Opinion: Alone, vulnerable: Why I wish trail running wasn't so frightening

Newshub reporter Isobel Ewing is taking on her first ultra-marathon in March- the 72km Ring of Fire Ultra at Mt Ruapehu . She will be documenting her training progress; the question of sweet or savoury snacks on long runs, combatting chafing, the trails she discovers and what strange thoughts enter the brain at hour six of a training run. But for the first instalment she decided to write about the dilemma faced by female trail runners.

OPINION: Recently I interviewed a woman who had been raped when she went to a man's house on a date.

She told her story to remind women to take measures to keep themselves safe, and avoid getting into unsafe situations where the worst could happen.

At the end of the interview I mentioned that I do a lot of trail running, often in remote places.

The woman gripped my arm and looked me directly in the eye.

"Please don't do that Isobel.

"It's not worth it."

I left feeling conflicted. I respected her message, but I knew I wouldn't heed her advice.

Why should I have to change my behaviour just because of a few bad men?

Why should I have to settle for boring, well-populated road runs when there's so much fun to be had in the hills?

A woman competes in a long distance trail running race in Alberta, Canada.
Photo credit: Getty.

On Sunday I drove out to the Hunua Ranges to run a 15km loop I'd never run before.

I was excited to escape Auckland and I'd chosen a beautiful day to do it; the air smelled of warm manuka and the only sounds were those of native birds concealed in the canopy.

But as I drove the long gravel road taking me deeper into the ranges, familiar thoughts began to enter my head.

This is fairly remote.

I have no cellphone coverage.

I wonder if I should've posted that message in that public Facebook group asking for trail recommendations. Was it obvious that I was going to be running here this afternoon?

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable young woman out for a jog in the woods
Photo credit: Getty.

The bush is a place to switch off and immerse myself in the simple pleasure of being in nature, the steady thud of my shoes on the earth my sort of meditative practice.

Trail running is great love of mine and I consider it a crucial ingredient to my good mental health.

But my worries are the inevitable thoughts of a woman alone, an almost subconscious stream of warnings built in by necessity.

During my two hour run I passed just three people, all men, with whom I exchanged a friendly smile.

But each time I passed one of them I removed an earbud and glanced back, an act so instinctual I do it without thinking.

They were no doubt all nice men out for a Sunday walk, but to me, alone and therefore vulnerable, they represented a threat and my response to all three of them was of fear.

This is the difference between being a man and being a woman.

In every sense running is beautifully egalitarian, except along gender lines.

You're torn between the happiness and freedom brought by being out in the bush, and a constant sense of wariness.

I'm never going to stop running in remote places.

I love the empowerment and joy a solo run on the trail brings me.

But I know I'll always be looking over my shoulder.

Isobel Ewing is a TV reporter for Newshub.

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