What a day. I didn’t see much of it, as I stayed inside all day, struggling with weird unaccountable weepiness and awful paralysing gloom. I finally managed to call my GP and get her to switch my anti-depressants, which clearly aren’t working, then I did a bit of work, then I decided to run. By then it was 5pm and dark. But I like winter running on dark streets. I wanted the air and for my mind to be cleansed by the wind. And, it turned out, by the rain that started bucketing down, though in a drizzly way, as soon as I left the house. I didn’t care. I set off up the main road. People were coming home from work or college or wherever. They were driving, or being dropped off by buses. But the weather and the dark meant that not many were walking. By the time I got to the ring road I was soaking wet, but I felt great.

I had a vague plan in my head, to run up the main road, turn off onto a posh avenue I’d once run down with FRB, which led into a long residential (and also posh) road, turn left and run to its end, and all the way back, along another long residential lane, and eventually back to the main road. The main road would be the busiest; the rest are residential streets and dark and not too well-lit. But I thought they’d be safe at homecoming time.

I was already composing in my head a romantic blog post about how darkness and fresh air breezes through the soul like cold dragon’s breath, and makes everything better, and about how I’d missed these solo winter runs on city streets. Then I came to an avenue I thought was the one I was going to turn off on, realised it was the wrong one, and kept going. I saw that a runner was coming along the road I thought I’d turn on, but I didn’t register anything about him except that his top was red, and that he was a he. I carried on, then turned onto another road, the right posh avenue. I ran for a few minutes, then heard running footsteps behind me. Oh, I thought, he’s running the same route. That made sense, as this road cut through to the posh residential road, which was a mile or so long and with no traffic lights, so good running. From my glimpse I’d thought he was a grown man, so he’d be faster, so I waited for him to pass, but he didn’t. I kept running, trying not to look behind me as I thought, oh, it’s only a runner. How stupid: it’s like trusting a man with a dog because he has a dog. Runners, dog-owners: they can be evil too.

The footsteps stopped for a while then I heard them again. They got closer, and finally I turned round, just as he came up to me, but – weirdly – didn’t seem about to overtake me. I said, “please overtake me because you’re a little alarming,” and moved out of the way. He did. He was wearing a red Nike sweatshirt and sweat-pants. Jogging clothes rather than runners’ lycra. He ran with his feet splaying out like a duck’s. He was young. He ran ahead and then answered his phone while running. I remember thinking, would a runner do that? I assumed he was running as part of some other sports training, because I see boxers out running, and they wear similar stuff: sporting kit but not specific running kit. That judgment means nothing, it’s just what I was thinking, because I was trying not to think that he had bad intentions.

He stopped to talk on his phone, and I crossed the road because I was intending to turn left, away from the main road, when I reached the long posh residential road. He crossed too, although there was no reason for him to, unless he was turning into the small housing estate that was right there. I thought that’s what he’d done, because I didn’t hear him again. I decided not to run to the left, but to cut my run short and go right towards the main road. I set off, and then I heard the footsteps again. By now I was freaked. There weren’t any people around. There were cars passing, but this road of large houses set back from the road is not brilliantly lit. At this point I was going to turn and say, “stop following me,” but I still thought maybe he was naive, and following me because he wanted to copy my running route. I sped up and at the next junction, I turned the corner and waited. He came past, walking, and looked at me. He didn’t smile, or apologise, but nor did he turn his head when he crossed the road. I watched him go down the residential road but then I couldn’t see him in the darkness, and I didn’t want to set off in case he was waiting. Nor did I want to run back down the posh dark avenue that was even darker than this one. I cursed the fact that I’d come out without my phone, because I didn’t have a pocket to fit it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But who would I have called, anyway?

So I sat on a wall and waited. I hoped a runner would come past and I could run with him/her towards the main road and safety, though I didn’t even know if I was in danger or imagining things. A woman did come running past but going in the other direction. Then a man came walking past and I asked him if he’d run past a lad in a red top. He said, I did go past someone running, but I couldn’t see what colour the top was in the dark.

I said, he was definitely running?

And he realised I was being a bit odd because – bless him – he said, “is everything OK?”. I told him the lad had been very weird around me and that I didn’t really want to run into him. The man looked concerned and said, “take a different route?” and I said, yes, and sprinted as fast as I could down the avenue I’d stopped on, and it took five minutes, and all the time I was listening for running footsteps, but I made it to the main road, and when I got there, I said, out loud, YOU FUCKER.

How dare you ruin my run? How dare you make me feel unsafe? Even if it was accidental, you should learn that women can be scared by behaviour like that. You fucker.


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