You guys know the hash tag #seenonmyrun ? (Yes, I have a Twitter obsession, I'm sorry if you don't.)
Today I started with an awesome #seenonmyrun. (Jesus statue by the side of the path -awesome, right?) Then things got weird.
This morning was cold and snowing and miserable but I have a half next week so I had no choice but to brave the elements. The other members of our group evidently didn't feel compelled to leave the warmth of their homes and I don't blame them at all. It was just a group of two today, Michelle and myself.
Michelle and I decided to go the opposite direction on the path that we typically do just for a change of scenery. We run in the Cook County Forest Preserve and some areas of the path run along side neighborhoods and busier streets. Other areas are deeper into the woods and quite deserted. The path is a 3.25 mile loop. We planned to do two loops this morning.
I have to preface this by saying that we always stick together on these runs, we try to stay alert to our surroundings and we see a lot of the same people out on the path every week. That said, we do not run with pepper spray. I have always felt safe enough in a group that I never felt compelled to purchase any. I never go out on that path alone, if I run by myself I run through the neighborhoods and check in at home or with a family member a few blocks away during that time. I try to keep myself as safe as I can.
A mile into our second loop we were approaching an area that runs directly along side a neighborhood. I saw a man approaching us, walking fairly slowly. He wasn't wearing running clothes, he wasn't with anyone and he wasn't walking a dog - the vast majority of the people we see fall into these categories. I did notice he had a phone in his hand that he was pretty fixated on, but nothing else about him seemed that strange. After he passed us, Michelle said she thought he exposed himself to us. I honestly hadn't given him that good of a look but I commented that he wasn't really dressed for a run.
We decided we would keep an eye on him. Within a few moments, he turned around and started walking the same direction we were - still very slowly. We had reached a neighborhood by then and got off the path and walked close to the houses to see if he would pass us. We had to slow down almost to a crawl before he strolled past us. Michelle was right: He was walking around giving a show.
At that point we knew we would not be getting back on the path. The next mile is the most deserted part of the path, there were few people out with the morning being so cold and he was walking so slow we would have no choice but to pass him - putting him behind us and out of our line of sight again. We opted to walk through the neighborhoods to my parents house and got a ride back to pick up our cars. I made a report to the police and they went to investigate but called me back a short while ago to let me know they didn't see anyone but they will be increasing patrols in the area.
There's every chance this man is a harmless flasher but people who exhibit that kind of behavior often progress toward other less harmless acts and I'm not going to lie, I just had a bad feeling about the whole situation.
I know most my readers are women and I really want to encourage all of you to be cautious when you run, even in a group. Don't run alone in the woods and no matter where you run be sure some one knows your route, be sure they know about how long it will take you - check in with people - response time is critical in any abduction. The first thing my mother said when we walked in the door was that she thought I'd been gone a long time for a six mile run - if our morning had ended in a different way her having that information could have been very important. Above all else, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you have a bad feeling about a situation, trust it, get out as soon as you safely can.
If you're in the south suburbs of Chicago, be on the lookout for a white man in his twenties on the Forest Preserve trails that sticks out. Today he wore jeans, a black coat, white (non athletic) sneakers and a white ski cap. Cook County Forest Preserve Police have been notified and did check out the area but stated they didn't see anyone matching the description.
That's all for my public service announcement.
Lincoln is next week - be on the look out for race report Sunday!