I’ve been regularly doing long distance running for a couple years now and many of my friends are also runners. Running on a regular basis means spending hours a week outside where I am often crossing paths with men who decide they want to yell things at me or talk to me or otherwise interrupt my training. When I get together with some of my running friends, those of us who are women will often exchange horror stories about our various experiences with men on the running path or in the gym. There are a couple common behaviors that many of us women have experienced. Men, consider this a list of things you should never, ever do to women.

Do not cat-call women when they are running. Or ever.

Cat-calling and street harassment in general is a social ill that many women experience on a regular basis. However, it seems to be extra bad for women runners. Perhaps this is because women runners are often out running alone and wearing very little clothes, much of it form-fitting. Of course, we’re doing that because we’re running on a hot day and less clothes can make for a much more comfortable and safer run, not because we want random men on the street to whistle at us and yell “work that ass.”

Often these experiences of street harassment can quickly go from annoying to frightening. Friend of Skepchick, Kate said she has had experiences where cars actually slowed down to follow and pester her while she was out on a run. Fellow Skepchick Julia once had a group of men start loudly discussing her various body parts while following her, forcing her to change her route so she could run by a police station and hopefully scare them off. Men, do I really need to explain to you how not ok and terrifying these actions are?

Yes, there is an appeal to watching athletes who are not wearing much clothes out doing their thing. Athletes’ bodies can be beautiful and fascinating and it’s a big appeal of watching many sports. I get it. It’s ok to see a runner and think “wow, look at her abs/legs/arms/back/etc” but keep that shit in your head. No one wants your specific thoughts on her body parts while she is running past you. It is not a compliment. Cut that shit out.

Do not body shame women while they are running. Or ever.

Another common occurrence for women runners who wear very little clothes, sometimes only shorts and a sports bra, is shaming. It’s the other extreme from cat-calling but also represents a form of harassment. I’ve had parents with their children flash me dirty looks for daring to exist in public without having at least 50% of my body covered up. Mad Art Labber Ashley told me that she has had strangers yell “put some clothes on” at her while she is out running in hot weather minding her own business. This type of body shaming can be even worse for women who don’t have bodies that fit western beauty standards or don’t have the thin, muscular body typically associated with runners. Every woman who runs is a runner regardless of what her body looks like and she should be able to wear as much or as little clothes as she needs to run comfortably without being judged for it by strangers.

Men, perhaps you don’t already know this, but you know how when you work out in hot weather your body heats up, requiring you to take off pieces of clothing in order to be comfortable? Well, women’s bodies actually work just like yours does. We get very hot when we work out in warm weather and also require a minimum of clothes in order to not overheat. Again, we are not doing this for you. We do this in order to stay comfortable and safe. We do not need or want your judgement about our bodies. Stop this.

Do not cheer a woman runner on when she is not participating in a race at that moment.

When you’re watching a race, it’s great to cheer on the runners as they go by you. When a random woman on the street happens to run by you, it is not ok to cheer for her. In fact, it’s downright condescending. I had one particular experience where a male runner started clapping for me and enthusiastically yelling “Good job! You’re doing so good! You can make it!” while I was just on a short, easy warm-up. I understand that he probably thought he was being nice, but it just came across as patronizing. I know I can “do it” because it is something I happen to do almost every single day. I am not here to be your entertainment so don’t treat me like I am.

When you see a woman runner, don’t run beside her while trying to flirt when she clearly isn’t interested.

For some of us that run on actual running paths, we come across many other runners while out on our daily training. Some of these runners are men and some of those men decide that the middle of a run is the best time to meet a new lady and flirt with her, regardless of what she thinks about it. Although most men will run up beside me and ask only a couple questions before realizing that I clearly am not interested in them and moving on, in some cases they just do not get the hint. In one particularly egregious case, a man ran up beside me and made some gestures to convince me to take my headphones out. When I did, it turned out it was only so he could ask me how my run was going. He then proceeded to ask me questions about my running and tell me all about his running, while I clearly was acting disinterested for a full two miles until I reached my turnaround point, whereby I turned around and ran off before he could even say goodbye. 

Men, it’s ok to say “hi” to people you run by. It’s even ok to have a short conversation with someone you happen to be running the same pace as, but you need to be aware of the other persons needs. If a woman is wearing headphones and doesn’t take them out immediately when you try to speak with her, then she probably doesn’t want to talk to you. If you talk with her and she is clearly disinterested and either not responding to your questions or responding with only a word or two, then she probably doesn’t want to talk with you. There are many other ways to meet women that do not involve interrupting them on their run, so please stop.

Do not stop a woman while she is running so you can flirt with her.

Even worse than the man who runs beside a woman while trying to flirt with her, is the one that flags her down and forces her to stop running so that he can flirt with her. Usually this involves a man waving his arms and saying “hey, hey, hey” and moving into a woman’s path in order to get her to stop, then when she finally does stop, it turns out it was only so he could chat with her about inanities.

In one particular instance, I had a man flag me down in this manner and actually put his arm out in front of me to stop me running. When I finally stopped to find out what the emergency was (because why else would he be so insistent I stop running), he took the opportunity to tell me all about his life and ask me about mine. He was a retired firefighter whose mother has cancer. He recently participated in a walk to raise money for cancer research and was interviewed for a local news station. I don’t know this man and yet I know all these things about his life because he insisted on stopping my run to tell me about them and making it difficult for me to leave. Not only was this conversation entrapment, but it totally fucked up the run I was on and the goals I was trying to accomplish that day. Again, when women are out on a run, do not force them to stop just so you can chat with them. It’s not about you and I guarantee she will not be happy about having to stop.

