodness. From now on, I think it will be better off to leave an actual route.
6. NO MUSIC OR ONE EARBUD. I failed here. Both of mine were in. I am usually really good in Atlanta about this, but took my comfort level for granted. Don’t get me wrong – the music wasn’t loud. I easily heard him coming, but I am still beating myself up a bit.
7. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. I feel I failed here too. Runners tend to get in the zone. Get lost in our thoughts, especially on a good run. I should have turned around more. Looked around more.
8. CHANGE YOUR ROUTE UP AND THE TIME YOU RUN. This wasn’t an issue for me, but something to think about. If you run the same streets, the same time of day, someone will notice – ESPECIALLY a creeper. Change it up. If you feel like you are being followed or watched, get to a main street.
9. WATCH WHAT YOU POST. Again, this wasn’t an issue for me, though I think about it. If you post every single detail of your runs on dailymile, or your garmin data isn’t private, people can see what you do. Be vague.
10. TRUST YOUR GUT. I felt safe this time. However, the other runner knew something was wrong. She just had an off feeling – and she was right. If you feel unsafe, if something feels off, you are probably right.
Stay Safe Everyone!