it happens anywhere

I’ve taken my time with this post because I didn’t know how to write it. I struggled most of last week, both with the situation and with if and how I should share it.  What it comes down to is that it’s important to know that we can’t take our safety for granted, and always have to be the most active of participants in our own protection.

I follow “the rules.”

I don’t go running by myself without letting at least one person know where I am and when I’ll be back.

If I’m alone, I keep my headphones off or low enough that I can clearly hear around me. I listen for footsteps or cars.

I make eye contact.

I rely on my height and my build, standing tall and “making myself large,” as if I’m dealing with grizzly bears and not random people I pass on the sidewalk.

Stay aware. Be alert. Don’t look lost. Don’t make yourself a target. Know your exit strategy. Because that’s what you’ve been taught, what you’ve learned.

Because that’s what you do.

Those are the rules.

But even when you do those things, when you play by those rules, someone can walk up to you in broad daylight, insert themselves into your space, and make uninvited, unwanted contact without batting an eye. And you’re left wondering what the hell just happened and trying to shrug off the slimy, icky film that now seems to cling to you.

When our community gym opened, we had the option to fill out a waiver for extended hours. Mr PugRunner took care of it, and reported that I could now get in those early morning workouts if I wanted.

I had checked out the area while on one of my pre-dawn runs, however, and I wasn’t sure I felt confident about security. Not enough flood lights. Locks and doors not quite substantial enough. No big windows open to the road. In short: should things happen to go sideways, there would be no one to see me in distress and no one to hear me scream.

He looked at me  funny, but said nothing. He’s used to my little idiosyncrasies after almost 12 years of marriage, and the conversation was over. Daytime gym time, here we come.

Things were great. Sometimes I was alone. Sometimes I worked out alongside people I knew and sometimes alongside strangers. I was always pleasant, said “hello” and “have a nice day”, and was careful not to hoard equipment.

But even with that, in spite of it, I found myself in a position of vulnerability. Minding my own business, running on the treadmill.

At which point, a person who I have only seen a handful of times, with whom I have exchanged the most superficial of words, whose name I do not even know, came right up to the left side of my treadmill and wrapped his arm around behind me. In a hug? His arm or hand made contact with my lower back and hip and I remember kind of wiggle stepping away on the moving belt because I was sweating and, like most people, prefer not to be touched when sweating.

I prefer not to be touched by people I don’t know at all.

I should have said something. I should have called him out and told him to keep his hands to himself. But then I thought maybe I had it all wrong. No one else batted an eye (the man had a companion with him). Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe he was just trying to be friendly. Maybe it was all an innocent misunderstanding. Maybe it wasn’t.

For the rest of the day, I second guessed. I was embarrassed that I was bothered by this seemingly small and meaningless gesture, and angry for not standing up for myself. Absurdly, I blamed myself for putting myself in a position where this could happen, then went over the things I could have done differently, then raged that I couldn’t even go for a run without having to be on my guard.

I’m ok. I am. I’m disappointed in myself for not being stronger but I know better for next time. I have been back to the gym twice since that incident, but I went at a different time to minimize the chance of running into him and I wasn’t sorry to take a few days off due to other obligations. I need to get back on that horse, though. The longer I wait, the harder it will be.

I am entitled to be in that space, without worrying about that space being invaded by anyone. We are all entitled to that. My guard is up, now, and I will be sure to keep myself from being in that same position again.

What are the extra methods you employ to keep yourself safe?

Have you ever had an unwanted or unpleasant encounter while working out? How did you deal with it?

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23 Responses to it happens anywhere

  1. Allie says:

    This makes me furious! First of all, you did nothing wrong and shouldn’t be upset with yourself when someone else made you THAT uncomfortable. It’s all on him and it’s definitely wrong if it bothered you – doesn’t matter if it didn’t bother anyone else! This is exactly why victims blame themselves, they feel like the onus is on them to do something but it’s not. It’s 100% not on you – it’s on HIM! I’m just sorry this happened to you but know that you did everything you could in a bad situation and you don’t need to do anything else. It truly sucks being female sometimes and all the ridiculous crap we have to put up with.
    Allie recently posted…The Rundown – Narrow Your FocusMy Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      I think I’m more mad that I couldn’t snap out of my mindset of “we are all here, working out, having a nice time. No need to cause a scene and ruin it for everyone. This is probably just all a misunderstanding.” It’s incredibly cliche, and I like to think I’m stronger than that. But that’s how my thought process went down, probably because I was in such shock that anything like this happened. In broad daylight. In front of people.

      Ugh. I appreciate the support. <3

  2. Gise says:

    That is crazy. I am so sorry that you had to deal with that. That is completely unacceptable. I’m glad you are safe and that he didn’t go beyond the “hug” but nobody has a right to invade your space like that. Stay strong my friend.

  3. Sorry to hear this experience happened to you. As I read this all I could think about is, why? Why do we have to go through daily life tasks and always be thinking of our safety. Do i have an exit plan, what am i close to if i need help, etc.etc. We all react differently in any situation, don’t be hard on yourself or embarrassed.