Do not get offended if a woman happens to be running faster than you.

Men who run, sometimes you are going to be out on a run and another woman will be sharing the same path as you. Sometimes that woman will be running faster than you and she will pass you. This has nothing to do with you. She just happens to have a faster pace than you. Deal with it.

Although most men seem not to mind if a woman passes them, it is not uncommon for a man to take this very personally. I’ve had men speed up after I pass them in order to pass me back. Once far enough ahead, he’ll often slow down and eventually I’ll catch up and pass him again, whereby the whole process starts again. In one particular instance, a man kept trying to keep up with my pace for a couple miles before he got so tired of trying to stay in front of me that he split off at an intersection and immediately stopped to walk and catch his breath. There was no need for this. If he had just been ok with a slower pace than my own he could have finished his run without getting overwhelmed and stopped distracting me from my run.

Men, unless you are one of the fastest men in the world, there are women that are faster than you and sometimes you might happen to be sharing a path with them. A friend of mine, Moira, was once out on a run and minding her own business when she happened to pass a male runner who was going a slower pace than her. He angrily turned to her as she passed and sneered “it’s not a race, bitch.” No, it’s not dude, so stop acting like it is and pretending like it is a personal affront when a woman happens to be a faster runner than you. This is #fragilemasculinity at its finest.

When at the gym, do not give women unsolicited advice.

This obviously isn’t just a runner thing, but most runners do happen to spend a lot of time at the gym working on strength training. Men, you may not realize this but not all women doing weight training at the gym are new. Some of them may have actually been going to gyms and using weight equipment for years. Just because she is a woman doesn’t mean she automatically needs or wants your help, so stop giving her unsolicited advice. Not only is it patronizing and annoying, but it also can be dangerous. Kate told me that she once had a man see her lifting weights and decide that she needed a spotter. While she was in middle of lifting he came up to to spot her and surprised her, causing her to hit her head on the bar. It can be dangerous to distract people while they are in the middle of a set and using heavy weights, so don’t ever, ever interrupt someone in this manner.

Yes, sometimes you will see a person at the gym who does seem to be new and to be struggling or maybe could use a spotter. The trick is not to assume that every woman you see is said person just because she happens to be a woman. If you see a person who does seem to need help, wait until s/he is between sets then politely say “do you need any help?” If they says “no” then take their word for it and leave them alone. Stop assuming that every woman you see at the gym is new or confused. Women are just as capable and often as experienced at lifting and strength training as the typical male gym-goer, so stop assuming otherwise.


Before you interrupt a woman at the gym to give her advice, flag a woman down who is running, or get upset when she passes you, think about what you would do if she were a man instead. Would you run beside him for miles trying to talk to him when he clearly doesn’t seem interested in chatting? Would you clap and cheer him on when he’s just out on a typical training run? Would you tell him to “put his shirt on” when he runs by you in only shorts on a hot day? Probably not. If it’s not something you would ever do to a man then it’s probably not something you should do to a woman.

Although some of these things do happen to men and in some cases women are the perpetrators, most often these are all things that men do to women. These are not one-off things but common occurrences for many women runners.

Men, women aren’t out running for you. They might be new runners working on a couch-to-5k program or they may be elite runners training for a race or maybe they are just out running for the cardio benefits. Whatever the reason, she is doing it for herself so let her do her thing without interruption from you.

Special thanks to Kate, Julia, Ashley and Moira who shared their running harassment stories with me.

Featured photo of Ashley and Jamie is by Elaine Villaflores.

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. You can usually find her at skeptic events in Chicago or on Twitter or Flickr. She also blogs about music at Notes From Chicago Music Underground.

Previous post

Quickies: Badass women scientists, atheist leaders, and demonic males

Next post

Strong Women Characters and GeekGirlCon

5 Comments

  1. October 13, 2015 at 12:53 pm —

    So is cat-calling an American thing? I’ve lived in Calgary for 42 years, and I’ve seen thousands and thousands of women (and men) jogging up and down the paths by the Bow River. In my entire life, I’ve never heard one get cat-called. I’ve only ever seen cat-calls in Movies or TV or Youtube vids.

    Unsolicited flirting with someone exercising is, however, apparently an international thing.

  2. October 18, 2015 at 12:22 pm —

    Not at all. I’ve been catcalled in Calgary, probably the only time I walked alone there. Walking from training in a light industrial area south of the Bow to a nearby store. Wearing loose fitting black jeans and a fairly thick jacket because it was fall. I heard the whistle as the 1-ton pickup drove by, then stopped in the middle of the street (with trucknuts hanging off the back), reversed to come back and yelled “what an ass”! Which threw me off for a second because it was word for word what I was thinking at the time and it took me some time to figure out the meaning he intended. Then he drove off.
    I’ve had more instances than I can count at home in Edmonton, and don’t even get me started on the rig pigs in northern Alberta.

  3. December 13, 2015 at 11:16 pm —

    Jamie on behalf of all men I apologize for rude behavior from men but I would like to make a small point.
    Men are expected to initiate connections. No matter how “Equal” women want to be they will never give up certain sexist entitlements. Not having to make the first move is a nice entitlement. If a guy sees a woman that he is attracted to he knows a few things. 1) She is not coming to him, 2) he has to go to her, 3) He may get rejected.
    This is something that women refuse to help men out with. All I am asking is for women not to be too self righteous about guys hitting on them. I am not excusing rudeness, ok. Just put yourself in men’s shoes too. We always run the risk of getting you at a bad time. We are not mind readers. Besides, there is something worse than being hit on when you do not want it, NOT being hit on at all.

Leave a reply