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‘Keep your whereabouts to yourself!’: Women discuss whether it is safe to share running routes online

·4-min read
Woman runs outside (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Woman runs outside (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Women are discussing whether there is a safe way to share their running routes and achievements with friends online after activist Gina Martin urged people not to post their run on social media.

Martin, who successfully campaigned to make upskirting - taking photographs under someone’s clothing without their consent - an illegal offence in England and Wales in 2019, warned women against making their running routes public in a tweet earlier this month.

“We are already proud of you for running & would rather you [were] safe [from] weird men who will screenshot it and be able to tell where you run and where you live,” she said.

Martin then re-shared the message on Instagram on 15 June, noting that the longer days and warmer weather is likely making evening runs “more attractive”.

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“Changing your behaviour because of male violence is one thing, but supplying information about your routine and whereabouts publicly to anyone who wants it is entirely another,” she said, adding “keep your whereabouts to yourself!”

She also shared tips and stories from others on whether it is possible to safely share your run-on social media and how to change privacy settings.

During England’s three national lockdowns, people were permitted to leave their house for exercise once per day, with many opting to run: around one million downloads of the NHS Couch to 5k app took place in the first lockdown.

This led to increased use of running apps such as Strava - a platform for sharing data and information about your activity with followers - which reported that UK outdoor activity levels outpaced expected growth by 80 per cent during the first lockdown.

But in May, Runner’s World and Women’s Health published results of a survey of 2,000 runners, which found that 60 per cent of women had been harassed when running, with 26 per cent reporting that someone had tried to follow them.

Dozens of women have since commented on Martin’s post, with some sharing their own stories as warnings to other women.

Rose Stokes from London, warned against sharing altogether. “My ex used Strava to track me and it still makes me shiver every time I see women sharing theirs openly. It does give an option to obscure your home address but [to be honest] just safest not to share at all,” she said.

Stokes told The Independent that he would turn up on her cycle route or message her saying she had “done a good time” on a run. “It was just very invasive and went from being something I did to measure my progress to something that made me feel I couldn’t ever be private or live online in any meaningful way without him finding me,” she said.

“I discovered at that point that some apps just don’t really work when it comes to blocking,” she added. “It just made me realise how much info we give people about ourselves and I’m so wary now of these things.”

Others said that they had “never thought about” the potential consequences of sharing their running routes so openly.

It still makes me shiver every time I see women sharing theirs openly

“It stings to have another thing to be careful of in myself, when it’s those who are using a lady’s information for nefarious, creepy, violent means,” one said.

One user pointed to Strava’s customisable privacy settings, writing that it is possible to hide your start and finish points and only share runs with people on your friends list.

“You can set privacy settings to only you or only friends and set different-sized privacy zones around your start and finish points. I have to edit a run if I want to share it - hidden is my default,” said one.

A woman also urged those who go out running in remote locations to make use of Strava’s Beacon feature. “Don’t forget Strava Beacon as well, you can nominate contacts who can track your location. I use it when I’m out mountain biking in the forest by myself!”

Beacon works by generating a unique URL that the runner can share with their safety contacts via a text message, allowing them to follow their activity in real-time.

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