iRunFar’s Trail Running and Safety Survey Discussion

Trail running has many common denominators for women and men, but safety concerns, safety behaviors, and experiences of harassment are not any of them. Before iRunFar’s Trail Running and Safety Survey, I’d never really thought about how my preparations for a trail run are different than my male buddies. I’d never thought about how my concerns and experiences are different either. But they are.

The results of iRunFar’s Trail Running and Safety Survey showed that female trail runners:

  • Are more concerned about human hazards than males;
  • Change their behavior to help maintain their safety from perceived human hazards more than males; and
  • Experience verbal harassment and inappropriate behavior more than males.

To learn more, you can look back at the original survey and in-depth results of it in this long-form article.

If Ya’ Don’t Know, Now Ya’ Do!

I’m pretty sure my male trail running friends, like me, have never really thought about the profound impact these differences have. These guys are marvelously considerate to the runners in our group. They are consistently inclusive to both women and men, and, they care about the safety of female trail runners in our community. But just like I’ve never asked myself the question, How exactly would heading out for this run be different if I were a guy?, I don’t think they’ve spent time putting themselves in a female runners’ trail shoes. Because if we all had, we might have identified this as a problem that needs a solution, and we might have already done something about it. Now that we have the results of this survey and that we are asking ourselves these hard questions, I’m hoping we will now take action.

So, how can we make trail safety a common denominator for women and men?

Transforming the Trail Experience

I have a few suggestions for decreasing verbal harassment and inappropriate behavior on the trails. We can use them as a jumping-off point for our discussion.

Female trail runners are five times as likely to be sexually propositioned while trail running than males, suffer lewd hand gestures, and receive unsolicited cautionary comments. To change this, we could use what I’d like to call the “Kilian Heuristic:” If you wouldn’t say it to Kilian Jornet, don’t say it to a female trail runner.

Let’s test this out:

“Your butt looks great in that spandex, Kilian!”
“I’m running behind you because it’s a motivating view, Kilian.”
“Those shorts would look great on my bedroom floor, Kilian.”
“That trail’s pretty technical, Kilian. Be careful, honey.”
“You’re out here all alone, Kilian? Wow.”

And the “Kilian Corollary” would be: If you hear someone say something to a female trail runner that they wouldn’t say to Kilian Jornet, speak up! People struggle when they hear or see something that seems inappropriate. They think, I didn’t know what to say. What works well is a simple, “Hey, that’s not cool!” It’s short, to the point, and not particularly antagonistic.

These Kilian rules of thumb work for a lot of offensive behaviors too:

Would I make this hand gesture simulating sex at Kilian?
Would I wolf whistle at Kilian?

Unfortunately, they can’t address all offensive behaviors. Women are four times as likely to have someone follow them on a trail run than male runners. Few humans are fast enough to actually shadow Kilian, so we can’t use, “Would I follow Kilian uninvited?” Happily, you can fall back on the Golden Rule in this case: Do unto other [trail runner]s as you would have them do unto you.

“Would I want someone trailing me?”

And, remember, just because a female trail runner doesn’t tell you or your running group she found something offensive, doesn’t mean the environment wasn’t uncomfortable for her. The survey shows female trail runners are unquestionably bothered by unsolicited comments and attention. I can’t tell you the number of times I didn’t address comments about my appearance or another woman’s appearance because I didn’t want to make waves, or I didn’t want to take the time to do it. I just wanted run. There are a whole host of reasons that a woman might not tell you a sexist or paternalistic comment made her uncomfortable or annoyed. The trail running community is amazing, but it is not postsexual. So, again, rely on the Kilian Heuristic and Corollary. They, combined with that fallback Golden Rule, will rarely let you down.

Addressing Women’s Concerns and Behaviors

Our survey also showed women feel less safe on the trails than men do. A lot of men head out the door for a trail run without thinking about the number of people using the route, reports of harassment, the ability to flee or get help, and the availability of cell-phone reception. No so for women. Women think about these factors twice as much as men do. They cancel runs due to human-safety concerns, limit their running to daylight hours, and carry weapons or defensive spray more than men do. They also seek running partners almost four times as often as men.

How does our trail running community empower our female runners in this regard?

I think the answer lies with both intentionally addressing what we now know are issues and making ourselves vulnerable to misunderstanding and rejection.

We now know many women feel unsafe running alone, and we know women seek out running partners to mitigate this concern. So invite a female trail runner to run with you. Or set up a no-drop group run, or a night run, and seek out some female runners, especially novices, to participate. Could your intentions be misinterpreted? Yup. Could the invitation possibly annoy someone who felt safe already? Sure. Would that be uncomfortable and upsetting? Yup. Risk it anyway. That’s what I (and Brené Brown) mean by making yourself vulnerable. Because the flip side of being misunderstood or rejected is actually helping to remove this barrier for the women who are affected by it.

