I come in peace!!
September 2, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I have been working out a lot at night, on a semi-deserted stretch of walking path. I occasionally pass women (I'm a dude). What can I do to not come off creepy?

As it's been getting dark earlier, my workouts have taken place, more often than not, when it's dark out. I run along a 4 mile stretch of concrete that is a walking path/bike path. It's well lit, and runs right alongside a road in a (mostly) very safe neighborhood. The last mile gets a little more sketchy neighborhood-wise, but not much.

Often, I'll pass by women going either direction. I am aware that we are alone and that I am a guy, and that they might feel threatened. How can I help put them at ease that I'm not going to attack them? I've crossed over to the other side of the path, often will look down as I pass, and not make eye contact. I'm plugged into an iPod (they are as well, usually), so if I do say something, it's not more than a quick "hey." But often, I feel like that's even too much, and I just pass by.

What else can I do to put them at ease? Should I nod with a friendly smile? Also, if I am completely overthinking this, let me know! I was just out running last night and I thought I'd throw it out on the green and see what comes up.
posted by Spyder's Game to Health & Fitness (57 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You're completely over thinking this. A dude running down a running path is not threatening. Don't like stare at them... but you have that covered. Just run like you run.
posted by brainmouse at 12:13 PM on September 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

Overthinking. Just keep running, and don't crash into anyone, male or female.
posted by rtha at 12:14 PM on September 2, 2010

It sounds like your task is obvious: you are out on a run. As long as you keep moving, I see no reason to fear that you are doing anything to make someone else uncomfortable. Don't be afraid to make eye contact with people you pass.
posted by wg at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2010

Whistle. Particularly anything from "Oliver".
posted by kristymcj at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

As a woman who often walks down deserted stretches at night, I think you're already doing the right things. Don't try to make eye contact or say anything - that just makes me tense up and think trouble. I don't think you have to cross out of their way. Just remaining focused on your run and totally uninterested in my presence is great.
posted by amethysts at 12:16 PM on September 2, 2010 [12 favorites]

It's nice that you're aware of this, but I think you're overthinking it. If you're just a guy going about his business I wouldn't think twice about you. Just make sure that if you need to pass someone you try to do it quickly and don't trail closely behind.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 12:17 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

How can I help put them at ease that I'm not going to attack them?

If you want to do your part, just don't attack anyone. If everyone followed this simple rule, there would be no fear of men attacking.
posted by John Cohen at 12:17 PM on September 2, 2010 [12 favorites]

Seconding whistling something from Oliver, but not 'boy for sale.'
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:17 PM on September 2, 2010 [13 favorites]

don't run in ripped up clothes and have a clean appearance. I'm assuming this is already the case, but just making sure....
posted by saraindc at 12:18 PM on September 2, 2010

A quick "hi" or "on your left" or something that makes it clear that you're there and you're just doing the same old thing is fine. Eye contact is fine. Any extra talking and you're risking seeming like a creep. The only thing I'd say NOT to do is some sort of "disarming joke" sort of thing. Those can backfire. I've had friends play "creepy guy" [hollering things from a distance when I couldnt' see them well] with me when they saw me walking out at night because they thought it was hilarious only to find that I was very very frightened.
posted by jessamyn at 12:19 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

You're all decked out in your exercise clothes and everyting? Meh, just keep running. I don't need a hi, I don't need a wave, I just want you to pass by me and get out of my space.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you're doing everything you can (and thank you for asking!) -- my only suggestion would be along the lines of what saraindc said about ripped up clothes. Sometimes if I'm out walking and I see a guy coming toward me in dark clothes or a hooded sweatshirt/jacket with the hood up over his head, I'll be on edge until he passes without incident. If you run while wearing a hoodie, leave the hood down. Otherwise, sounds like you're doing fine.
posted by palomar at 12:25 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're completely overthinking this. My alerts go up automatically with any guy in a dark path, not much you can do about that; but if you're not behind me keeping pace I'll relax. Just passing on by, that's not a problem at all. If you find yourself running behind someone who runs at exactly the same speed you do, that I guess might be creepy if you were right behind them, so either pass or stay well back, is all I can think of. All dark clothes with a hood pulled would make me a little extra-alertt too.

