I’ll start this by immediately acknowledging that these are assumptions, based on conversations with friends that identify as female and male. It is also always subjective, as not all women will feel that these apply to them. I merely wanted to approach some of the main points that come up, as many may not even be aware of them. There are many difference between being a man or a woman in this world, and many of them come up during the simple act of running.
As a little girl, you’re able to run carefree, even when you start wearing a bra it is more for show than anything else. Then suddenly, as if by waking up one morning, you’re confronted with breasts. And for many women, these hurt whilst running. You have to find a good sports bra to really reign them in, but even then, you can have the urge to hold them as you run. You’ll often settle for a slower pace to reduce bouncing.
I have a friend who has always struggled with her larger cleavage, and she once told me that she wears up to three sports bras when going for a run. It’s the only way she can run without pain and not feel self-conscious of her breasts.
As everyone is (hopefully) aware when women reach a certain age they most likely start to menstruate. This can put quite a damper on running plans. Firstly due to the symptoms that accompany a period, such as cramping, tiredness and sore limbs. It’s been shown that exercise can help such symptoms, but even so, it isn’t really top of your to-do list at the moment. Secondly, because of the blood aspect. You either wear a pad, and risk it slipping or moving, perhaps possible chafing or you wear a tampon and run the risk of it sliding out oh so gently. Even if it is completely taken care of, the fear of it will still be present throughout your run. That damp patch between my legs… is it blood? Nope, just sweat, delightful!
Nowadays many men also have long hair and feel more comfortable expressing themselves through it - great! But many others retain their short cut, and so they will never know the pain of having so much hair to deal with during a run. With long hair, if you have a ponytail it may literally whip your face as you go, or if you wear it in plaits you can expect half of it loose by the time you’ve run down your street. Short hair often doesn’t fit easily into either style, so you expect half of it to be damp on your neck by the time you get home. I love putting my short hair in two ponytails to keep it safely out of my face and off of my neck, but then I feel like I get unwarranted attention. How have we, as a society, managed to sexualise a hairstyle?
And since many of us prefer washing our hair less often to keep it healthy, we’re plagued by the greasy hair conundrum. Calculating when to wash your hair is fit for a GCSE Maths exam.
I could wash it now, but I want to run tomorrow morning so it will just get greasy again. But I want it nice for tomorrow night, but not same-day washed as then it has no volume. Maybe if I dry shampoo it...
I was recently discussing running a half-marathon with a male friend of mine, and I exclaimed at how difficult it was to find time to run far enough each day. He was confused and said he just runs after work. I explained that I wouldn’t do this because it will be dark then, and he asked: “Why?”. I realised in that moment that he had never considered whether it was dark or light in his runs, that this wasn’t something to be factored in when going for a run. He probably woke up or came home, grabbed his shoes and went for it.
The majority of my female friends won’t run in the dark, we simply don’t feel safe. Despite the actual threat, we also realise that we won’t enjoy the run as we’ll be constantly looking over our shoulders. I prefer running in the morning, but that proves difficult in winter when it becomes light so late, as I end up waiting to go. You can purchase wearable lights, but this has always seemed a solution to traffic rather than my physical safety.
My partner will sometimes go for a walk at night, on his own. I can’t imagine living in a world where I can do that on my own and not feel scared.
As we continue on the theme of safety, we have the issue of headphones. The best headphones as marketed as ones that are noise-cancelling, able to drown out the traffic and sound of your footsteps so that you can focus on running and your podcast. But nothing seems like a bigger risk to a woman than not being aware of her surroundings on a run. Being oblivious to sudden footsteps behind you until it is too late.
I do wear headphones on my run, as otherwise, I get so bored without a playlist or podcast, but I don’t use noise-cancelling headphones and I don’t turn the volume too high. The idea of blocking everything out, just having your run about you and the music, seems heavenly.
Before I go running somewhere early in the morning, I try to scope out the area. Are people around? Will someone be able to see/hear me? Don’t get me wrong, I love running in forests or surrounded by nature, but it comes with a fear that I can’t shake, and it is reserved for the busiest times of the day. I love the idea of getting lost in nature, just running and being unfocused on the route to my destination. But you get trapped in this juxtaposition of wanting to run with people around, yet also fearing the few that may surround you.
7. Notifying someone
This depends on your level of paranoia, I’m quite a fearful person so if I’m running in dim light or on less crowded areas, I get really focused on that one person nearby. I’m watching them out of the corner of my eye, I’m prepared in case I need to sprint. Many women do this unconsciously, focusing on someone nearby, listening for footsteps, aware of their exit route.
So we already mentioned wearing the right sports bra, but other things are considered in choosing what to run in as a woman. You consider how fitted your clothing in, will it receive unwarranted attention? I’m not saying women should have to think about this, merely the reality that many of us do. I run in fitted leggings, but often feel self-conscious about how noticeable my butt is in them, so I will always wear baggy shirts or jumpers over it. Also, a lot of women have thicker/softer thighs, which puts us at heightened risk for chaffing. Do not underestimate the pain of chaffed thighs, it will haunt you for days after.
If you choose to run later in the day, such as after work, you may already be wearing makeup. You could remove it before your run, but some may feel self-conscious without makeup on and feel unattractive. You may also not even think about it.
Then you run the risk of getting the aforementioned unwarranted attention or having people think you put on makeup specifically for your run. No, it was already on, I just didn’t take it off. Finally, there is also the possibility of your makeup running as you sweat, or getting in your eyes. A big ol’ mess.
Do you feel like I missed any points in this list? Or are there any that don’t apply in your case? I’d love to hear it in the comments!
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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