    • runswithpugs says:

      I mean, we certainly don’t have to. And there are plenty of women who probably don’t. I agree that it’s ridiculous and unfair that this should even be a thought in the back of our minds – when my husband has to go to the gym, he doesn’t need to look over his shoulder, or worry about if it’s too dark or anything like that. It does make me mad, but I also will continue to try to make adjustments to be as safe as I can. Obviously, as it turns out, things will happen any time and anywhere, but now my guard is up a little higher. 🙁

  4. wow! firstly, you did nothing wrong and you did not put yourself in a dangerous or risky position. Running on a treadmill in the gym sounds like the safest place to be. He had no right at all to touch you. I suspect you are not the only person he has done this to. If you are up to it, I would suggest you report it to the gym manager so he can be on the look out and have a “chat” w this member. I am really sorry this happened to you

  5. Darlene says:


    Hope this never happens again.

    Glad it never happened to me.

  6. Kim G says:

    First of all, please know that you did nothing wrong. You did everything right and you shouldn’t be afraid to run on a treadmill in a gym. Sounds like this guy has a real problem with boundaries!

    • runswithpugs says:

      I’m not afraid, but I am definitely looking over my shoulder a little more. He definitely did have a boundary problem, and I have to come to terms with that, rather than mentally trying to find an excuse (he’s older, just trying to be friendly, etc).

  7. Oh, so sorry for this icky experience. Like everyone said, I agree that you did nothing wrong or in any way endangered yourself…this dude is the one at fault. I think you should report it (I know, easy for me to say). Are there cameras in the gym? or parking lot?

  8. HoHo Runs says:

    Nobody has the right to touch you! In the south, everybody hugs. And seriously, a hug from a relative or good friend is perfectly fine. But it grosses me out when a man thinks he has the right to hug me, or even touch my shoulder. GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF ME!

    • runswithpugs says:

      I grew up in NJ, where no one gets in your personal space, to Miami where hugs and double cheek kisses were absolutely the norm to NE Florida, where it’s kind of a mix of both. I can totally roll with that, but not from a total stranger in a situation where I don’t see it coming, where I’m essentially “trapped” in a space and sweating like a pig. Nope. Not so cool.

  9. I’m sorry you felt that way at a place you should feel comfortable. Not to sound insensitive, (I’m a victim of this kind of stuff myself), but I don’t think I would go so far to report a hug. You’re right that, especially if you don’t really know him, he wasn’t in the right. But I think unless he touched you in any places that would be considered inappropriate, there’s a good chance that he really was just trying to be friendly or even maybe silly.

    You have a right to the way you feel though, and he shouldn’t have
    touched you if you didn’t want to be touched. But I think there is so much of accusing stuff going on that guys that are truly just trying to be kind or friendly feel victimized themselves.

    I hope you feel safe again to go back to the gym soon and enjoy it. I also hope this didn’t come off as offensive or insensitive.

    • runswithpugs says:

      Not at all insensitive or offensive to me. It’s all part of this very delicate and volatile dialogue and navigating these situations. We all have our own boundaries and ideas of what is considered “appropriate.” I’m not accusing him of anything, simply stating what happened. Do I think he meant harm? Not really. Do I think I was in a vulnerable position, running on a treadmill, distracted by what I was doing and effectively confined to a small area? Yes. The inappropriateness was less where I was touched than the fact that I was in a position where I couldn’t do much about the touching in the moment.

      I never want to discourage someone from being friendly and I don’t want to be unapproachable. Community is important to me. I roll my eyes hard at those articles like “ten things to never say to such and such person” because I do think it discourages regular conversation and makes people unwilling to put themselves out there. But I also have to wonder that if my husband was on that treadmill, would that person have come over and attempted the same maneuver? Most likely, no. That lends itself to the icky feeling.

      I feel more uneasy than unsafe. I was in the gym on Monday, and I was absolutely on edge. I’m sure it will pass, but I do think it’s important to be aware of our surroundings and that icky things can happen even in the light with people around.

  10. Jenn reading this makes my blood boil! No one has any right to put their hands on you. Seriously, there are days where I feel like the world is spinning out of control – what is wrong with people!

    I am so sorry this happened to you – you deserve to feel safe no matter where you are.

    • runswithpugs says:

      Thank you. I don’t know what’s wrong with people – there is a lot of good in the world, but there are also plenty of things that lead me to say WTH? Onward and upward. Something like this isn’t going to keep me down or hold me back 🙂

  11. Wendy says:

    That’s really creepy! Unless he’s just one of those touchy people. But still, very inappropriate. I think your wiggle away was a hint and I’m sure he won’t do it again.

    I had a creepy encounter this past summer on the bike path and I wrote about it too. Nothing happened but it was one of those situations where my gut told me something wasn’t right. I don’t always follow the rules when I run. I run alone. I wear headphones. But now I’ve been a little more cautious.

    • runswithpugs says:

      I remember you writing about it. I do hope I gave enough of a hint, but I wish I had had the presence of mind to say something in the moment.

      I think it’s important to always be aware and be cautious. I dont’ think I’m paranoid about it, but I watch a lot of Liam Neeson action movies, so… obviously I have to put some of techniques into play.

  12. That’s so weird. Why would anyone do that? Did he mistake you for someone else? Did he say something when he did it?
    You’re totally right to feel uncomfortable with that. Very strange.

    • runswithpugs says:

      It was very weird. We have seen each other before and exchanged pleasantries. I don’t know his name or anything else relevant about him. So I don’t think he mistook me for anyone else. Weird 🙁

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