On preview: don't whistle! The Whistler knows the nameless terrors! There's also the serial killer in that P.D. James book, what was it, that whistled.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:25 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Head nod, at most. Otherwise, just keep on with your run.
posted by nat at 12:25 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure you look like you're there to go on a run. Wear bright or light colors so you're very visible. Don't run with a hood up - if it's cold, hats are fine, of course. Use neutral, quick tones of voice when you need to get someone's attention that you're behind them or going to be in their way. If someone is staring you down as you approach, a quick nod and a "hi" and then breaking eye contact will be fine. Smiling can come off as forced, so I'd just go with a pleasant eyebrow lift. Try not to match the pace of anyone else along the way, so you move out of peoples' space relatively soon.

Generally speaking though, although your intentions are excellent, it's the unfortunate truth that people are going to be on their guard at night alone. Don't overthink things too much - if you're not actually a danger to people, that should suffice.
posted by Mizu at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2010

Good so far. By the way, I'm not always running. I'm working up to a four mile run, so more often than not, I am passing by at a walk, which feels a little more uncomfortable as it takes about twenty seconds or so after seeing someone to pass by. It's just awkward staring at the ground the whole time. Also, as far as the Oliver! suggestion, I think I'm gonna go with "Food, Glorious Food" as my go-to whistle song.
posted by Spyder's Game at 12:27 PM on September 2, 2010

hi - thank you for asking this. in my opinion you are NOT overthinking this. i'm super-grateful you would consider it. i'm a chick who often walks alone at night and occasionally wonders if the dude behind me or in front of me is going to stab or rape me (it's night, it's dark, i occasionally watch the news, i have a vivid imagination). here are a few things that would be thoughtful. it sounds like you are doing these things. basically, the women who are going to be suspicious that you might hurt them will still probably be suspicious, but it will be more comforting quicker.

1) if you're passing someone going the other direction, try to give them lots of space. if it's a path with a bit of green on each side, run or walk on the edge or even on the green. it signals that you aren't trying to get too close. if you can cross the street to pass, even better, where better equals i-know-you-aren't-trying-to-kidnap-me.

2) if you have to pass someone from behind, try to make noise from a far back distance - like 'passing on your left' or coughing, or whatever, and pass with a lot of space so they don't think you're running up to catch them.

3) normally if i'm alone at night and some dude says hi to me, i don't really like it, unless he's clearly in my peer group and clearly not going to say anything else. this comes from my (and probably other girls') experience of saying hi back to someone, and then getting hit on. it sucks, because maybe the guy is just being friendly, and i don't like to live in a world where saying hi is dangerous, but i have found that about half the time, i regret saying hi back, because the conversation turns into the dude eventually saying something fucked up. the other half, it's cool, but alone at night, i like to focus on not regretting things. nodding and smiling is nice but may fall into the same category, depending on who you are and what you look like and how big the age difference is between you and the woman (sad, but true).

it sounds like you're doing it right, and just the awareness that women could be uncomfortable with your presence is reassuring. thanks for doing what you can to be cool.
posted by andreapandrea at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're overthinking it.

I would be more comfortable with a brief acknowledgment of my existence if we were crossing on the same sidewalk or path--like a smile or nod, but nothing more prolonged than that. In my area, it's just common etiquette to acknowledge someone you pass on the street this way, so if you didn't do so it would just stick out as not in the norm a little bit. If you're really running at the time, though, it wouldn't be as bad since you're obviously occupied.

But you'd really have to do something creepy in order to bother me, and ignoring me doesn't count. That might make me think that you're a little rude or shy, but it wouldn't scare me.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2010

Also, that's a yes to workout clothes. Last night's wardrobe was a blue Superman S Logo T-shirt with bright red UnderArmour underneath and a pair of gray shorts. No ripped stuff, no hoodies.
posted by Spyder's Game at 12:30 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wear bright clothing. Give the woman a wide berth on the path.

Most of the time though? I don't think about it and just go about my business. It's not my job to worry about what everyone is thinking. I don't attack anyone, so it's all good.
posted by nomadicink at 12:30 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wear headphones. Don't wear sunglasses or a hoodie. Ignore everyone.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:32 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Really there's little you can do. Even if you do something to not seem creepy like a head nod or eyebrow lift or whistling, the act itself might be creepier than doing nothing. Just pay little to no attention to the women you come across.