It’s Time for a Community Discussion

My suggestions and this article are meant to start our discussion about how to transform this unbalanced aspect of our community. Maybe you disagree with them. Why? What would you suggest instead? Or in addition? We know that this problem manifests itself differently in different communities and geographies. What are the specific issues in your community? And how can they be addressed locally? A nearly miraculous 5,301 people participated in the Trail Running and Safety Survey and helped us identify the problem. We need to hear from you again to figure out solutions.

Liza Howard

is a long-time ultrarunner living in San Antonio, Texas. She divides her time between teaching for NOLS Wilderness Medicine, coaching for Sharman Ultra, directing the non-profit Band of Runners, wrangling two young kids, setting the bar low for house tidiness, staying happily married–and training for ultras. You can follow her chaos on her website.

There are 69 comments

  1. andrew

    Lisa regarding the verbal harassment and inappropriate behaviour are you saying that it is male runners doing this to female runners? I thought the issue would be male non runners harassing female runners while out and about

    1. Chris

      There have been times when i’ve picked up a “creepy guy following me” vibe from female runners when i’m at the back of the pack. I hate that they feel that way and it’s embarrassing to talk about it. Sounds like we as a community need to have that conversation to diffuse that tension. Same with comments before a run on clothing/body shape/relationship status.

      Great article. Thanks for bringing it up.

      1. Liza

        Chris, I would hate to have that feeling during a race. I don’t know how you diffuse the tension with that one with a group of strangers. Do you just address it directly? “Hey everybody, not being creepy here! Just running my pace.” Or would that make things more uncomfortable? Do you strike up a conversation about pace or race goals? Thanks for bringing this up. It’s something I’ve never thought about. (There’s so much in that file.)

        1. Jakub

          Hi Liza,

          That feeling happens outside of running too (women pull the skirt closer as I follow up the stairs, they pretend to stop and look at the phone on the street after a moment of following, etc). As uncomfortable as it is for me, I don’t think it needs addressing on its own. If women feel happy in general, it won’t occur to them to do that. So we just need to work on making them feel safer/less objectified as I think you suggest in the article. The rest will solve itself.

          Thanks for the article btw!

  2. Liza

    The survey questions didn’t specify whether the harassment or inappropriate behavior came from other runners or non-runners. The question was just whether the runner had experienced any of those behaviors on the trails. Like you, I would guess the majority of cases involve non-runners. But that’s just a guess based on my experience.

    1. Andrew

      Liza – sorry I must be misunderstanding what you say above when you talk about

      “Female trail runners are five times as likely to be sexually propositioned while trail running than males, suffer lewd hand gestures, and receive unsolicited cautionary comments. To change this, we could use what I’d like to call the “Kilian Heuristic:” If you wouldn’t say it to Kilian Jornet, don’t say it to a female trail runner.”

      To me this is implying that male runners are doing this? Is this what was found in the surveys

      Please don’t think I am criticising just trying to understand

      Thanks
      Andrew

      1. Liza

        Hi Andrew. Thanks for asking me to clarify. The survey doesn’t give us any info about the percentages of male trail runners who are doing this versus hikers/non-runners. We only know that it happens to female trial runners more than to male trail runners. We can’t conclude only non-runners are the problem from this survey. We also can’t conclude it’s only male trail runners. Certainly, I have received unsolicited cautionary comment and sexual comments from male trail runners and so have my peers. I have also been followed by male trail runners and so have many of my peers. So I do think it’s unlikely the 2000+ women who participated were only talking about non-runners. But, if your point is that it’s possible because we didn’t specifically ask, you’re right. Would you agree it’s still an issue for our community to address?

        1. Andrew

          Liza

          I totally agree it is an issue that needs to be addressed. I was only trying to understand whether the issue was from male runners to female runners or non runners to female runners. I was reading the article and read it as though the issue is male runners which surprised me.

          I run early in the mornings in a rural setting so rarely meet other runners. The other morning I was out slightly later at around 6am and on the top of a ridge and came up behind a single woman walking her dog. Two things crossed my mind – firstly how nice it is that she feels safe to walk around by herself at this time of the morning and secondly I really do not want her to be freaked out by my presence!

          I made sure I starting coughing loudly a long way back before I surprised her

          1. Liza

            That’s so great, Andrew. I do the same thing ever since I almost gave a little old lady a heart attack by coming up behind her on the trail and saying “on your left” at the last minute. But other than surprising someone, as a small woman, I don’t ever have to think about how my presence might be perceived. A conversation like this is good for helping everyone see beyond their own experience. Thanks!

        2. Steve

          Hi Liza. I think what Andrew is saying, or at least how it comes across, is that by using the Kilian association you are putting the offender through the looking Lens of a member of the trail running community. “Would you say x to Kilian” and as ambassador to our sport, it feels like the question is being framed at the reader, who by extension knows who Kilian is and should behave in a certain way- implying that perhaps he/she acts one way towards women, and another towards men while out trail running. I would think that most likely offenders probably don’t even know who Kilian is and probably aren’t out running. Even though the stats don’t go into that detail, I imagine that some runners, unfortunately, do fall into this category.

