What Eliza Fletcher Reminds Us Of | The Dangers Of Being A Female Runner

What happened to Eliza Fletcher should remind all of us the dangers of being a female runner! Here’s what her tragedy teaches us.

by Laura Onstot | Laura Onstot, registered nurse and mom of 2 young kids, rarely pees alone, only frequents restaurants with Kraft Mac N Cheese, and blogs at Nomad’s Land. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids watch endless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Her parenting advice is questionable, but at least she’s honest. Follow her on Twitter @LauraOnstot.

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Look, I don’t know why Eliza Fletcher chose to go for an early morning run on September 2nd, but I presume it had to do with the fact that she is a mom and teacher, and needing to cram her workout in early in the day. I know that’s the case for me. 

I lace up my shoes while it is still dark out because it is the only time of day I can cram a run into my schedule. Pre-dawn, the kids are still sleeping, my husband is home, and I can hit the roads without going through the annoying hubbub of lining up child care. It also prevents the whole death-by-heat-stroke conundrum that we Floridians face. 

While I live in an area frequented by bears, bobcats, alligators, and panthers, that is not what I fear when I hear a twig snap. We also live in an area where human trafficking is a concern. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that Florida has the third highest number of human trafficking cases reported by the state. Nothing makes my heart race more than when a car slows down next to me or when the same car passes me multiple times. 

Having moved from the Midwest, I was schooled on the human trafficking crisis when I was followed into Target one day and approached by a double-masked and sunglasses-wearing man who asked if he could take a picture of my 3-year-old daughter. Target security kicked him out and recommended I file a report with the police, who informed me there wasn’t anything they could do. You see, they can’t arrest these people until they’ve actually done something horrible. And even then, as we see with Fletcher’s suspected killer, it isn’t enough. Cleotha Abston-Henderson not only has a history of rape and aggravated assault, he already served time in prison for kidnapping a victim at gunpoint when he was just sixteen.

Another time, I was followed through Walmart while trying to buy my daughter a bike for her birthday. I raced the kids out of the store, trying to stop a tantrum in progress and get us to our car before the man could catch our license plate. 

So when I run, my greatest fear is being nabbed by a human. I run for my health and concurrently risk my safety. The irony is not beyond me.  

The physical health benefits of running are great, especially the chiseled calves that make it possible to pull off an Angelina Jolie length dress slit. Though how dare I wear a dress with a large slit because then I’m just asking to be raped. But most of us runners run for more than one reason.

I run because I have an unhealthy love for Chick-Fil-A. I run because it provides an escape from my children. The running-induced endorphins are part of the treatment plan for my depression; I rely on their boost just as much as I rely on Zoloft. I run to find my limits, to bring myself to higher places, to feel the expansion of humanity: pain, beauty, and life. 

I’m willing to guess that Eliza ran for some of the same reasons. 

It annoys me that women are expected to be prepared to be raped and kidnapped. Carrying pepper spray or running in a locked building are not solutions to the underlying problem. 

Eliza was doing what most moms do: squeezing a workout in at a time that is least impactful to their families. Yet, she has received flack for running in the dark, for not wearing a shirt over her sports bra, and for running without mace. If this happened to a shirtless man, no one would say, “by running shirtless, he was asking for it.” Or, “Why was he running at 4:30 am, alone?”

The sun rising during an early morning jog.
Photo Courtesy of Laura Onstot

I’ve debated carrying pepper spray or a taser. But I worry that if I were in a situation where I needed it, I wouldn’t be able to react quickly enough. Or if I did, I would end up accidentally pepper spraying or tasering myself. 

My heart breaks for Eliza’s sons, her husband, her family, friends, coworkers, and students. And my heart breaks for Eliza. She lived the nightmare that most female runners play out in their brains each run. The one that we reassure ourselves, “would never happen…not to me, at least.”

The kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher have left the running community shaken. Some runners are changing their routines. Others are continuing their early morning runs, though admittedly scared. My sister now sends me her location while running through the Strava app. I can watch her real-time location as she logs her miles. 

Me? I’m shook too. I’ve shuffled my schedule to push my runs to begin at sunrise, at least for now. Eliza Fletcher reminded me that the danger of being a female runner is not hypothetical. And for that, I am devastated. 

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