Runner attacked in Rock Creek Park: One woman’s response

Sometimes, when I run, I imagine myself being attacked.

My beloved Rock Creek Park, which I choose to believe CAN be a safe place for women runners.

My beloved Rock Creek Park, which I choose to believe CAN be a safe place for women runners.

Let me rephrase that: I imagine someone attempting to attack me, because this daydream doesn’t end well for my attacker. Once provoked, I proceed to beat the crap out of the guy, using a trick I learned in a self-defense class in college: Poking a man in the eye with a pen or pencil is more effective than almost any other form of injury. Why? Aside from the obvious (ouch!), when identifying him later, it’s easy to say, “He’s the one with the missing eye.”

But back to this crazy, elaborate daydream, which goes as far as me being interviewed by local news organizations about what it took to kill a man (“I’m just glad I had a pencil with me,” I tell them breezily). The daydream floats into my head when I’m running somewhere I shouldn’t: an unlit neighborhood at night, or Rock Creek Park alone pretty much any time of day. I was reminded of just how dangerous the latter venture is by the news earlier this week that a woman was attacked and sexually assaulted while running in Rock Creek Park at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

When I was living in Gainesville, Fla., writing for The Gainesville Sun, we ran a series of stories about a similar attack and sexual assault on a female runner. Of course, we ran safety tips for women runners — run in a group, tell someone where you’re going, etc. But in talking to other women runners in the newsroom, we agreed: Sometimes, even if it’s dark, even if no one’s home to tell where you’re going, you just run, anyway.

I also learned I wasn’t the only woman runner to harbor fantasies of attacking an attacker while running. Though we got some strange looks from male co-workers, we shared our weird imaginings (one runner pictured escape routes wherever she went, and imagined out-running whoever approached her) — and realized this is probably a pretty healthy habit.

For all the safety tips I don’t follow, I do one big thing right: I am not only aware, but hyper-aware, eying all possible predators warily, using accidental eye-contact as an opportunity to give them a look that says: “I will f— you up.”

Of course, this is not enough, and I’ve compiled a whole bunch of self-defense tips for women runners in today’s post. I tried to stick to tips that go beyond the obvious “don’t run alone” and “don’t run with headphones,” though those are important reminders, too. One of my favorites is the suggestion to run with ID, so rescuers can locate loved ones if you are injured. I don’t do this now, but I certainly will.

Bottom line: It’s a scary world out there for women, but cowering in our homes isn’t going to make it any safer. What will: Being alert and prepared, whether we’reΒ  running the trails or parking our car in an empty garage.


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11 responses to “Runner attacked in Rock Creek Park: One woman’s response

  1. This is really terrible. I heard about the following story from one of my runners about a similar assault in Vienna, VA – just fyi for everyone – be safe!

  2. Thanks for posting the list in the Examiner. It is really helpful, especially for heavily populated areas, and especially in the summer when we think: “hey, it’s dark but its still warm out, I’m going to head out for a run!”

    I am lucky enough to live in one of the safest places in the US, but I know it’s still important to be aware of my surroundings. You just never know…

  3. Amy, thanks for posting this. I am such a chicken that I’m even afraid to run in my super safe neighborhood at 6 in the morning unless I have friends who are out and about at the same time. The weekend after the 9-11 attacks, we learned another ‘cool’ way to kill someone. Roll up a magazine and hit their temple with the end of it as hard as you can. Not that you’ll have a magazine on hand during the run, but you never know when you’ll need it πŸ™‚

  4. trialsoftraining

    I’ve thought about this a lot more recently – moving into the city and hitting these streets. I love doing my group runs and staying around the Smithsonian area, but don’t know what it is about that that makes me think it still won’t happen. I’m a little weary of Rock Creek park..hmmm……

    Thanks for posting this though – it’s definitely something that we probably don’t dwell on as often as we should. Sadly.

    btw – great post for Rebecca’s blog πŸ™‚ good stuff!

  5. I had heard about the attack and am now more aware of my surroundings when running alone. I just ordered a Road ID… just in case it’s needed. Your tips on the Examiner are wonderful and hopefully I won’t have to put them into use anytime soon. Great post πŸ™‚

  6. Good list. I don’t run the trails around here because a woman was raped during rush hour mere feet from the trail in Rosslyn years ago when I lived in that area. I’ve never been able to get past that, so I do all of my running on neighborhood streets. Even so, there have been times when I’ve felt the need to do a little speedwork and head for a major road when I’ve met some unsavory characters.

    I always run with my cell phone, an id and a few dollars, just in case. And, fwiw, keys are also an excellent weapon if you don’t have a pencil handy…

  7. This topic scares the you-know-what out of me. My biggest fear is being sexually assaulted and that fear keeps me from running in some of my favorite places. The fact that one woman had to go through my nightmare is just terrible.

    I listen to the tips and I follow them as needed. When running in a place that is the least bit sketchy I carry pepper spray in one hand and a phone in the either… and stay super alert! Other than that I do not ever run in an area that isn’t busy with lots of watching eyes.

    I might be super-paranoid but it works for me πŸ™‚ I’m going to check out your other post now!

  8. It’s so sad that our world is like this. As a male, I don’t often think about this for myself, but I have thought about it when I see women running alone in the reservoir. I observe the keys in their hand and wish there was some signal I could use to say, “no threat here, just a fellow runner,” but I am in fact, a stranger, so I understand when they don’t smile or wave back. I too have daydreamed about stopping an attacker-of stepping in and pummeling an attacker. I am pretty sure adrenaline and anger would kick in if I were to witness. I hope this never EVER comes to pass.

    Running in pairs is good advice as is hyper-awareness. I too, run with a cell phone and it doubles as a GPS so I don’t need a Garmin. I feel better about it in the woods too, if I turn an ankle

    Be well and be safe. Lets make our daydreams about PRs and happy race finishes, but practice safe and sound running practices!

  9. As a tri-athlete and founder of a women’s safety & self-defense education company, I think this post is bringing to light what so many of us think about. I’m a big fan of awareness, but not hyper-awareness. That turns into paranoia, which essentially is worry without an action plan. Read a book by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear to help understand intuitive warnings of danger. And learn to fight back! You have great resources in D.C. like

  10. my dad was attacked (while leaving work) last christmas and ever since then i have been super chicken to run in the dark. i also tend to have mostly negative thoughts about the people i see while i am out running, but it’s hard to trust people when you have experienced evil first hand. i do wave or say hi to most of the people except the ones that weird me out.

    if i am in a new, unfamiliar area i run with mace. unfortunately i have to run alone a lot of the time, but i try to keep it to decent neighborhoods or sidewalked streets where there are people and business to shout to for help.

    i’ve had a road id for a few years now. thankfully, i haven’t needed it yet but it’s nice to know it’s there. it’s sad we have to fear going out to run (to an extent) but hopefully we will all continue to be safe!

  11. Tammy Sorenson

    There have been some runners attacked this past summer in my city. I always run with a partner and a big dog. You can check out how safe your neighborhood is at :

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