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.
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.