            1. Steve

              Exactly but that’s the point I am making. From the results, we do not know any kind of breakdown of the offenders. If I were to guess, I wouldn’t think that the majority of these encounters are trail runner to trail runner incidents (but that’s just my own intuition/experience).

              The main advice from the article on how to combat unwelcome behaviour seems, at least to me, to be aimed at the irunfar reader or trail runner. Using the Kilian Heuristic is like saying lets use a an obvious example of an athlete that is well respected and popular within the trail running community but is otherwise a niche athlete outside of our sport and even non-existent to any potential offender.

              I wouldn’t go as far to say that it makes the assumption that it’s a male trail runner to female trail runner problem but it certainly does imply this.

  3. Tony M.

    I’ve often thought about women being harassed while running and wondered if many road runners transitioned to trails because they may be harassed less often. Also, I’ve thought women seek out groups to run with for safety, be it all female or coed groups. Many trail runners enjoy running alone for quiet meditation. This is not so easy for women. Running with women all these years I’ve known this.
    I think another rule of thumb should be to ask ourselves, “would we like for someone to make those comments to our Wife/girlfriend, daughter, or granddaughter?”
    Thanks for this discussion Liza

    1. Liza

      Thanks, Tony! Yeah, this topic resonates more for me when I think about how my daughter Ruby will be affected by it someday. (If she decides she wants to run on trails or otherwise.)

  4. Kemper D

    Great article. Thank you for addressing this topic. It is important for men to know their commnets can be perceived as threatening even if they are trying to be funny or flirty. If you wouldn’t say these things to your mom, daughter or sister – don’t say them to a stranger.

    I hope the men that have made these type of comments think before sharing their thoughts out loud. Some things are better kept in your head and not shared with others.

    1. Lisa

      Always appreciate the sense of humor you bring to serious issues. Hopefully this will invite more men to read it and take it to heart, without feeling like they are being singled out. A year or so ago, two male hosts of a popular trail running podcast talked about the sexual themed commentary in their heads while following female runners. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who felt uncomfortable listening to the dialogue. In fact, I stopped listening to the podcast. Hopefully many men were offended as well.

    2. Liza

      I agree 100% about the mom, daughter, sister, Kemper. I also think applying the comments to a well-respected and accomplished male, like Kilian, makes the inappropriateness/ridiculousness of those kind of comments more clear-cut.

  5. Blaine Adams

    Thanks for the write up Liza. It was was a good intro to an important conversation we should all be having. For me, I am very conscious of how others feel on the trail, and try to always say hi or ask how are you doing as I pass people. When approaching anyone from behind a kind “on you left” to let them know you are not a threat goes a long way. For you who run with music, please only use one ear bud. I can’t tell you how many men and women I have frightened by passing because they could not hear me approach or call out as I was approaching.

    I’m a tattooed bearded fellow (I have this impression I look like I came straight out of Deliverance) who could look rather intimidating to women on the trail, and go out of my way to come off as safe. I completely agree with Chris’s comment above. That is a uncomfortable position for all parties.

    For one I think we should all be paying attention to everyone we encounter out there. If you see or hear something speak up. I tend to pay attention to every person I pass and make note of them with regards to how they could impact safety on the trail for anyone they would encounter. It is the responsibility of every one of us to strive and make the trails safe and welcoming for all.

  6. Leah

    Maybe this is of less relevance coming from the UK and it must already exist to some extent, but the trail running community (as well as hikers, and lots of other trail type folks in fairness) generally feels like a great safety buffer in a lot of areas where I’ve been running both alone and with others. Perhaps a step to help would be looking at local trail runners to band together as a loose knit group or network for both safety and company. (Even a little note on the sign at a trail head? “Hey, welcome! Round here we’re the Axmouth/Helston/Derwent/wherever trail runners, come say hi, find us or get in touch via…”?)
    From a personal example, when running the SW coast path I reached out to the online community associated with the area with a kind of “hey, I’m doing a thing, running solo but if you spot me come say hi”. Although I ended up only running *with* people from the community on a couple of the days, knowing that there was, if needed, a network of people who know the trails and are friendly and safe, meant that I was very, very rarely worried about human threats because even though they weren’t present that second, the fact that network exists made the trails a safe place of that makes sense? There were a few times when I bumped into some of the runners when they were out doing their own thing and we stopped to say hello and have a quick chat also added to this – it’s the sense that even if you are running alone, the likelihood is that somewhere on those trails is a friendly face, or that someone you bump into is a friend or ally even if you’ve never met before, makes even the remotest areas feel like your own friendly neighbourhood.
    For runners who want a buddy to go with it’s really helpful too – I was so glad of the company when I had it, though admittedly not so much for protection as not going a bit crazy by myself after too long haha. But if you’re living in an area it makes sense to actually build a community who watch out for each other (even if it’s just info on the state of a trail, or a “I’m based in this bit of the area if you need anything”), and invaluable to anyone new to the area – on the lighthearted end of the scale you can find out the best routes, but there’s also the chance to get a running buddy or if god forbid you do need help for whatever reason, there are people nearby who know the trails and cam help.

