A blog by runners. For runners.

Running in a place where no one ‘gets’ running

the lone runner: running in a place where no one gets runningJust as I decided to train for my first marathon, I moved from Vancouver, Canada (where running is more popular than walking) to a tiny little town called Maastricht in the Netherlands (where running is something you do to hide from the rain in a bar).

Needless to say, it was an adjustment. Every time I stepped out the door I would be stared at – or worse, commented at – not to mention nearly mowed down by cyclists and drivers before I figured out all the rules of the road. However, in the end I ran an awesome first marathon and in the process collected a set of skills that enable me to run more comfortably in places where running hasn’t quite hit its stride yet.

Here are some ways to run in a city that doesn’t quite “get” runners:

Run during the day
People who might try to make unwanted contact with you will usually hesitate in the presence of others. In any city, but especially in a smaller town, mornings and evenings are going to be the most deserted times of the day – and therefore the least safe. Try to run no earlier than 7 a.m. and no later than 8 p.m. to give yourself a safety net of people on the streets whenever possible. I often had to run in quite empty areas (simply because the town was too small to run within its limits), but I found that the closer I ran to early mornings or dusky evenings, the scarier it got.

Run on the inside edge of the sidewalk, and turn down your music
I hate to say it, but as a lone runner in a city unaccustomed to it (especially as a woman), you are bound to get some unwanted attention, and sometimes, though not often, people will not stop at staring or commenting. This only happened to me a couple of times during my lengthy training sessions, but I did get some people reaching out to touch me as I was running along an empty road. Scary! The best way to prevent it is to always be aware of your environment (thus, turn off your music if you feel that the road is too empty or the environment hostile) and try to block off as much personal space as possible. This often means running on the inside edge of the sidewalk, away from bicycle paths and cars, and with only one side exposed to other pedestrians.

Learn the rules of the road, and keep a careful eye out for hazards
You should of course be extra vigilant when running in a place where the drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are not used to having runners around. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so give cars the right of way, run around pedestrians rather than expecting them to move out of the way for you, and steer clear of cyclists, moms with strollers, and anything else that might not know how to deal with a runner!

Always take your phone
It’s always a good idea to have a way to contact the rest of the world with you, but especially in a place where running is not a norm. If you should for any reason get into trouble, or get lost, or just need to call a cab to get home – it may prove difficult to solicit help from others, because they may be distrustful of your motives (as strange as that may sound). Take your phone with you so you can phone a friend for help if necessary.

Run with a friend (if possible)
Even better than phoning a friend – take a friend! Running together can alleviate a ton of the stresses of running in a runner-unfriendly place, and it can boost your friendship as well by giving you this unique challenge to bond over as well.

Be flexible in your routes
Be prepared to change your plans if a route you had selected turns out to be particularly deserted that day, or crowded with people, or the set of an immersive theater show – whatever the case may be, a city that’s not used to runners will be even less able to dealing with a runner in a special-event situation. Best avoid any issues by simply taking another route.

Be kind
It’s tempting to get annoyed at people who stare, point, or make comments as you’re running past. But it will only stress you out more to be angry. Instead, try to be understanding. Know that this behavior will likely catch on in a few years, but at the moment, it’s something unique and people are still learning how to deal with it. If you think about it, if you’d never seen it before, running would be quite a strange activity, wouldn’t it? So as annoying as it may be, just try to smile, run on past, and put it behind you – and enjoy not having to compete with other runners for share of the sidewalk.

Being only one of a few runners in a city doesn’t have to be scary or stressful – as long as you’re prepared to deal with some surprise and attention. But think of it this way – you are helping to pioneer the joy of running in this town, and when it catches on in a few years, you can say you were one of the first to run there. Don’t let it stop you!

Written by Varia Makagonova.