Week 29: Your running or your life

Before I started training for the marathon last fall my life was full. I have two young kids. I teach journalism to college students. I'm writing a book. I blog. I freelance. I also do all the shopping and most of the cooking.

So when in the world am I supposed to run?

I've talked to runners who extol the virtues of running at odd hours. They dash out for a run during lunch, or right after work, or between dinner and bed time. But whenever I try to do that the run winds up getting squeezed out of my life by the need to do an interview or grade papers or meet a deadline or run to the market or pick up the kids. Before I know it two or three days have gone by and no running has happened.

The only way for me to get my daily run is to steal it from sleep, before dawn, when no one wants or needs anything from me. I'm up at 5:30 a.m. and on the track around the reservoir in Silver Lake by 5:45 - 6 at the latest.

It's quiet, the perfect time to meditate and work through story ideas and thorny book concepts, before the confining tightness of the day emerges. I've seen raccoons and egrets and heard woodpeckers. I've seen the entire basin socked in by fog, invisible just a few feet away. I've seen pinks and yellows in the sky, which hangs low and heavy before the sun pushes everything away.

By 6:30 I'm home and ready for the communal day, already having accomplished something and seen some things and had some peace.

That's the idealized version and it is a true account of my experience nearly all of the time. The other version, which comes upon me as suddenly as a stranger approaching in the dark, is one in which a stranger approaches in the dark, sending my heart racing and leaving me wondering about this foolhardy notion of running alone in the dark in Los Angeles.

So far, for me, strangers approaching in the dark are only on the way to their cars, or heading down the path, like me. But each time it happens I wonder.

What in the world makes me think this is safe? In my normal, non-running life I would never think of setting out on foot, alone, in the middle of the city, in the dark. I've somehow persuaded my brain that by donning running shoes and an AIDS Marathon cap I've created a protective bubble around myself, impermeable by unsavory types on the prowl.

It reminds me of the notion people get when they step into one of those crosswalks that don't have an accompanying traffic signal. A crosswalk is just a few lines painted on the asphalt, and yet pedestrians believe that those lines will protect them from the massive blocks of metal hurtling toward them. Sometimes people who walk in those crosswalks are hit by cars.

And sometimes women who run alone in the dark are attacked.

A Daily News story by Sue Doyle earlier this month described the ordeal of Emily McDivitt, a 33-year-old computer analyst who was out for a pre-dawn jog in the Valley when a stranger approached her in the dark, wrestled her to the ground and covered her mouth.

McDivitt recounted the attack for the Daily News:

"He clasped my mouth shut to the point of where I couldn't breathe. He had my nose," she said. "I thought I was going to die."

It was 5:45 a.m., and the blinds were still closed on the windows of tidy homes lining the 6200 block of Blucher Avenue.

Knowing attackers feed on fear, McDivitt tried to defuse the frenzy. She threw her hands up and stopped fighting him.

He took his hands off her mouth and said, "No scream," McDivitt recalled.

Then she threw a curveball... McDivitt began talking to her attacker, asking what his name was several times. The man never responded to McDivitt's questions. She was unsure if he understood English. He continued to grope her. And that's when she punched him across his face and grabbed his groin.

After he walked away, McDivitt scrambled to her feet and dashed home. She flung open her front door, screamed out for her husband David, 40, a retired Marine, and collapsed in the doorway from the draining surge of adrenaline. They called the police.

It turns out McDivitt had some martial arts training, which helped her fend off her attacker. She escaped with nothing more serious than a bruised hip. Still, she told the reporter, she felt lucky.

The story continues:

In 2007, there were 477 rapes reported in Los Angeles, 50 more than in New York that year despite its much bigger population, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

McDivitt reflects on that disturbing day and wonders if there was more she could have done. She thinks about what could have happened if her attacker had weapons or if wasn't alone.

"They tell you to run from your attacker," McDivitt said. "But I was running. He was running with me."

How often have I had that same thought? If I'm running already, how do I run away? So I continue worrying, and continue running.

3:41 PM Friday, April 17 2009 • Link •  
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