    1. Liza

      That’s such a good point, Leah! We’ve got a wonderful group down here in San Antonio, (Rockhoppers!) that’s easy to find on-line and does a great job bringing new trail runners into the group and helping folks who are from out of town join in on runs etc. The group is huge now, but it was just six people — two with a vision –not that long ago.

      1. Leah

        The community is what makes this sport great, and totally restores my faith in humanity :) Maybe combining the existing goodness with some of the bystander intervention stuff mentioned further down in the comments so folks know how to help in case of trouble, especially in the crossover urban/suburban/trail areas where we’re more likely to have issues. (Let’s be honest here, the absolute vast majority of the time if you see someone way out in the boonies, the chances are that it’s another trail kinda person, and if we have that network going on, that’s not going to cause alarm).
        As a side note to this though, it would mean having to actively and consciously check in and make sure that any mention of somebody *within* those safe networks of trail runners, hikers etc making someone uncomfortable are actually listened to and dealt with, in order to ensure that it truly is a safe and welcoming place to be for everybody (regardless of race, age, gender identity or otherwise).

  7. Eliot

    Great article and discussion.
    College campuses around the country are addressing similar concerns with various approaches to “bystander intervention training” that emphasize an ethic of personal responsibility, situational awareness and getting comfortable with interjecting in ways that are safe and supportive. They’re seeing lots of success helping students clear the inertia/avoidance barrier and speak up to support a safer environment.
    I see the same core ideas and a lot of similar specific suggestions echoed here. Very cool! Thanks Liza!

  8. Joel

    Wow I had no idea I should not compliment an unknown woman’s butt, or follow her closely or, your most believable example, make a ‘hand gesture simulating sex’ toward her.

    Thanks so much for this guidance. I realize some men get annoyed when they are spoken to a like an amoral child, but I don’t mind.

    I will pass this along to the rest of male society. But, let’s face facts, our toxic masculinity almost ensures we will be helpless to behave in a civilized manner. I think gender-exclusive trails may be required.

    But, less snarkily, the issue is not whether women FEEL safe but whether they ARE safe. Yes, women are less safe on trails than men and that will not change because you have successfully imposed your preferred rules about what phrases are permissible.

    Any man who thinks this kind of behavior is acceptable is hardly going to change because of your patronizing article.

    I also don’t think that other runners are the main threat. I’ve never heard of an assault on a runner from another runner. That scenario seems extremely implausible. Out for a jog and decide to tack on an assault at the end? No.

    1. Liza

      Hi Joel. I’m really sorry you thought the article was condescending and maternalistic. My goal was to open a discussion about the safety disparity. I offered some suggestions that I thought might be useful. What would you suggest to change the experience female runners have instead? How do we make things more safe? That’s what I’d like to come out of all of this. The more voices, the more ideas, the better. Your sarcasm doesn’t help bring people to the conversation. I’d love to hear what you think can be done. Please keep it civil as per irunfar’s guidelines (https://www.irunfar.com/2013/12/adding-an-irunfar-comment-policy.html) so others will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts as well.

    2. Trevor

      this guy reminds me of a tweet I saw–

      “Woman: You’re making me uncomfortable.” “Man: Oh really?? Back that up with four different citations!!”

    3. Stephen

      Saying it’s irrelevant whether women FEEL safe doesn’t make sense. If women don’t feel safe it’s A. Probably because they are actually perceiving a lack of safety and B. Dissuades them from trail running whether the perception is accurate or not. My guess though, is that if women don’t feel safe there’s a reason for it. Unless you think everyone’s instincts are just generally wrong. I wouldn’t think that’s right, but it’d be consistent at least. Finally, I think your tone is just really dismissive of this issue that is clearly a serious one and probably has a lot to do with the lack of female participation in trail running.

      1. Dan

        I’m not going to touch the comment you’re responding to, because it’s terribly dismissive.

        But I think it is worth noting that women score higher on measures of negative emotion, which can influence perceptions (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroticism ; “neuroticism” is colloquially a bad word, I’ve seen it often referred to as “negative emotion”). “People who are neurotic respond worse to stressors and are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult” and “research in large samples has shown that levels of N (neuroticism) are higher in women than men”.

        I’m not saying there isn’t a reason women feel unsafe, but if we’re going to have this discussion then everything needs to be on the table. Cross-culturally, women tend to perceive situations as threatening more strongly than men. How important a factor is this? I don’t know, but it definitely puts a bound on how far you can close the male-female difference in perceptions of safety on trails.

