He Won’t Take Running From Me

by Elizabeth on November 24, 2012

I had 10 miles on my training schedule for Saturday mornings run. I was physically and sexually assaulted on my run at mile 8.2. I will forewarn you, this post will be long. I want to get the details out, for me mentally, for those in Mobile to be aware, and for the safety of each and every female runner I know.

I haven’t had to run in Mobile in almost a year. Running around my dads house can be challenging, there are no sidewalks and I don’t love the neighborhoods next to us. I chose to go run at Cottage Hill Park. The loop at the park is right under 2 miles and there are plenty of people out and about. I also planned on running in the neighborhoods around it-all of them have sidewalks and are all nice, middle upper class, clean areas. I used to run in the downtown area and there are two reasons I didn’t this weekend: old sidewalks (issues with my ankle) and the sketchy homeless people.

I started my run a few minutes before 8am. I looped the park and headed out on Knollwood towards Grelot. I turned left on Grelot to Hillcrest and turned around and ran back up Grelot to Regency Oaks neighborhood. I looped the neighborhood and headed back out on Grelot to University. I decided to also do Regency neighborhood to run by a childhood friends home. Throughout my run, I saw several runners on the road. I felt very safe. People were out in the yards and plenty of people driving up and down the street in Regency (this is a big cut-through neighborhood). I remember passing a woman, also running, and nodding to her and headed back onto Grelot, a mile or so later.

By the time I was near the park, I needed another 2 miles or so. I decided to turn into Sutton Place neighborhood. I don’t/didn’t know the neighborhood well, just that it made a loop and I knew it would be close to the perfect mileage for the end of my run. Again, it’s a nice neighborhood. I had a friend from high school that lived there.

All of the sudden I heard very heavy footsteps behind me, probably 25-35 feet or so behind me. I saw a large black man running towards me. My runners instinct was to step to the side and out of the way, in case he was doing sprints or something and I was in his way (have to laugh at myself for this one). I quickly realized that he was running AT ME-because when I stepped out into the street, he did too.

He put his arms around me and I was screaming “HELP HELP HELP” at the top of my lungs. I was wiggling and trying to elbow him. He rubbed his hands all over my body and breasts and grabbed my left breast hard, two to three times. He was smiling the entire time and never said a word. He took off running.  It all happened so fast. I don’t think he groped me down there, I would’ve remembered. I can distinctly remember the breasts-it was forceful and violent. I think any other private area would’ve felt the same.

I immediately starting shaking and sobbing and pulled out my phone and called 911. I was able to give the address since there were mailboxes all around. I struggled getting words out and luckily 2 women, that weren’t running together, were finishing up their runs and heading home into the neighborhood. (No one ever came out of their homes-turns out-the lady was vacuuming in the house that it happened in front of-she wouldn’t have been able to hear me).

One of the women was the girl that I passed in Regency. She immediately said,  “it was the large, black man. I saw him following you.”  I knew he had on a red Alabama hoodie and I couldn’t really tell what kind of pants they were.  She told me they were jeans. That is why she thought it was odd. Runners don’t run in jeans. She said he was a good 5-6 houses behind me, which is why I couldn’t hear him, but she knew something just wasn’t right. She also noticed a black car (maybe a dodge) that was left running, parked off to the side in the neighborhood behind some bushes. She had a bad feeling, turned around, and saw that the man was heading back towards her. She ran back out on a main road (side note: she has been running these neighborhoods daily for 20 years and never had an issue) and assumed the guy was leaving. Turns out, he must’ve known some sort of cut through (by foot, not car) to get to the other street where I was. I honestly don’t think he was on the main road that I was on. I’m not sure he could’ve run that far, that fast, or that long. I truly think he cut through the neighborhood and saw me again.