So go on your run, don't attack anyone, and just relax.
posted by inturnaround at 12:32 PM on September 2, 2010

Definitely make some sort of noise if you're coming up behind someone. This can be tough if she is plugged into the headphones and doesn't hear you coming.

I'm a non-threatening woman runner, and I've scared the shit out of women, and men, by running up behind them in the dark. Once they see me and the running shoes and the workout clothes, they aren't scared anymore, but I'd rather just not up some pedestrian's adrenaline. Just yell out a "on your left! thanks!" as you come up.
posted by teragram at 12:39 PM on September 2, 2010

Well, you could completely geek out so that anyone looking at you would immediately think "harmless geek," but I think the thing that makes me the most comfortable in these sorts of situations is when the person's trajectory allows me the maximum avoidance distance available, as made clear by the other person 'steering wide' early. You can be preoccupied & just make like you haven't even noticed me, or you can give me a nod & hello, without creeping me out, so long as the path & body language clearly states you aren't going to try to approach any more than absolutely required by passing.

If it is all but a collision course, a business-like "excuse me" is totally appropriate.
posted by Ys at 12:42 PM on September 2, 2010

Reflective tape is very non-criminal-looking.
posted by kmennie at 12:42 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Literally 2 weeks ago I got up the courage to run outside - on a sidewalk that runs along a fairly busy road. It is well lit. The road is well-traveled. And still it took me years to get the courage to hit the sidewalk.

So, thank you for being aware that I, or any other female you may run across, might be a little skittish.

I like this advice from blue_beetle:

Wear headphones. Don't wear sunglasses or a hoodie. Ignore everyone.

I especially like the "ignore" part. When you're ignoring everyone/not making eye contact - it's reassuring to me that you're seriously just out for a run or walk.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:42 PM on September 2, 2010

Last night's wardrobe was a blue Superman S Logo T-shirt

Perfect. I could not be scared of a guy in a Superman t-shirt. Don't tell the muggers that.
posted by amro at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

I think a nod and a quick wave acknowledging the other person is good, but doesn't actually try to invade anyone's personal space and it's not an attempt to engage in or force conversation.
posted by whoaali at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2010

You're running at night, right? Wear a light. On your waist, your head, whatever. Doesn't have to help you see, but it will let others know you're there and aren't trying to hide).

But yeah, you're doing everything right already, don't worry about it too much.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wear one of those little blinky red lights for runners in low-light conditions?
posted by jquinby at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you look like you're there to run, you won't come across as threatening. Especially if you look like you're preoccupied with whatever thoughts are in your head while you run.

Consider getting some high-visibility running clothes or accessories - they're usually neon orange or yellow. You'll look extra-serious and you'll be easier to spot.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:53 PM on September 2, 2010

Wear headphones. Don't wear sunglasses or a hoodie. Ignore everyone.

I also agree with this. I run during the day but walk at night in winter and I'm suspicious of everyone because I have been chased (yes, really) by crazy people (on foot and in cars) where I live and so I carry an arsenal (2 types of spray, cell phone with camera, stunner thingie) that is not always completely visible, especially in winter.

If I am startled, I give my dog (I have two) The Signal and prepare my weapons. The dog alone is usually enough (both dogs are trained to look fierce on command - this is their Favorite Game :).

So I would add this piece of advice: Do not startle any women. You never know what they are carrying.

But, if you have passed the same person at the same time many, many times and they offer a smile, nod, or wave, it is okay to wave or nod back - but do not stop.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:55 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a long-legged walker, I know the awkwardness of taking ages to pass someone who's walking at say, 80% of my speed. It's too difficult to blaze past them, but not good to linger behind either.

I try to jingle my keys or pocket change as I come close to someone, so they know I am approaching.

I would recommend (as others have done) saying very little to women except MAYBE a quick pleasantry if you see that the person might be okay with it. Comments like "Good evening" or "Pardon me" would be fine, but questions/chatting would be weird.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:57 PM on September 2, 2010

Nthing the high visibility clothing. And if it fits into your style, maybe wearing the same thing every time -- so you're instantly recognizable to anyone who will be using this area regularly. "Oh, it's the guy in the bright green fleece!" is a reassuring thought.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:59 PM on September 2, 2010

(both dogs are trained to look fierce on command - this is their Favorite Game :)

I'd love to see that... sound too cute.