    4. shawn

      Wow. Not cool, bro.

      Do you really not care enough about other people to actually read and learn something?

      Seriously, go back and read the original survey results and then re-read this article. And then go discuss it with your sister, girlfiend, or other female peer who might be able to slap some sense into your patronizing self.

      And then come back here and consider apologizing to the author and the trail community for your juvenile attitude.

  9. Trevor

    Can we discuss the infusion of ‘bro dawgs’ into the sport who listen to Joe Rogan interview Dauwalter or Bitter like one time and then decide they are going to run trails now? cause you know these dudes say crap like this all the time and think its no big deal

    1. Liza

      “The infusion of ‘bro dawgs.” Sounds like some horrible medical treatment. ;) You feel like you hear a lot more inappropriate talk on the trails now than you did 5 or 10 years ago?

      1. Trevor

        I’ve only been on trails really since 2013– I just think ‘ultra’ culture is up against Joe Rogan/crossfit/Spartan/IronMan culture at times and it shows. NOT to say triathletes/OCR people are not also exceptional and cool as well (at times, ahem) BUT i think one can trace more masculine/jockish sports coming into ultrarunning, which historically has enjoyed some gender equity (but still has/had its problems of its own…

        1. Liza

          Trevor, you just gave Meghan and Bryon an idea for an article — the roots of trail and ultraunning. Nice work. We come from the mountains.

        2. Jeremy

          I don’t think we have to worry about Joe Rogan’s brazilian jiu jitsu/stoner nerd followers ruining ultrarunning. Very similar culture from my exprience. BJJ folks are the nicest people i’ve ever met (along with ultra runners), and apprieciate a lot of the same things that runners do (community and growth). I think they’d fit in just fine. Joe’s followers that don’t fit into that category probably arn’t interested in running at all. Plus even with an audience as big as he has, don’t forget that most people just aren’t into running long distances, if anything he’ll just bring more eye’s to the sport appreciating it from afar.

    2. Will

      I’ve seen a fair amount of grumbling about Joe Rogan’s budding interest in the trail and ultra scene, and I just don’t get the hate. Sure, he and his audience lean to the right of me (and probably most trail runners) politically, but he is a smart and reasonable interviewer who pushes back when against some of the more extreme guests that are sometimes on his show. If “bro dawgs” want to run an ultra after listening to Joe interview Courtney (which I thought was a great, respectful interview btw) then more power to them. Not saying “locker room talk” should be tolerated on the trails, but rather that expanding the ultra tent is a good thing. Set a good example at races, and hopefully the bro dawgs will notice and follow suit.

      1. Trevor

        I don’t disagree. While I don’t like Rogan at all and don’t mind saying so, I don’t begrudge people getting into trail & ultra– it changed my life, it can change theirs. Doesn’t mean I’m not gonna bring it up as a palatable shift (as I’m sure ultrarunners talked about in the late 2000s the ‘Born to Run’ people getting onboard) in attitudes/values in the sport– I’m making the observation this new demo is getting into ultra. Yeah I guess ‘bro dawg’ is pejorative but I mean…prove me wrong bro dawgs!

        I think its on the ultrarunner podcast interview with Scott Mills he asks Scott what differences he’s seen since he’s started, and Mills says (paraphrasing) you get people who are ‘running 100 miles just to be able to say they did it’. I do fold the Joe Rogan/IronMan crowd in there for now– focusing on the extrinsic accomplishment stuff, achievement rhetoric, etc just being ‘jocks’ about all of it, frankly. I think its perfectly ok to criticize these trends in favor of maintaining what is beautiful about the spirit and culture of ultrarunning; and its not ‘hate’, which would be invective– its actual critique. I am criticizing it because I have critical faculties.

  10. Shane

    I agree that there’s tension between male and female runners. I also acknowledge that there are lots of jerks in the world; however, have we crossed over into the situation that some assume ALL males are up to no good? I have sensed that females were uncomfortable with me settling in behind them so I work a little harder to get by and then they seem to think I only passed because I didn’t want to be behind a female so they sprint by me. I have two grown daughters so my feelings for females, especially younger females is paternalistic. I have waited in the parking lot to make sure young ladies made it back to their cars at dark, not to be creepy or condescending, but to make sure they were safe. Lewd comments and gestures are obviously intolerable, but please don’t assume all of the guys are up to no good. I really believe the offenders are a small percentage of the people on the trail. As an old man who is thankful to be in the woods running, I want to be able to enjoy running the 3 or 4 races/yr that I do without constantly worrying about if I should or shouldn’t say “hi” or should or shouldn’t pass. Happy running!