The cops arrived in 5 minutes. There were 3-4 of them and several others out patrolling the area looking for the man.  My dad came and drove around too. Another male that had come by on his bike went looking too.  Unfortunately, no one ever found him or the car. The cops said that this sounds like a male in 2 other cases that have happened recently. Groping and grabbing, but not an actual rape.  What also sucks is that he had on an Alabama hoodie. On Iron Bowl day, in Alabama. He is dressed like half of the city. If it would’ve been any other shirt, or color shirt, I think he would’ve been easier to spot.

only pic of the day. from the cop car. view of area and many neighbors checking to see what was going on.

I had to stay for almost 2 hours giving my statement to the police and to the detective. The neighborhood happens to have security cameras, and I just got an email from the lady who helped me today (she found my blog) letting me know that they caught him on camera. She had to go and give a sketch artist a description as well. I feel so good about the police catching him now.  The news might run the story as well. If they catch him, I will have to testify against him for sexual assault.

****update: here are the pics caught from the video:

This truly scared the shit out of me. I am doing my best to NOT think about the “what ifs” that could’ve been. It’s not healthy to think that way.

What I learned from this:

1. ALWAYS CARRY YOUR PHONE. I don’t care if you don’t like a belt. I don’t care if you know your neighborhood. I don’t care if you feel safe.  I don’t know what I would’ve done if I would’ve had to knock on doors or wait for someone to drive by to call the police.

2. TAKE A SELF DEFENSE CLASS. Randomly, I saw a deal for one in Atlanta the other day. I chose not to buy it, I didn’t want to spend the money. You can bet all the money in the world that I will be taking one of these classes ASAP. We all should know how to protect ourselves from an assault.

3. CARRY MACE. Mine was in my car. Super cool. I will admit, I wouldn’t have been able to get it out fast enough to do anything though. It happened too quickly.

4. RUN WITH A GROUP (or pair). It’s funny, I was going to ask my girlfriends husband to run with me today, but he runs a bit faster than my plan called for, so I didn’t. Not to mention, it’s hard when you are out of town to find someone. BUT, I think I will be on the treadmill or finding a new partner in Atlanta soon.

5. MAKE SURE SOMEONE KNOWS WHERE YOU ARE GOING. My dad knew where I was, thank goodness. From now on, I think it will be better off to leave an actual route.

6. NO MUSIC OR ONE EARBUD. I failed here. Both of mine were in. I am usually really good in Atlanta about this, but took my comfort level for granted. Don’t get me wrong, the music wasn’t loud. I easily heard him coming, but I am still beating myself up a bit.

7. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. I feel I failed here too. We runners tend to get in the zone. Get lost in our thoughts, especially on a good run, and I was having one of them. I should’ve turned around more. Looked around more. Part of it, I think, was not knowing the neighborhood like I used to. The other witness said she noticed the car (because she runs the streets every day).

8. CHANGE YOUR ROUTE UP & THE TIME YOU RUN. This wasn’t an issue for me, but something to think about. If you run the same streets, the same time of day, someone will notice. ESPECIALLY a creeper. Change it up. If you feel like you are being followed or watched, get to a main street.

9. WATCH WHAT YOU POST. Again, this wasn’t an issue for me. But think about it. If you post every single detail of your runs on dailymile, or your garmin data isn’t private, people can see what you do. Be vague.

10. TRUST YOUR GUT.  I felt safe this time. However, the other runner knew something was wrong. She just had an off feeling. And she was right. If you feel unsafe, if something feels off, you are probably right.

Nancy (stepmom) dropped me back off at my car when I was done. I told her that he wasn’t going to take away my love. I had to finish that 1.8 miles. I HAD TO FINISH THAT RUN. I looped the park, adrenaline pumping and senses heightened. Running should be my empowerment, not a fear.  This jerk off won’t take running from me.

I hope the police catch him. I am thankful for their quick response and their help today.  I am also so incredibly thankful for the other runner. She saw so much that I missed and was so kind to stay with me and take time out of her day to deal with the police.

Stay safe everyone.