Sign in / Join
1521

Women find the courage to run again after brutal attacks

Kelly Herron runs the Blooms to Brews half marathon in April 2016 with her mother, Nancy Herron.

I’m a man and I run. I occasionally worry about dogs and cars. That’s it. For a woman, it’s different.

"Women have to deal with something that most men just don’t," says Brian Pinero, vice president of victim services at Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Street harassment is a pervasive reality for women. He said 65 percent of women experience it in the U.S.

A 2016 survey of 2,533 women and 2,137 men published in Runner’s World found that 43 percent of women were harassed while running, whereas only 4 percent of men were.

Pinero said the level of harassment is an added challenge for women who are deciding whether to start running. Now imagine the fear of returning to running after having been brutally attacked during a run?

Runner Kelly Herron, who had been training for a June marathon, began running again shortly after her attack in Golden Gardens Park in Seattle.

In March, the 37-year-old runner took a restroom break and was viciously attacked by a registered sex offender hiding in a stall. Herron had attended a self-defense class offered by her company a few weeks earlier, and used all that she learned to fight off the man. With the help of a passer-by, they locked the assailant in a bathroom stall until police arrived.

Kelly Herron shared this photo collage on Instagram in the days following her attack. It received more than 39,000 likes and more than 3,700 comments. The lower lefthand photo is a screenshot from her GPS of the public restroom building. The red lines show where Herron was during the attack.

"Two days after the attack I met with a local women’s running group, and it was very supportive and encouraging," Herron said. "They made Chuck Norris jokes about me, and it helped." Herron then used Facebook to find a running group that matched her desired pace and distance.

Herron says she loves running because it gives her a chance to think about the things she appreciates in life. "It’s meditative," she said.

But it’s been different since the attack.

"I’m not yet back in my Zen." said Herron, who is in therapy to help deal with the trauma of the attack. She hopes that once she crosses the finish line in June, "this is going to mostly go away."

But for now, she’s focused on controlling her fear.

"I had an amazing 8-mile run with my mom 10 days after the attack," she said. "That’s when I felt like I was starting to heal."

She just recently finished her first run alone since the March 5 attack.

"I was looking over my shoulder every 20 seconds," said Herron, who now carries a Kubotan, a hard, blunt instrument the size of a marker pen designed for striking. She also is considering taking more self-defense classes.

Pinero said that whatever you need to do to reassert some control after an attack, you do it.

"The victim needs to know what their options are and what they can do to minimize the loss of control they feel," he said, adding that society needs to do a better job of letting potential perpetrators know this is egregious, unacceptable behavior.

"Your normalcy has changed, and how you cope is for you to decide," Pinero said. If a weapon or self-defense training helps, that’s fine.

Sometimes, the answer has four legs. It’s what got Lisa Carroll of Monroe, N.C., back outside.

After she was brutally attacked while running near her home in 2006, Carroll’s husband, a police officer, bought her a treadmill so that she could run indoors.

But she missed the outdoors.

Carroll ended up cutting her hair really short — her attacker had dragged her by her ponytail — and adopting a pit bull-mastiff mix. The "big, intimidating dog" became her running partner for the next 10 years. She said her dog’s presence did not initially take away all of her fear.

"The attack was on my usual route," she said. "The first few times I went through that area it was really hard. The dog wasn’t a magic bullet." She also began taking self-defense classes, studying Krav Maga and Brazilian jiujitsu to be able to better defend herself.

When her first dog died, Carroll immediately got another big dog. She said she won’t run without one.

Pinero said dealing with an attack is a "long-term approach."

"It’s about getting to the point where you’re most comfortable," he said.

"People can’t tell you how to do it," Pinero said. "You do what you must to feel safe."

For some, it means talking to a therapist, running with a group of friends or a dog, taking self-defense classes, carrying a weapon, or even buying a treadmill and running indoors.

James Fell is a freelance writer and certified strength and conditioning specialist.

RELATED STORIES:

These are the most (and least) stressed states in the U.S.

Vinyl is back in a big way. Now get the right turntable.

Expert advice on buying a pro-style oven