Sunday, November 13, 2022

Running In The Dark

Why Women Don't Like Exercising in the Winter

Zoë Sharp


At the end of October, the clocks in the UK went back, from British Summer Time (or Daylight Saving Time) to Greenwich Mean Time. The mornings are lighter as a result, yes, but by about 4:30 in the afternoon, my thoughts turn to switching on the lamps in the sitting room and lighting a cosy fire.


I’ve been on something of a health kick of late, but I try to ensure I get any outdoor exercise during daylight hours. You can wrap up well against the weather, after all.


Darkness is another matter.


As a child, I always suffered from a bit too much imagination when it came to being happy in the dark. And now, living out in the wilds with nary a sniff of a streetlamp, walking home from a late winter event in the village can still be an unnerving experience. Things scutter about in the verges as I walk past, or take flight out of the branches overhead. I’ve encountered owls, hares, and badgers, as well as sheep and cattle on both sides of the hedgerows.


But one thing I have not yet encountered is other humans.


The chances are, around here, if I meet someone else in the lanes then I probably recognise and know them. But for millions of women, living in cities, that’s not the case when they’re out, alone, at night. And so, despite the constant message that exercise is as beneficial for our mental health as it is for our physical well-being, taking up regular outdoor exercise at this time of year can be the proverbial double-edged sword.


Upping Your Winter Vitamin D

If you work in an office, then getting out, even for a short period at lunchtime, when at least it’s light, can do you the world of good. It also enables you to absorb a bit more of the Vitamin D we’re all lacking here in the UK between October and March. In fact, I use the alteration of the clocks as a reminder to double up on my Vitamin D supplement.


The easiest way to up your daily step count and get some fresh air is either to take up regular walking or running. During lockdown, it seemed that everyone I knew was taking up the Couch-to-5k challenge. Personally, I prefer to cycle rather than run, which feels kinder on the joints.


I think this is because I’ve never been much of a runner. For one thing, I’m incredibly slow, which is possibly why I learned so much self-defence – you have to stand and fight when running away with any kind of alacrity is not really an option.


And, I confess, that having learned how to protect myself does give me the confidence to go out alone in the dark, although I would never dream of doing so with earbuds in.


It’s rather a shame that we don’t hear more news items about lone women who have successfully fought off a would-be mugger or rapist, rather than those who tragically did not succeed. It all feeds into the frightened mindset that somehow it cannot be done.


Trust me – it can.


I didn’t create the character of self-defence instructor turned close-protection expert, Charlie Fox, as some kind of unrealistic superhero. She’s simply strong, determined, tuned in to her surroundings, and very well trained. And she knows how to turn almost any everyday object into a weapon, from a tube of lip balm to a rolled-up magazine.


Barrier to Running

I read a fascinating article in The Guardian recently, written by former gold medal-winning cyclist Chris Boardman. In it, he explained that he’d been trying for some time to persuade his wife to take up running. He had not realised why she was so reluctant until she finally told him her real reason for not doing so at this time of year – she simply did not feel safe.


Boardman raises the statistic that one in five women is worried about sexual harassment while out exercising, and three in ten have endured it first-hand. If I’m walking along a street at night, I don’t feel comfortable if a man is walking behind me. I will cross to the other side of the road, or stop, put my back to the wall, and pretend to be answering a text while I wait for him to go past. (I would always stop and turn my back to the wall to genuinely answer a text, rather than keep walking without being aware of my surroundings.)


Boardman’s article asks why women have to be so hyper-vigilant, when the cause of their anxiety is the male half of the population. He highlights Sports England’s This Girl Can campaign, which encourages women to take up a form of empowering exercise. They have also written some guidelines for men to help them seem less of a threat.


Because I’m sure anyone reading this is no genuine threat to a lone woman – you’re all far too nice a crowd for that. But if you’re out exercising and you come upon a woman doing the same, have you thought that you might unwittingly cause her some anxiety, just by your presence?


If you’re closing on her, slow down, or cross the road in order to overtake, rather than gaining on her and then passing close. Boardman also quotes the advice not to make comments, even if you think you’re being complimentary. Say nothing unless you get a greeting first. Then simply return it and keep going.


No consolation

There has been a whole spate, in recent years, of female victims who were murdered while out running, and whose attackers were brought to justice due to data from fitness trackers. Either their own or those being used by their killer.


Somehow, I don’t find that information very comforting, do you?


This week’s Word of the Week is accismus, from the Greek akkismos meaning coy or demure. It means a deliberate and feigned lack of interest in something which one secretly desires. It was described as both a vice and a virtue in the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1823.

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