I try to jingle my keys or pocket change as I come close to someone, so they know I am approaching.

This is good too -- I often scuff my feet a bit as I'm approaching someone, so they know I'm there and can move to the side/not get startled.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:10 PM on September 2, 2010

Wear an orange safety vest. It will say "I am a completely conspicuous dork". Bring your Ironman digital watch up to your face to calculate your lap time (or whatever) then feel for your pulse on your carotid artery as you approach or pass = this body language will speak "I'm working out.".
posted by No Shmoobles at 1:12 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The meta rule on being non-thtreatening: do what is expected, normal, and typical. Corollary: outlier behaviour is automatically threatening.

So, if you're in a part of the world where strangers greet each other: nod or say "hi". If you're in a part of the world where strangers ignore each other: ignore them. In all cases: you're busy, you don't have time to engage, so stay busy and get on with it.

Putting a couple of keys or a carabiner on your shorts that makes a quiet jingling would avoid any kind of startlement if you come up on someone from behind. So would a polite cough.

Enjoy your run.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:17 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Maybe wear a pink t-shirt that reads "SNAG"?

Besides avoiding eye contact etc the one thing I try to do is cross to the other side of the street if I'm behind a woman on a dark street, or, if you can't do that, stay someplace where she can see you out of the corner of her eye until you have walked past.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2010

As long as you're not in the habit of jogging while wearing a ski mask and shouting "I'm not going to attack you!!" to female passers-by, you should be fine.

But thanks for thinking about this.
posted by thatone at 1:58 PM on September 2, 2010

Just don't overdo it with the "I'm totally not a creepy guy" affectations. Consciously trying really hard not to look creepy is exactly what a creepy person would do.
posted by contraption at 2:13 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't wear a hood.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 2:35 PM on September 2, 2010

My BA is in liberal studies with an option in Women Studies. Though a few may think you are over thinking it—this is something many women, not all, fear. I think you do deserve some major kudos for being concerned about this issue though.

I have talked to men who have the same question, or have made the same comment, and often they say they change sides of the road. Though, I don't know how big the road is or if that isn't possible. Making eye contact could frighten some depending on the situation... I think a nod—as someone else suggested is usually a safe nonverbal way of saying you notice them, but you mean no harm and just want to continue on your way.

But, of course it also depends on the women. However, if she is also on the deserted stretch of road she probably feels secure enough to do so alone.

This might be an interesting column to check out, it is from a college paper, but still interesting: http://tinyurl.com/sexual-terrorism
posted by asknot at 2:46 PM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thank you for thinking about this.

Workout clothes are good. Keep your head/face as uncovered as possible; I mean, put a hat on if it's cold out, but make sure your features are visible, so you don't look like you're hiding purposely. No need to wave or say 'hi' unless it's someone you see a lot, or people in your area are really friendly. Just go about your run. I prefer being ignored while walking alone on the street, frankly, even over someone being non-threateningly friendly.
posted by kalimac at 2:48 PM on September 2, 2010

Announce your presence via loud footsteps or huffing and puffing from far back (if you are behind them) so you don't startle them. Besides that, you're totally fine dude.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:17 PM on September 2, 2010

definitely make a sound as you approach, I cough a lot as I ride my bike on the path, of course if the jogger is wearing ear phones they usually don't notice until I'm passing them so I just shout out a "sorry" as I pass (still not sure of the protocol on that one but I feel bad when it happens). You and all joggers/bikers, need to wear either a light or at least reflective clothing when exercising at night. I know you can see in front of you but others cannot see you coming.

reading this question reminded me of a comedy bit by John Mulaney about creeping out a woman in a deserted subway.
posted by any major dude at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just shout "Hi! I am not going to rape you!" at any women you encounter.

Sorry, bad joke. I just want to add another voice saying that you are not over-thinking this and I appreciate your concern.

I think it's a great idea for you to wear reflective workout clothes and/or a headlamp to help ensure you look like a normal guy out to get some exercise and not someone up to trouble. I don't like being ignored when I pass someone, and like being acknowledged somehow. A nod, or a quick wave, is a nice way to say "I see you, and will not engage with you further."
posted by apricot at 3:40 PM on September 2, 2010

You're not overthinking this. Thank you for giving it your consideration.

