Tess Bocking asks: 'How safe are we running alone in Sheffield?’

Am I safe running alone in Sheffield? Being one of our city’s many female runners, I am not alone in wondering this every time I step out the door with my trainers on.

Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 14:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 14:42 pm
Tess Bocking on the moors near Sheffield


But do I have anything to worry about?

Tess Bocking on the moors near Sheffield

The #JogOn initiative was recently introduced by Avon and Somerset Police in the hope of making people, specifically women, feel safer running outside on their own.

If a person didn’t feel comfortable running alone, the police suggested joining a group could help them to feel more at ease. Chaos then ensued as the initiative was ripped apart by the people of Twitter, who urged the police to concentrate on the individuals making women feel uncomfortable.

I agree, but the #JogOn movement is actually doing that by encouraging runners to report any harassment they experience.

Most women I know have experienced sexist comments at some point in their lives. This has come in the form of comments about their appearance, clothes, or simply a wolf whistle out the window of a moving car. 

Runners on Burbage

Whilst these comments are often done in jest to show off to friends or colleagues, this sort of verbal abuse makes women feel uncomfortable and bad about themselves. Not a great start when we’re trying to exercise.

But part of feminism is about taking control of sexism.

One of the best things that we can do to combat it is smile at the culprits and carry on anyway.

I’m aware there are risks, but running alone is something I choose to do because I enjoy going at my own pace, wherever and whenever I like.

I won’t let a small group of people trying to make me feel uncomfortable achieve their goal.

The general consensus seems to be that women do feel safe running alone in Sheffield, but many take some precautions, such as not running through unknown, unlit areas after dark. It’s also wise not to run the same route at the same time every day, and always tell someone where you’re going. But this is advice I would give anyone running alone, regardless of their gender.

Run leader Margo Duncan enjoys running with a group: “I think it’s often better to run with other people anyway - it’s more supportive and sociable and you’ve someone to go for tea and cake with after.”

There are plenty of running groups in Sheffield; they’re a great way to meet people, push yourself and explore our city. There are also plenty of cafés and pubs for afterwards. There are even two clubs specifically for women here; Smiley Paces and Strideout, both of which welcome female runners of all abilities.

Parkrun has also taken our city by storm in recent years. There are now five different parkrun locations in Sheffield, and each one offers runners a safe environment to run at their own pace, push themselves and meet other runners. These free events give runners the opportunity to take part in a timed 5K race against themselves, every Saturday morning.

A male runner recently asked me how men can help women to feel safer. In my view, if you are a male who is not in the habit of catcalling and making women feel uncomfortable, then you shouldn’t need to do anything to prove you are not a danger. However, if you are a man who tends to whistle at women, then I suspect you won’t be reading this article. But if you are, perhaps now you’ll have a change of heart.

I asked Amelia Selby from the Steel City Striders club how she felt about running in Sheffield: “I wouldn’t hesitate about going out running alone, even in the dark.”

She told me that although she has experienced some sexist comments, the sheer number of runners she encounters whilst jogging puts her at ease.

Sheffield’s ever-growing running population will only add to this safety blanket. I see other runners every time I go out jogging, and I have never felt uncomfortable in the presence of a fellow runner, be they male or female. As more and more people start running in Sheffield, I think the sexist behaviour will continue to decrease as our society gets stronger and cleverer.

We’re lucky to live in a city where there are hills, paths, trails, and a community of runners to encourage and support us. There is still some sexism here, but this should not stop us from getting out to do what we love.

In the words of Dorothy Kesterton; a board member of the Smiley Paces club: “As for the Outdoor City, it is there for us to explore, enjoy and learn from. We’d be mad to let a minority of ignorant people take that choice away from us”.

And she’s absolutely right.