Running with Ashling on our minds….

A few short weeks ago I ran free and easy. Full of new year enthusiasm I enjoyed being out in the fresh air building motivation and fitness like so many others after the festive season. Running safely meant wearing my hi-vis gear, keeping socially distant from others while dodging tree roots and puddles. Running was relaxing, effortless and free – time to escape and let my mind wander. But 12 days on and I cannot run as carefree as before.

A change of mind

All I can think about is what happened to Ashling Murphy on her final run along her bright and busy canal path. From chatting to others, it’s clear I’m not alone. The national outpouring of shock, anger as well as heartfelt sympathy for the Murphy family has highlighted how much this devastating tragedy has been felt far beyond Ashling’s local community. This incident has deeply impacted so many of us who have never met Ashling but feel a kinship towards her. For indeed, Ashling Murphy could have been any one of us female runners, or any of our dear running buddies.

Sisters in running

We can all identify with Ashling, a runner who gets home from work and pops on her running shoes to enjoy a sunny winter’s trot along the scenic path. For many of us, it is actually our happy place and a highlight of our midweek. This escape into the fresh air should send us home energized and refreshed. It should be a safe place for everyone. But for Ashling, that one run changed everything in the worst possible way. For most of the female runners I have spoken to since, we find ourselves running with Ashling’s final run in our mind and this has sent our own imaginations into overdrive.

Feeling Vulnerable

Our perception of freedom has been challenged and many of the runners I have spoken to feel more vulnerable than ever. The relative innocence with how we ran before has been taken from us. There is a feeling of anger, frustration and annoyance that something that was so uplifting and natural is now laced with a raised level of anxiety and potential threat. We find ourselves second guessing our running routines or thinking about worst case scenarios. At the moment, going for a  run is not the escape it once was.

Finding Safety

The link between running and the attack on Ashling will be hard to separate but as the weeks go on, some of us will adapt back into our old routines while others will take longer to build the strength to venture solo. While we shouldn’t in theory have to think about safety on a run/walk, if you are feeling anxious and nervous about going out, you may end up avoiding going at all. But the longer you put it off, the harder it will be to get started again. So now is the time to ensure we do our best to look after our running community, family and friends and help eachother to come through this shock and support them when venturing outdoors.

Looking over our shoulder

While unfortunately we cannot individually solve the problem of womens’ safety at a high level, we can work in our local communities to help people feel safe and supported when they do go outdoors. We are made to thrive on community, fresh air and movement. Try to put yourself in the shoes of anyone you pass on your walks and runs these days. Think about your sisters, colleagues and club mates. Let’s help eachother feel more comfortable. An encouraging nod between runners, a supportive smile and a shared awareness of our surroundings and personal space can benefit everyone. If we can try and make the paths and roads more welcoming, safe and actively look out for other path users, this could be a great start.

How to move forward

I wish I had the answers to the problem or knew how we get to a point where we can all run free without looking over our shoulder. We should all have the right to feel comfortable running solo, but for now, if running together is what makes you feel safer, then please do it. Get in contact with someone who you know might also benefit from a chat and a few shared miles. Talking makes everything feel a little better. If you don’t feel comfortable out on a public road, even a busy one, think about alternative options. Initiatives like Ireland Lights Up (ILU) at GAA clubs which offers bright looped paths for locals to move and talk might be something to try out. Do what can you do these weeks to help lift others, encourage activity while indeed carrying the memory of Ashling in your walks and runs.

More than a runner

Running has always been an excellent way to build confidence, strength, stamina and resilience. While we may not feel all of those feeling right now, we need to nurture ourselves and each other to keep on running. Ashling Murphy was not just a runner. She was a daughter, a teacher, a musician, a sister and a shining light to everyone she met. We owe it to her to not let fear hold us back from moving forward step by step to make running (or indeed walking) safe and enjoyable for us all again.

This article was written by Mary Jennings, founder and running coach at ForgetTheGym,  and was first published in The Irish Times on Jan 25th 2022.