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Human encounters


There are a number of posts in this blog about alarming and interesting encounters I have had with animals while out running, but only a few about human encounters.  Before going any further, however, I have to acknowledge that male runners face far fewer human threats than female runners. A number of females I know personally have been harassed and chased by men when out running, and we have all read stories about women runners assaulted and even killed.  I have always felt fortunate to be able to run almost anywhere I like without fearing human interference, and those few bad encounters I have had don't amount to much.

A few scary incidents have already been mentioned in this blog including being stopped by abusive Russian police while out running near Smolensk (see ‘No Visa’), being chased by two guys in a car and on foot while leading a half marathon (see ‘Unexpected Hazards’), and being followed by a guy whose car I had banged when he cut me off at a corner (see ‘A road rage story’).

Bucharest, Romania.

In the London suburb of Brixton, I sometimes felt quite intimidated by milling groups of black youths blocking the footpath during my evening running commute in the mid-1970s.  They never showed any inclination to move aside as I approached, and I always had to slow down and gently work my way through the group.  One time I received a good-natured whack across the butt with a cricket bat as I passed, but that was the worst that ever happened.

On another occasion in the mid-1970s, I was returning to our campsite from an evening run through the suburbs of Bucharest in Romania, when I met a group of loud young men and women walking towards me, line abreast, along a path.  They showed no sign of letting me pass.  I moved to the very left-hand side, where there just room to squeeze through, but as I passed one of the guys pushed the girl on the end of the line into my path.  I just had time to drop my shoulder to absorb the impact and knocked the girl heavily to the ground.  Pandemonium broke out and I didn't hang around to see if the girl was OK, instead accelerating off into the gloom.

Swan Street Bridge, Melbourne.

The only other physical encounter I can recall occurred when running across Swan Street Bridge in Melbourne one warm summer evening.  As I passed an intoxicated young guy coming the other way, he suddenly and unexpectedly swung his fist hard into my stomach.  Although briefly winded, I recovered and angrily approached him demanding to know why he had hit me.  Putting his bag down, he struck a defensive pose.  Rather than fight, I quickly grabbed his bag and ran further across the bridge.  A small crowd gathered as I hung the bag over the railing, threatening to drop it into the Yarra River below.  In the end, I cooled down, threw his bag back to him, and continued my run.

I have heard of runners being hit by objects thrown from cars, but that has never happened to me, although I did once cop a milkshake while out riding my bike.

Elwood coastline with Melbourne skyline
in the background.

Perhaps the most interesting human encounter I ever had was in the early 1980s during my regular Wednesday evening 20 mile run which incorporated a long stretch on paths along the coast of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.  One very warm summer evening, on a more remote stretch of the path in Elwood, two young women were walking towards me along the path wearing towelling robes, apparently having been swimming or sunbathing.  I saw them exchange words and then just before I reached them, they said ‘Ta Dah!’ and both flung open their robes to reveal nothing was being worn underneath.  I must have looked shocked (and I was), and heard them laughing loudly behind me as I continued on my way.

I ran a slow and lethargic 15km this morning on the roads with a few hills.  My legs still felt heavy and stiff from Sunday's long run, although I was moving more freely by the end.  When breathing harder on the hills, I'm still occasionally getting a feeling of pressure in my chest at the base of the sternum, but there's no other evidence of a problem and I'm inclined to pass it off as just the result of breathing harder.  My resting pulse rate is now back below 40, where it was before I had the heart and lung problems late last year.