What I'm going to talk about today is a little more serious than my usual posts, and I actually considered never writing about this at all, but if it helps one person become a little more cautious then it served its purpose. I don't know for sure, and never will, if I was truly in danger but this incident has changed my way of thinking forever.
This past week I was spending time with my parents at their house in northern Michigan, a place I've visited for years. When I'm there I run daily on a path that is used by runners, walkers, and bikers. About halfway through my run I decided to make a pit stop at a restroom at the public beach. Before heading in, I glanced around and did not see anyone in the nearby area. It wasn't all that early, around 7:50 a.m.
While I was in the bathroom stall I heard someone enter the bathroom and close the door, but they did not move toward the stall next to mine or to the sink. Just silence. I was ready to leave the stall but didn't feel comfortable until this person either left or went into a stall. Something just seemed odd. It felt like a half hour went by but after looking at my Garmin stats (data nerd alert!) my watch was paused for a total of eight minutes. I tried to stay calm and came up with a plan. I proceeded to have a fake phone conversation with someone who was meeting me to run. I told my "friend" I was just finishing up in the restroom and they should wait by the door for me. I ended my conversation and prayed this person would leave. I was scared. Really scared. As in cold sweat dripping down my back. If this plan didn't work I was going to call 911. It may have ended up being excessive, but I didn't care. You can imagine my relief when I heard them leave. To be sure, I climbed on the toilet so I could peek over the top of the stall to make sure I was alone. I was! I bolted out of the bathroom and into an open area. I saw a man walking slowly away from the direction of the bathroom. He didn't turn around, but I got a good look. Was that the person in the bathroom? I can't say with 100% certainty, but he was the only person in sight at the time. I ran in the opposite direction.
While I was running, I considered what to do. To be perfectly honest, I was initially leaning toward not saying anything at all. I felt stupid for getting myself into a situation like this. I was embarrassed. My family occasionally, ok frequently, makes comments to me about how running with a friend or one of my dogs would be a smart idea. I always respond with I'm aware of my surroundings, don't worry. I've read countless stories about the mother of young children, the high school cross country runner, and so many more women who were attacked or taken while out on a run. It doesn't seem possible for you to end up as one of those stories. And given the fact nothing actually happened, and I had no proof, would I be brushed off by the authorities?
I decided not to keep my experience to myself. My husband and I agreed not saying anything was the worst thing to do. If someone else was hurt I could never live with the guilt. After taking some time to think, I sent a message to the county Sheriff detailing what happened and I'm assuming someone will contact me to discuss it further.
So what do I change going forward? First, I will always run with my phone. I bat about .500 on this and thankfully I did have it the day of this incident. I am already good about running in well populated areas, which doesn't protect you 100%, but it's always the better bet. I'll continue to work on getting my dog, Levi, into running shape, too. I will make an effort to change up my usual routes as to not be too predictable. And if anyone wants to become my running buddy, let me know! :) Here is a short and sweet article that gives some additional ideas of how to protect yourself.
I hope sharing this will be a reminder to keep up your guard. I am beyond lucky to have gotten out of this situation, but it was certainly a wake up call. Stay safe, my running friends!