    1. Liza

      Shane, I’m very sorry you got “ALL males are up to no good” from my writing. The survey shows, like you said, that the instances of harassment and inappropriate behavior are small. But it is happening. And it’s happening to female trail runners more. So the question is just how to change it. I think it’s hard that part of trying to make things better can be misinterpreted like you said. I think your counsel to give people the benefit of the doubt is part of the solution. I also think some people’s life experiences make that hard to do. Thanks for your comments and thanks for looking out for others.

    2. Erika

      I think the context of “being followed” makes a big difference. I have had many times in races where a male fell in behind me for awhile and I always assumed they just liked my pace. But if I was out for a training run by myself and a stranger (male or female) tucked in behind me, I would feel very uncomfortable. It has never happened to me, maybe because the trails I train on aren’t that busy.
      If you do find yourself following someone (in a non-race environment) maybe take the opportunity to stop and adjust your laces, have some water or pick a different trail. But in a race, just say, “this is a great pace” and keep running.

  11. Kate

    It’s interesting that most of the comments here are from men. As an older woman who usually runs trails by myself, along with my cell phone (doesn’t always work) and my pepper spray, I would much rather meet a bear or moose than a man running/hiking by himself. I realize that 999 out of 1000 men are friendly and harmless, but until there is a sure way to tell who is the 1 out of 1000, I will continue to be cautious. I am friendly and will chat briefly, but will not get too close and may have my spray in hand, depending on the vibe I get. How can this be changed? I feel this is a societal problem, and the place to change these attitudes is not on the trails, but in life in general. Maybe the #metoo movement will make men more aware of women’s feelings and will help to change this, but there also needs to be changes in schools, sports in general, homes, etc.

    1. Dan

      “I would much rather meet a bear or moose than a man running/hiking by himself.”

      “I realize that 999 out of 1000 men are friendly and harmless, but until there is a sure way to tell who is the 1 out of 1000, I will continue to be cautious.”

      Having encountered tens of bears and moose on the trail, numerous times in a hair-raising standoff (and twice with a moose chase through the trees), this sounds insane.

      “I am friendly and will chat briefly, but will not get too close and may have my spray in hand, depending on the vibe I get.”

      I can firmly state that if I saw you with pepper spray at the ready, I’d act very weird – distant, not friendly, trying to ed-escalate and make an escape.

  12. Rob

    Liza great article and information. It is disappointing that woman have “significantly more negative experiences” while trail running. That really needs to change. As a community we need to do everything we can to ensure these changes happen. If you see something that is making someone uncomfortable, call it out. It can be as simple as “That is not cool”. Like Eliot shared “Bystander intervention”

    In the effort to do everything, we also need to consider our own interactions. I say that not to make anyone defensive, but to genuinely think about our own interactions. Anytime I would see anyone charging up a hill, or running well thru a technical section, I would offer encouragement “Looking good”. It was honestly meant as encouragement, and to acknowledge a great job. While it passes the “Kilian Heuristic:” and no matter how I meant it, it could be perceived differently and make someone uncomfortable, so I don’t say it anymore. Everyone deserves to enjoy their time on the trails.

  13. Ian B

    I’m consistently baffled by men who see someone calling out an issue of female safety and feel the need to assert their personal rights to not be ‘policed’ while at the same time affirming their innocence. There’s kind of a leap from being cognizant of a woman’s rights to safety and autonomy to not being allowed to say hi or be around women at all.

    As members of this community we all have a stake in each other’s safety and enjoyment. I freely admit that sometimes I’ve not been strong enough to confront this, and that is a problem. But I’m in a position to help and willing to try.

    This can’t veer into some unproductive #notallmen situation because that does in some ways make one an aggressor. Not in a creepy or violent way but culturally by denying women’s voices and prioritizing our own hurt feelings over their safety.

    There are broader societal ills, of which trail and ultra running is a relatively egalitarian microcosm. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge issues and work for a better future. In some ways it makes it all the more vital that we do.

    1. Trevor

      HARD agree with Ian — I feel salty and confrontational about the men’s behavior, whether a trailrunner or not a runner at all, not women speaking up about this nonsense! It says something about you like ‘if the shoe fits’ for men who get defensive about discussions like this. Its like people who nag women to be ‘more alert’ or ‘never get drunk’, ‘don’t wear revealing clothing’ instead of maybe we should teach boys/men to NOT harass women, period. The power relation is not symmetrical if someone calls you ‘honey’ or darling as a man or something; time to pony up and admit it!

      I don’t mind saying if you’ve worked in a blue collar job, been in the military or been inside a prison– men have EXTREME potential to be complete scumbags — especially young ones in packs! In California, government employees have to take a two hour sexual harassment training to remind everyone to NOT sexually harass one another– this stuff is real. It takes men to keep one another in check, community, decorum and education…but I digress #endofrant

      p.s. can we end the use of the phrase ‘chicked’ or ‘getting chicked’ please? it sucks

  14. Stefan

    Love the Kilian rule!
    I prefer the inverse perspective of the Golden Rule: “Don’t do to others …”
    1 in a 1,000 is disturbingly large, I lament the potential ostracism.

