Runner Dorothy Beal: 'I Wish I Didn’t Have To Explain Harassment To My Daughter'

WH is teaming up with Runner’s World, Hoka One One, and Garmin to create the Runner Alliance, an expert-backed campaign to make running safer for women. This article is part of that initiative.

I was pushing my three children in my new triple running stroller when I saw a car heading towards us. It was the start of summer break and the beginning of another marathon training cycle back in 2012.

The man driving was waving his arms and yelling. A girl sat next to him in the passenger seat, seemingly unfazed by his outburst. I was confused; was he upset with me or her?

As he pulled beside me on the opposite side of the road, I realized he was screaming at me. His exact words became a blur as I felt my body go into fight-or-flight mode. As I was running away with my children, I heard him yell out that I was a “f***ing bitch.”

My knee-jerk reaction—one I would later regret—was to flip him off. What I heard next were tires screeching as he whipped his car around in the middle of the road to come after me. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, one I have played repeatedly over in my head, questioning what I should have done differently.

Thankfully, we got away from him and I called the cops and gave them his license plate number. The police later called me back to tell me that they couldn’t disclose where in my neighborhood he lived but that if they were me, they would avoid running on a certain list of streets going forward, just in case. They also told me that I could press charges if I wanted to, but because I had admitted that I’d flipped him off, he could twist that in court and make it look like I was aggressive.

The man called the police station repeatedly for some time in an attempt to get me banned from running in my town. The whole ordeal was completely insane, and even though it was seven years ago, it forever changed my sense of security.

It wasn’t the only reason my family decided to move from our old house, but it definitely played a part. We moved to a new town where I had access to a nearly 45-mile trail where I could, for the most part, run a good distance away from cars.

I consider myself lucky that we were all just rattled that day—it could’ve been a lot worse. I’m also lucky that, because it happened when my children were very little, they don’t remember the experience. Unfortunately, others have occurred that they will remember, particularly my daughter.

Earlier this summer, my daughter and I were walking on the trail after finishing a run, and a man on a bicycle rode by and made a disgusting comment about our bodies. My daughter, confused, turned to me and asked, “What did he say?” Not knowing how to respond to her, I simply said, “Ignore people like that.”

Later that week, I told my husband the story, and he pressed me to talk with her. “She needs you to tell her how to deal with a situation like this when it happens again, because it will happen again,” he said. He was right. There was never going to be a good time to explain to my daughter that some people will harass her for simply existing, that some may attempt to take it further, and that she shouldn’t provoke people like this and needs to know how to get away safely.

Weeks later, while away on vacation, my daughter joined me on a longer training run by riding her bike next to me. We were halfway through when a group of guys in a Jeep with the top down started yelling obscene stuff at us. I used that opportunity to explain to her the best that I could that, while I wish this wasn’t the way the world was, and that I hope one day in the future it will change, for now this is what it is and she needs to be prepared.

I wish I didn’t have to have that conversation with her. I want to live in a world where women, men, girls, and boys feel comfortable and safe running outside.

But until then, the best thing I can do is be an example and show my daughter that, while there are people out there with bad intentions, she can still run. She must be vigilant, but she doesn’t have to let people like that stop her.

Dorothy Beal is the founder of I Have A Runner’s Body and I Run This Body.

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