Go Slower

Running along the South Bank in London a few years ago, I caught and passed a male runner. He shouted “bitch!” at me as I ran past and tried to sprint to keep up. I can be hot-headed and so while I primarily felt angry and astonished, it was also frightening.

It’s not in my nature to care too much about what other runners around me are doing because the primary person I’m interested in beating has always been myself. I’m competitive, but running is deeply personal for me. The main competition are the numbers on the watch on my wrist.

I was unaware that these other people existed. I was very aware of the agony of nearing the end of a summertime 10k.

A few months ago, I caught up to and almost passed another male runner near where I live. Upon seeing me, he stepped in front of me to cut me off and began a sprint which, ironically, was about the same pace as I was running to begin with. He ended up calling me a “bitch” and a “twat” and to “go fuck myself”.

This morning was hot and so I planned a fairly easy run: 3.5km out along the river, 3.5km back. On a narrow stretch I passed a group of 50-somethings walking. I scooted to the side of the slim path and so did they, and I said the usual “sorry, scuse me, cheers” things you say when everyone makes way for each other. I turned around about five minutes later to head home. Before the path widened again, I came across the same group.

“Sorry, excuse me, ” I said again. They didn’t hear me so I had to say it twice. The men turned around and glared at me. “Go slower!” one of them shouted.

And it wouldn’t be so astonishing and maddening if it didn’t keep fucking happening.

The last time a man actually told me to slow down, I was almost six months pregnant and we were in a swimming pool. I had passed him a few times and this appeared to make him very angry. He stopped me in the water and screamed at me, claiming I was “racing up and down!” and ruining his swim. I had literally never swum slower in my life. I was six months pregnant. I was tired and huge and uncomfortable. But I was too fast for him, a man, who wanted a pregnant woman to be slower than him.

I held the New Zealand 200m breaststroke national record for four years. Swimming paid for my education. No, nasty old man. I won’t compromise my already slow, pregnant workout to make it even slower for you, to pad your ego, to make you feel less like a loser.

“Go slower.” An instruction. A demand. A demand made of a younger woman by an older man this morning, to whom she’d been polite twice. “Go slower.” An aggressive demand that encapsulates years of male entitlement and insecurity. “Do this, because I said so. Because I’m insecure. Because I’m an entitled prick and you’re a woman on your own doing something for yourself, that I can’t do. Go slower, because strong athletic women intimidate me. Go slower, because I think I should own the world and you shouldn’t have the right to go for an easy morning run in the world that I should own. Go slower, because I can’t do that and it makes me feel weird. Go slower because I said so.”

Women’s sport is being shat on from a high height right now by people who think we should all go slower. The Women’s World Cup was a painful reminder of how many men are threatened by strong female athletes to the degree that they have to publicly tear down and dismiss every game, every player and every fan. One in eight men apparently believe they could score a point against Serena Williams. About the same ratio of men I come across seem to believe I should acquiesce to their dominance, their superiority, their desire not to be threatened. I am a hobby club runner who was absolutely running “slowly” by my standards when I came across this man but it wasn’t slow enough.

He’d be pleased to know that I was irritated enough for this to turn into 4:30 per km pace for the rest of the run. I’ll think of him for a while, usually at the end of an anaerobic session or a tempo run where it really starts to hurt and I want to stop. I want to ease off, stop the watch, have a break and recollect myself, when the burn really sets in. I’ll think of him when I want to go slower. And I’ll keep on bloody running.

14 thoughts on “Go Slower”

  1. Darn good writing — and he and all the others are (to use typical English understatement) — J-E-R-K-S!

    Keep up the pace!

  2. I would like to hear the rationalization that the men involved would use to explain their side of the story.

  3. There are always going to be people like that. And it’s not just men. It’s a jealousy of excellence and they’ll try to drag down anyone they deem close to them on the pecking order. The women don’t yell it out at you but they aim to shame and sabotage just the same. Just go on with your bad and know millions more are proud of you.

    1. That’s a bit of an AllPeopleSuck kind of response to an article posted specifically to discuss the patriarchal society issues that women have. Yes, jealousy is not relegated to a single gender, and it is a HUGE topic; this article tackles one, extremely timely and toxic part of it

  4. Thank you for speaking up! Hopefully your post will lead at least a few men to question themselves.

  5. Keep going. The world is full of assholes and sadly this is just a reminder of that. Run you heart out. I’m with you.

  6. I’m not surprised that some men are unnerved by faster women, but actually yelling out “Go slower!” is so absurd. I mean really, what would they even say if you asked “Why?”

  7. Sadly, I’m no longer shocked, but I’m still saddened. My strong wife and strong daughter and nieces should not have to make any allowances for the pathetic inadequacies of weak and entitled men. Sod ’em. Be you. Be equals and betters.

  8. As a male who has never experienced abuse while running, I am quite shocked and surprised to read this. But I also cycle and have become used to random insults being shouted at me by people, nearly always male, and usually in their metal cocoon prisons.
    I’m no psychologist but my guess is that they are expressing frustration that they aren’t able to enjoy (for whatever reason) the freedom and exhilaration they see us enjoying while running, cycling etc.
    Btw my standard response to the abusers is to give a wave of apology/thanks or, if I’m having a bad day, an open-handed WTF gesture. Never be abusive back- life’s too short.

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