  15. Kristina

    It’s a spectrum too- sometimes what we hear from male runners isn’t threatening in any way, but it’s still condescending, gendered, and totally unwanted. I’m a 34 year old female who did a local trail race here in Utah a few weeks ago. The race was short, only like 7 miles or so, and yet in that timeframe I was called “Kid” by one of the event photographers, and “Skirt” and “Sis” by two separate male competitors. I’m 100% sure their intention was to encourage and cheer me on. But dudes…F off. Would you call Killian a “Skirt”?

    1. Andrew

      Skirt isn’t great.

      I went to a local shop and in the course of buying a packet of crisps was called “darling” “love” “duck” by the lady serving!

  16. TerminateTrails

    I’m a male trail runner and often encounter single women running or walking their dogs on the trails alone. On almost every occasion I feel self-conscious about being perceived as a potential threat and want to do all that I can to avoid this. The few times I have spoken to women on the trails (“hey, I love huskies too”; “I’m sorry, I’m lost”, etc) from the responses I got, I am afraid I made the women nervous.
    In general I go out of my way to let people know I’m behind them well before I approach. Out of concern to appear non-threatening on remote trails I try to avoid talking to women more than to smile, wave, or say hello. However, with male runners I sometimes will stop and introduce myself (I’ve become friends with complete strangers this way).
    So, my question is whether it is preferable to be perceived as aloof and unfriendly to female runners/hikers or to take the risk of being perceived as a threat by actually treating female trail runners as equals. In races I generally do simply treat women more or less the way I do men (share stories, encourage each other, etc.) and this seems ok, but any other time I feel like it is better to keep my distance.
    Thoughts from the female runners?

    1. Rebecca

      Paying attention to nonverbal cues will help in some of these situations. A woman (or person, really) who is avoiding eye contact may be uninterested in conversation or may just be unaware because she’s focused on pace, or that hill, or something else unrelated to a well meaning stranger on the trail. Someone who returns a smile or greeting may be more open to conversation, but their nonverbals will also give a sense of whether they’re interested in continuing a conversation.
      I suggest this as someone who has been doing research on intimate relationships, partner violence, and sexual assault for over 20 years. My suggestion is based on a lot of literature and I will be happy to provide a wealth of cites for those who would like them, but here’s the short version: many men are not as good as many women at sending or at receiving nonverbal messages. Many men tend to over interpret friendliness as sexual interest and simultaneously do not receive nonverbal signals that women are not sexually interested. That’s why exercises such as Liza’s using Kilian as an imagined substitute are good – thinking about the interaction with a man instead of a woman brings an awareness to the impact of gender in the situation and (for those who are receptive to the exercise) helps avoid miscommunication. There’s a similar set of examples for the workplace that use The Rock instead of Kilian that are pretty entertaining and also effective.

    2. Liza

      Thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. I really appreciate it when other runners greet me in a friendly way. I think, like Rebecca said, going with friendly (how’d you’d be friendly to a male runner/Kilian) and then adjusting based on the person’s response is a good way to go.

  17. Sean

    I was wondering whether I should respond to this article. It’s a hard thing to address; each of us comes with our own emotional responses to these issues. Males, especially males that are reading this and willing to respond to this article are most likely the “good guys”. As the good guys most of us wouldn’t hurt a woman and it makes us sad and uncomfortable that women feel this way. When people feel uncomfortable they become defensive. Some people assume a defensive posture on the trail when they feel uncomfortable (animal, person, snapped twig), some people assume a defensive posture when they feel uncomfortable with what they are reading or with what they are being told (maybe like this article). Even typing these lines in this open discussion I fear that a woman will respond with something like, “you’re uncomfortable, think of how I feel on the trail?!” and that’s my point I do. Most of the guys reading and willing to discuss this do think about how you, as a woman feels. It makes us act weird on the trail and during a race because we are aware, and concerned with how you might perceive our actions.

    I think for the most part it’s going to be hard to address the issue of women feeling uncomfortable on the trail. That heightened sense of fear and awareness of men on the trail is most likely part of biology. I’m not sure if that will ever change. However, I think what we can all agree on is how we address our fellow runners on the trails matters. Like I said, I doubt anyone reading this article is a person of concern; but, the way we respond when we see something inappropriate occur could likely use some addressing. It’s not easy to confront actions of another, to insert yourself in a situation that doesn’t necessarily concern you. We, as men, need to be stronger in this regard. Maybe if we are this will remove at least a little of the apprehension a solo female feels when coming across a man on the trail.

    1. Liza

      Thanks so much for commenting, Sean. I think, like you said, the work of irunfar’s readers lies with responding when we see or hear something inappropriate. And, like you said, it’s hard for anyone to insert themselves into a situation that doesn’t involve them. I’ve been thinking about how I might be more likely to step up. One suggestion I read for bystander action focused on talking with the person who is affected rather than directly confronting the person who was acting or speaking inappropriately. That said, I feel like the information from this survey will make me more comfortable speaking up. That and getting older. :)

  18. Allison

    Interesting discussion. I am a female runner, and in my experience I get FAR fewer weird comments/gestures when I run on the trails than when I run through urban/suburban areas. I also have had far fewer of these comments/gestures from fellow runners.

    What I have experienced more often from the running community is laments about being “chicked” and patronizing concern about my safety. While these incidents don’t make me feel unsafe or unwelcome, I do take them as a reminder that the running community has a little bit more evolving to do.

    Just my two cents!

    1. shawn

      I realize that the term isn’t the best, but most of us are actually trying to use it as a compliment.

      – How was your race?
      – Great! I only got chicked twice!
      That means: I had a better race than normal and might actually medal in my age group.

      Late in the race when you pass us: “Dang — chicked again!”
      That really means: “Dang. Once again women are proving that they are better at pacing than men. And once again I obviously went out too fast. When will I ever learn to run negative splits!”

      Do you have any suggestions for a better shorthand term? Since so many women are starting to win ultras outright, we obviously need to come up with something better than “the whole field got chicked”

      1. Steve

        Hi Shawn. So what you’re asking is what better word is there to express a derogatory term for a female passing you in a race? Which ever way you look at it, the fundamentals don’t change. how is it any different in saying “your butt looks great in those shorts”? The sad thing is many people think that if they believe what they are saying to be true/positive, they should be able to express it and ultimately the woman at the receiving end can’t really be offended (because a compliment is a compliment right?). I think the word you might be looking for is inappropriate.

        1. shawn

          Steve,
          My question was sincere. We all are trying to have fun out there on the trails and during races. Most of us want to be friendly, and certainly don’t want to offend anyone or make them uncomfortable. Almost any comment can be taken out of context or misunderstood. (Case in point: on an out-and-back course, I’ll often say “lookin’ good” as the race leaders come down the trail, but I don’t say that to the women because it just sounds different.) So, I’ll take the feedback from Allison and you and stop using the phrase, but I’m still looking for a better list of non-creepy or condescending days to cheer on fellow runners.

  19. Patrick

    If you ever did another survey, I’d be curious to see how many people have actually been attacked by an animal or a person while trail running. From the comments on the original article, it seemed that incidents with dogs do happen with some frequency, but not a whole lot else. I don’t mean to downplay the issue of so many runners feeling anxious, but I would suspect that we are at least somewhat safer than we’re feeling.

    As for the offensive comments and gestures, just treat other people respectfully and speak up when someone else is clearly crossing the line. And try to be patient if someone gives you a warning you don’t need; they may mean well even if they’re underestimating your abilities.

  20. Pete

    Have you compared the data in this study to that of similar studies in the general population or other environments?

    If not, characterizing the the findings of this study subjectively as “a problem that needs a solution” could be misleading to readers.

    If, for example, in the general population, women experience similar inappropriate behavior at higher rates than those reflected in the trail running community, it would seem that the behaviors practiced in the trail running community would offer solutions to making things better, rather than be characterized as a problem.

    1. Liza

      My first thought is that it seems crazy for us trail runners to shy away from talking about harassment on trails as a problem merely because things might be worse elsewhere.

      However, I agree that if rates of harassment are significantly lower for trail runners than in the general population, it absolutely seems worth considering why. Previous comments have already made reference to remoteness as a factor, but I appreciate your suggestion that there are perhaps behaviors that have an impact.

      What do you think trail runners are doing right and how do we highlight and amplify those best practices?

      1. Pete

        I don’t think I said anything about shying away from talking about it. In fact, I think honest, deep, good-faith dialogue between men and women is the #1 way to navigate and make progress wherever it is possible. That, along with having grace with one another when honest disagreements or misunderstandings take place.

        Some of the things trail runners may be doing right in relation to this are:
        -Men and women compete on the same course at the same time together…that’s awesome! It fosters a sense of camaraderie and that we’re in it together, struggles, dark times, and all. This seems pretty unique in sports.
        -In general, the sport (especially ultra running) seems to attract people who are interested in character development. Ultras virtually demand that you become a more disciplined, humble, thoughtful person. Greater character = less inappropriate behavior.

        Regarding the earlier point…yes, anyone being harassed is certainly a problem. What i am saying is that if you’re presenting the data in a group context, it needs to be presented in relation to a control group in order to make subjective judgements. So it’s possible for something to be not a problem at a group level analysis (relatively), but still desire improvement. Gratuitous sports analogy: The 2001 Mariners had a record of 116-46. without context one could say “wow, they lost 46 games…lots of room for improvement!” But in context of all of baseball, its the best record ever in like 120 years, so you wouldn’t exactly say they had a problem. And it might be something to look at with reverence, even though it was flawed and could be improved.

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