I think you should:
- wear obvious running clothes
- wear some reflective strips
- not wear a hood or baseball cap that hides your face
- give them plenty of room; ideally as much as you would if you were in your car and you were passing a bicycle on the road
- keep a steady pace or accelerate slightly when you pass someone (when I've been harassed in these situations the guy slowed down instead of accelerating to pass me as expected)
- say nothing. If you speak just out of earshot and I can't work out that all you said was 'hi' I might wonder if you're one of the many guys who mutters things under their breath as I pass; I might also wonder if I am acquainted with you and am therefore obligated to take another look at you to check, only to have you turn out to be not only a stranger but someone who is trying to hit on me or worse. This may be different, though, if it's customary in your region to say 'hi' when you cross paths with strangers.
- have earphones, showing that your attention is not on them

Happy running.
posted by tel3path at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2010

I agree with most of the above. If your T-shirt had the logo of the local Women's Shelter or the Police Department that could be good too.

Really though the best way to put me at ease would be to have a dog with you. Even if you're walking it shows you have a reason for being there. Another sure "I'm here to exercise" prop would be one of those arm bands for your iPod. I've never seen somebody wearing one of those who wasn't involved in some physical activity.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:15 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Smile, nod, and keep moving.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:27 PM on September 2, 2010

Thank you for thinking about this and no, you're not over-thinking it at all. I'm a pretty tall woman and I'm not generally too jumpy, but even I get that "ehhhhh. . ." feeling when I'm running alone in the quiet morning and I see another male runner/walker coming up in my direction (or hear someone behind me). I would really appreciate if a number of the steps above had been taken, including a light, a reflective vest or tape or a big noticeable shirt like you're wearing. To me, that would all say, "I'm not trying to be inconspicuous or do anything which would be aided by being stealthy."
posted by tyrantkitty at 4:50 PM on September 2, 2010

It's really nice of you to actually think about this. The one thing I can suggest is not to slow to a walk from a run when you a directly behind a woman and pass her (ie catch up to her) walking. That triggers my creep warning like nothing else (the last time a guy did that he ended up grabbing me! and on a crowded street!). If you absolutely cannot pass her running, walking in the opposite direction, or taking a break to stretch, is less creepy.
posted by fermezporte at 5:10 PM on September 2, 2010

I wouldn't do anything, unless you make eye contact, then a quick nod or wave as you run on by should suffice. If you smile, they might think you're being creepy, but honestly, who cares? You know you're not being a creep so whatever those women think is irrelevant (not saying they wouldn't be justified given their own experiences, blah blah blah, but the bottom line is: you're not a creep so don't worry about someone thinking you are). Just focus on your run.
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:25 PM on September 2, 2010

Make noise.

I'm a fast (and quiet) walker, and after accidentally startling a few people, I learned to consciously scrape my feet or land with a thud when I'm starting to come up to people. It helps considerably.
posted by OrangeDrink at 9:19 PM on September 2, 2010

Adding to the chorus of "thank you for thinking about this." If you have friends who need their dogs walk, take 'em on your runs, especially if they are of the dachshund or corgi variety. And, agreed, saying something simple like, "On your left," as you pass.
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 11:20 PM on September 2, 2010

I walk a lot alone on a deserted road, and what really triggers my creep warning is dark clothes and hood up. One time this summer, this guy had on too many clothes for the hot weather, hood up over his head, and stopped running up ahead of me, in a place that still gave me little to no escape. It turned out, on closer inspection, that it was probably a college wrestler trying to cut weight. But the only thing that made me feel better in that instance was that my dog is huge and looks like a wolf.
posted by RedEmma at 10:12 AM on September 3, 2010

When passing on a sidewalk, run on the inside and let the other person be on the side closer to the street. This way, she can more easily escape you (potential bad guy) by moving onto the well-lit street, and you can't push her into the bushes or somewhere more hidden.

When approaching someone from behind, an "excuse me" when you're not too close is appropriate.
posted by jayne at 12:39 AM on September 4, 2010

The greatest gifts you could give me in these circumstances are:

1. Crossing the street to overtake, if possible.

2. Maintaining a steady pace. Like my presence hasn't altered your plans at all.

3. Singing or humming along with an iPod. It simultaneously alerts me that you're there and reassures me that your focus is elsewhere.

And thanks.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:28 AM on September 11, 2010

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