I’m a woman who loves to travel and loves to run, so I was very distressed to hear of two separate cases of women disappearing during daytime runs while vacationing in Greece. Both of the women were on different Greek islands on solo runs in broad daylight. Sadly, the bodies of both women were found several days after each went missing. One died after being violently attacked by a man, and the other apparently fell to her death by accident off a steep embankment down into a ravine. For many women, running is a favorite way to see new places, but should women let the dangers of running alone while traveling stop them from exploring the world?
Both cases broke my heart and sickened me, but the woman who was violently attacked keeps returning to my thoughts for so many reasons. Suzanne Eaton was visiting the Greek island for a conference and went for a run every day to take in the sights of the beautiful setting. Like me, she was a woman who used running as a means of exploring the places she visited; like me, she was a woman in her fifties; and like me, she was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. So what separates me from her, and what can I do differently to avoid the same fate?
Many of my favorite memories from my travels around the world involve the runs I’ve taken wherever I go. Running even proved to be an invaluable form of transportation on one particular trip to the UK. I brought my family to the small town in Wales because it appeared to be centrally located to other areas various people in the traveling party wanted to see, and the dot on the map was larger than all the others around it, so I reasoned it would be a good base for all of us to stay in while we explored other near-by destinations. What I didn’t count on was that there was a fox-hunting convention in the neighboring county that drained our town of all taxis, rental cars, rental bikes, and any other means of transportation a traveler may depend on. We even tried to coax the concierge to be our personal chauffer for a hefty price, but he didn’t own a car, and apparently none of his friends did either. So here we were, stuck in a small picturesque Welsh village for four days with our only means of exploring being a train that went to Shropshire with very few stops between and none in the places we had on our wish-list.
Most of my family spent the four days touring Shropshire after seeing all of the little Welsh village in a matter of hours, but I spent it running through the countryside finding amazing treasures. I strapped on a small backpack with my camera, notebook, and a few provisions and set out to see how far I could run each day. I ran through every district in the small town, through the countryside, down gravel roads, along sweeping stretches of pasture land, and around lakes. I found medieval ruins of a church, a hidden lake teeming with swans, a pack of horses who ran along with me for as far as their pasture allowed, and beautiful landscapes so remote and breathtaking they are etched in my memory years later.
I still run wherever we travel. It’s a great way to move through a city or tour a countryside and take in all the patchwork that makes up the life of the area. It is one of my greatest joys, and something I will continue to do despite the dangers. I’m not so foolish as to think that just because I have a black belt in a martial art that I am infallible; I know quite well the opposite to be true; but I also know that having some defensive skills makes me carry myself differently and in a manner that will hopefully make a potential attacker pass over me as being too likely to fight back and raise a scene. I look people in the eye when I pass them, man or woman. I watch how they move and anticipate how I will react if they make a threatening move toward me. It is difficult for a woman to outpower a man, but the element of speed and surprise can be to a woman’s advantage if the attacker is not expecting his victim to immediately take counteractions and fight back.
As a black belt, I have no doubt Ms. Eaton was trained as I am to take notice of her surroundings and always be prepared, but yet she was not able to stop her attacker because the man ran her down with his car first. Her training did come into play later when she fought him as he attacked her with a knife, but tragically she was still overpowered.
I am angry that a woman who did everything right to keep herself safe—ran during daytime hours, learned self-defense skills, stayed aware of her surroundings—lost her life despite her precautions. I am angry that I have to be afraid when I run, whether it is in my home neighborhood, or when I am traveling to new places. I am angry that as women we can never take our minds off the dangers that lurk around every corner even in the bright light of day. I’m angry that I have to even consider whether or not a woman should let the dangers of running alone stop her from exploring the world. And I’m angry that going for a run at home or in a new place is an act of defiance on my part – defiance against the small population of the world who want women to feel threatened because they believe it is their right to target a woman who dares to be out on the world alone.
I have no doubt that Ms. Eaton and Ms. Christopher, like all female athletes, had heard the news stories of women who were attacked or disappeared while out running and had read the many articles about how to stay safe as a female runner but decided to run anyway. I, too, will run anyway. I will continue to take every possible precaution, to be aware of my surroundings, to be ready to fight back in an instant, but I will not stop being a woman out exploring the world by running.
I didn’t know either Suzanne Eaton, who died tragically on July 2, 2019 on the island of Crete, or Natalie Christopher, who appeared to die from an accidental fall while running on August 5, 2019 on the island of Ikaria, and I would never assume to know what advice they would give other runners, but running and exploring were integral part of the lives of both of these women, so I can only assume they would not want women to let the dangers of running alone when traveling stop them from exploring the world. We can never know if they regretted their love of running and exploring in the end, however I would venture to guess it wasn’t these traits they would have regretted but rather the cruelty of a small percentage of people or the misfortune of a situational moment. My heart breaks for both Ms. Eaton and Ms. Christopher, and I pray for comfort for their loved ones. Despite these tragedies, there are thousands of women all over the world who went for a run those same days, whether at home or on vacation, and did not encounter attackers or suffer accidents, thousands of woman who enjoyed their time exploring the world by the volition of their own feet then returned home safely; let us not forget this, and let us not be deterred from doing what we love.
To read more about safety for women runners, please see my article on 8 Tips for Women Runners to Stay Safe While on Vacation or at Home.