I’m going for a run. If I’m not back in an hour, tops, call to check on me,” I say to my roommate before walking out the door. I say it jokingly, but her and I both know there is gravity behind it. I meet up with one of my teammates for a quick stretch, and then we are off.
We start putting some distance in between us and the campus, every step taking us into unpredictable territory. Running on Point Loma Nazarene University’s track is one thing, but as cross-country athletes, we need miles of differing terrain to train at our best. For us, this means braving one of the most populous cities in America and everything that comes with it.
Mile 1: We’re approaching the 1-mile mark of our run when we reach an intersection. We stop, press the button to cross the street and wait. Something I will never understand about traffic lights is why they change even when the intersection is empty. Finally, I see the white walking figure appear, replacing the red hand. My teammate and I are just about to step off the curb when my eyes go wide as a gray Honda Civic speeds into the crosswalk. The man behind the wheel waves a hand at us and mouths he’s sorry as we go for attempt number two of crossing the street. Our heart rates are much too high for the pace we are running.
Mile 2: We’re running along the perimeter of a park when we spot a small building toward its center with a bathroom and drinking fountains. We decide to make a quick stop. I grab a drink from the fountain, then head around the corner of the building to the side that has the bathroom entrance. I stop in the doorway of the bathroom though, when I see a few of our unsheltered neighbors using the bathroom to wash up. This is not a rare occurrence, but I always like to stay mindful. Many of the members of that community cause no trouble and are kind, but mental illness and addiction are common contributors and byproducts of homelessness, so it is important to be respectful of personal space.
Mile 3: After running a couple of laps around the park, we head toward the beach so we can run along the cliffs as we make our way back to campus. We’re weaving our way through the narrow neighborhood streets when a dog barks and lunges toward us from a perpendicular alley. We jump to swerve out of the way and meet each other’s startled eyes. I can tell we are both recalling the same memories: our teammates getting pounced on by dogs (an event that has become common). I wonder if that was the same dog and why the dog wasn’t on a leash.
Mile 4: It has been long enough since our encounter with the dog that we have settled into quite a rhythm. We are making our way down the cliffs toward campus, the ocean on our right and a road on our left with cars flying by us. I hear the cars approaching, then I see them drive by. It’s a pattern: I hear a car, I see it, I hear a car, I see it. We’re almost back to the campus when I hear a car, but don’t see it drive by. I look to my left to see the black SUV going just a touch faster than we are running. I’m trying not to show my panic when the window rolls down and a man calls out, “Which one of you am I taking out on a date first?” Then, he speeds off. Is it bad that I am relieved it is just another cat call? After hearing about the woman who got kidnapped while jogging in Memphis, I have been a little more wary when a suspicious car drives by.
When I was younger, I never understood why many women always carry pepper spray, but it only took a couple of runs like that for me to become one of those women. According to a survey of college-aged women published in Madame Blue, an online magazine, nearly 73% of women carry a self-defense item of some kind, 61% owning pepper spray. While self-defense items won’t protect against speeding cars, they can help women runners (and women, in general) feel better equipped against most of the other threats they could face.
When I get back to my dorm room, my roommate tells me that she was just about to call to check on me. I thank her and tell her all about the crazy run I just had.