By Leda McDaniel
In most running circles, showing up for a group run with the newest GPS watch or body metrics tracking device (e.g., Aura ring, Whoop band, etc.) will usually lead to some, “ooohs” and “aaaahs,” and maybe even a little bit of envy from other runners. Though information like running pace, sleep quality, and recovery metrics (e.g., HRV) can be helpful in designing an individualized training plan for runners, there may be some hidden downsides to adopting every shiny new piece of technology. For example, posting running routes on Strava for some individuals has led to harassment and comparisons with other runners’ training frequency or volume could lead to overtraining practices. There are also issues with excessive social media use such as following elite runners’ practices and seeing their pictures could lead to negative or unrealistic pressures to look a certain way or attain certain performance metrics.
In Episode #37 of the More Than Miles Podcast, physical therapists Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards and Dr. Kacy Seynders share some possible negatives of social media use, examples of harassment that female runners face, and tips to improve safety while running. First, they talk about their own experiences being harassed as female runners and some of the lessons that they have learned from these. They also discuss just how prevalent harassment is for female runners and some ideas to improve safety and reduce the chance of harassment while running. In some of these examples, the use of social media, fitness tracking apps (e.g., Strava), and other running technology are involved and so they address how to interact with these platforms in healthy ways.
How common is harassment among female runners?
It may surprise you (or not) how common sexual harassment is among female runners. Some statistics from a 2021 survey from Runner’s World Magazine report:
60% of women have been harassed while running
25% of women report regular or repeated sexual harassment while running
The survey also reports on the types of harassment that females report and the most common type (at 74% of all of harassment) is sexual harassment. See figure below for other categories:
These statistics are not pleasant findings on their own, but further survey results elucidate just how devastating this could be for female runners:
80% of those who had been harassed changed their running habits
20% of those harassed reduced the amount they ran or stopped running altogether
Only 13% of female runners say they have never feared for their safety when running
The numbers above are sobering indeed and very sad considering the value that most women find in running consistently for overall physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Also, an unfortunate truth that emerged from this survey data was that 90% of these women reporting harassment said that the harassment came from men. As stated in a Runner’s World 2021 article discussing these findings, “The fear women feel on the run is real and pervasive.” From Dr. Kate and Dr. Kacy’s perspective, there is a real need to build awareness of how to be safe when running but this should be tempered so that it does not just increase fear of running or cause women to quit running altogether!
In addition to these concerns, anecdotal stories from professional female runners regarding harassment have been making headlines. For example, professional runner Molly Seidal recently stopped making her training runs on Strava (a well-used fitness tracking app) public because she was faced with what she calls, “safety issues,” and felt that certain followers of hers had overstepped boundaries for what she was comfortable with sharing. Seidel says that some of her actions to feel safer were making her Strava runs private and being more selective on what she chooses to post on Strava and other social media outlets.
It should come as no surprise that women who are harassed may feel less safe in future runs. Being the victim of harassment on runs or even just experiencing the anxiety and fear of future harassment could be detrimental to running enjoyment but also could negatively impact performance. In the More Than Miles Podcast episode, Dr. Kate says, “Safety is a basic need that we need to have covered and if you don’t feel that way there’s no way that you can perform at a high level!”
Dr. Kate and Dr. Kacy also discuss some factors that can help improve safety for female runners. These include:
Running during daylight hours
Running different routes instead of the same route every day
Using the, “buddy system,” of running with another person or informing another person of your planned route and time of your run and when you return
Carrying pepper spray or other self-defense tool
Taking your phone with you on outside run
Runners could carry a phone or safety device in a shorts pocket, sports bra pocket, or minimal fanny pack or running belt (e.g., female owned company: “Spi Belt”)
Not surprisingly, some of these suggestions are similar to reported behavior changes from runners who had experienced harassment in the 2021 Runner’s World Survey (See Figure Below):
Later in the podcast episode, Dr. Kate and Dr. Kacy talk about how to interact with Strava and social media platforms in healthy ways. They bring up some of the issues that arise with social media, their own running, and the runners that they regularly work with in physical therapy.
From their perspective, social media can be detrimental if it fosters negative comparisons with other runners or leads to unrealistic expectations for body aesthetics or racing times. Dr. Kate puts it this way, “You’re looking at these other athletes that are similar to you in a lot of ways in what you are doing. But what you don’t see from Strava is how much stress do they have in their life? How much sleep are they getting? What are they eating?”
In a 2022 article in Outside magazine, Molly Seidal also brought up potential negatives from social media use or Strava use such as being overcompetitive with other runners, feeling anxiety or performance pressure from comparisons, and the potential to, “glorify overtraining.” As Dr. Kacy says about Strava and social media posts, “It’s important to take everything in context and not just ‘check the highlight reel’.”
I hope you have found some of this information useful regarding ways to increase safety and awareness during your runs. For more tips on runner safety and healthy ways to engage with social media and Strava, check out the full podcast episode: