Favourite things to do while running: Worry about the car that’s stalking me

On a visit to my parents, who still live in my hometown, I decided to go for a run. My mother was a bit wary when she saw me tie up my shoe laces. “You must be careful,” she said.

In another world, perhaps you would interpret that as her being concerned that I don’t trip and hurt myself. But I don’t live in another world, and what she really meant was, don’t get attacked.

Honestly, I was unsure about running, also weighing out whether it would be safe or not. So my mother’s comment didn’t do much to put me at ease. I decided to “run forth” when I remembered  that two days before, I was in the busy Jo’burg CBD waiting for an Uber. An act which is probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done this year. So nothing else could be worse.

I did a safety-check before stepping outside the perimeter of my parents’ yard. Up straight, shoulders back, look purposeful and not like I’m lost in the neighbourhood I spent 18 years of my life.

It had been 10 years since I first started running outside the sports ground. I was still in high school and I ran with my friends. A decade on and the same fears I had back then, remain. Permanently resting inside of me, like I was carrying a load in my belly which ironically was not the previous night’s dinner. I could feel the tension in my chest whenever I passed by someone.

I swung my arms widely along my sides as I walked, like I was on a mission and too busy to greet a stranger.

I set my watched, looked at the passing cars and started off. At this point if you think running comes naturally to me, it doesn’t. I’m always overwhelmed by the rush of oxygenated blood to my brain. And the Sun, it’s like I always choose to run at the worst time of the day because I’m always looking for trees to shadow me. Then there’s my speed, I’m always trying to regulate it.

So you see with all these other things I’m trying to figure out while running, a potential offender is really just the last thing I need.

I had finished my first lap, congratulated myself for firstly making it without stopping and secondly for dodging any dangerous people, like these two things are comparable. I was doing my second lap when I passed a group of women and instantly felt safer. I was approaching one guy and automatically felt threatened.

I realize how conceited I am to think that everyone on the street was obsessed with my running.

When I eventually passed him, he didn’t say anything. He looked at me in the same way the women and the drivers did. So I concluded he was not a threat. As I continued a man and his wife set up chairs outside their yard, ready to read newspapers. It made me feel safer because I thought if anything went wrong I could always scream for help and they would hear me. In retrospect I realize how conceited I am to think that everyone on the street was obsessed with my running.

I was on my third round when I saw a silver Toyota ride past me, nothing strange, just people going about their business. I passed the lonesome guy again, this time he said I should keep going. Further proof that he is not a creep that’s going to pull out a knife on me, I suppose.

I passed the women again and then the silver Toyota. In the next three seconds that passed I rationalized that I was being followed by this Toyota. I told myself it wasn’t the same one but then I also told myself there can’t be two different silver Toyotas circling the same track in such a short space of time. I comforted myself with the knowledge that there is always an option to pray.

I continued running to the couple reading their papers.

And then as I approached a junction, I saw my mother’s SUV pull up. I waved hysterically at her, thinking she was going to the shops to get something for lunch. Her windows automatically lowered down in the most suburban way which is confusing because we live in a township. As I approached the vehicle the first thing she said was: “Is it safe?”

Yes. Not, “Hey I see you too,” or “Do you need water?” Even though she could see that I was perfectly fine she asked if it was still safe to run in the neighbourhood. This is probably the worst 21st Century problem of all time.

I assured her that I was fine and that I was finishing soon. The silver Toyota freaked me out a bit and I didn’t want to pass the couple reading the newspapers again.

I walked off my final lap and finished the rest of my workout in my parents’ yard.

A few years back I tried running in the neighbourhood I now live in, but was accosted by a man who uttered some really threatening comments. I have not run alone again since. Instead I opt to run in a park with a friend. It’s usually a controlled environment, on a particular day of the week at a certain time, and we’re normally surrounded by other runners.

I had asked my friend, who is also a woman, if she considered running in the park by herself at some other time and she was highly against it. She even found an app which generates routes to run in our area, but chose not to run this particular route because it went through a “dangerous” part of the neighbourhood.

I’ve wondered if guys worry about their safety this much whenever they have to do something as simple as running. I know my brother doesn’t. He has been running the same route I took in my hometown for years and my parents are totally okay with it. I think only once I heard them tell him not to run, because it was getting dark and they were worried that the cars would not see him. Nice life problems.

In another world, I probably wouldn’t have a whole debate in my head every time I went out. I probably wouldn’t have to check my pepper spray either or remind myself which pressure points to strike if I ended up in an undesirable situation.

In another world, I probably wouldn’t stop running.

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Cycling just got safer

Forty percent of cycling injuries occur when vehicles hit cyclists from behind. Unlike runners, cyclists travel along with traffic and are not always aware of vehicles approaching from the rear. For this reason, Stellenbosch-based software company iKubu designed the Varia Rear-view Bike Radar and Varia Smart Bike Lights.

iKubu was acquired by Garmin at the beginning of the year, and the tech giant will be launching these devices soon.

GUIDING LIGHT: The Varia Rear-view Bike Radar can detect vehicles approaching cyclists from behind and can alert both cyclists and motorists.  Photo: Provided

GUIDING LIGHT: The Varia Rear-view Bike Radar can detect vehicles approaching cyclists from behind and can alert both cyclists and motorists. Photo: Provided

The Rear View Bike Radar is a red tail light mounted onto the back of a bicycle and detects approaching vehicles from 140m away, explains Marc Bainbridge, fitness category manager at Garmin Southern Africa. It is used in conjunction with a radar display or head unit. The light flashes intensely and more brightly as a vehicle approaches and shows up to eight approaching vehicles on the radar display.

The light flashes intensely and more brightly as a vehicle approaches and shows up to eight approaching vehicles on the radar display.

The radar, which took three years to develop from initial concept to final product, can be used independently or with a range of compatible cycling computers by Garmin called Edge. It will display approaching vehicles (as a dot) on the side of a screen, which will move up the screen as a vehicle approaches the cyclist, explains Bainbridge. Alternatively the cyclist can use a head unit with a flashing light – the light flashes green when there is no danger and as soon as a vehicle is detected, the light flashes orange. When there is a greater risk, or a fast-approaching vehicle, the light flashes red.

The Varia Smart Bike Lights also contribute to safe cycling. Used in conjunction with Edge products, a tail light will illuminate when the cyclist brakes, much like a vehicle’s brake lights would. This is particularly useful when cyclists ride together as a group, warning them to slow down if the cyclist ahead of them brakes, Bainbridge says. By adding a second tail light, cyclists are able to use the lights as indicators for signalling left and right turns.

There is also an option for a headlight that projects over a greater distance for cyclists travelling at faster speeds. When the cyclist slows down, then less of the path is illuminated to see obstacles closer to them.

This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

Yeoville Day 18: “Praise Jesus hallelujah”

TEAMWORK:  Lutho and Percy accompanied me to get some of my footage today.  Photo: Lameez Omarjee

TEAMWORK: Lutho and Percy helped me get some of my footage today. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

*As part of the in-depth research project, one of the requirements of the BA Honours in Journalism and Media Studies degree at Wits University, students are required to write daily blog entries to show the progress of their projects. This year the theme is Yeoville and students have to take on a topic that tells a story that is Yeoville specific.

We had an eventful day.  I started by checking the footage I got on Sunday.  Good news is, it’s in focus, so I don’t have to reshoot.  The bad news is, Percy has to reshoot her interview because the footage is not in focus.  Problem:  When she wanted to arrange an interview with her subject, she found out the woman had given birth!  So we spent the day doing damage control, finding a new subject for her!  Luckily in Yeoville, there are many designers and we found three!

I was pleased with the day’s events. I managed to finish my vox pops.  I had to beg people but eventually I found four people willing to speak.  I also collected the rest of my B-roll.  I managed to get hold of the Presbyterean church to ask them a few questions for my written feature too.  They sublet their hall to Cornerstone church and I hadn’t spoken to them until my mentor highlighted it.  So I think everything is on track, just not looking forward to writing the third draft.

If he’s ever carried a tripod, he’d know that it doubles as a self-defence weapon.

Lutho‘s people bailed on her too.  So we couldn’t get footage of them.  But we found the expert she was looking for her written feature.  We forgot the directions to the house, but we asked these guys on the side of the street.  They thought we wanted to buy weed.  Once we clarified that we were not interested in the green leaves being shoved in our faces, we followed them to a house on Rockey street.  Percy whispered to me, “We could be lead to a slaughter house for all we know”.  She was right, but I think God was on our side today, we had a lot of strange experiences.

BETWEEN TAKES:  We found a resting palce in someone's backyard.  Photo: Lameez Omarjee

BETWEEN TAKES: We found a resting place in someone’s backyard. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Twice, people we interviewed told us to watch our equipment and said Yeoville isn’t safe.  One man asked us if we had security with us … If he’s ever carried a tripod, he’d know that it doubles as a self-defence weapon.  We haven’t had major incidents, but today on Rockey street, a guy opened my bag.  I felt it and turned around, he denied it.  I’m glad he didn’t take anything, that was close!

 One man approached us and asked us to tell his story.  He said he was scammed, the fridge he bought did not come with the food and wine in it, as advertised … That was a laugh, but I think he was serious.

I was really grateful the girls helped me.  We sang a little karaoke while we walked the streets and bonded over the fries Lutho bought us for suppper at McDonalds.   then we We waited the whole day in Yeoville, just so that I could shoot for 20 minutes after 7pm.  It was scary walking in Yeoville at night, but there we were, praying in McDonalds to be safe before walking to the church.

We got footage of Rookshana Visagie at the Thursday night group meetings.  They threatened me, I better use the footage they stayed out late to get.