Last week we lost a fellow runner. I didn’t know her. You, perhaps, didn’t know her either. But you lost her, too.

Her name was Katrina Vetrano, and her life was cut short and taken tragically, senselessly, and brutally. She was doing what she loved to do, what we all love to do, on a gorgeous day.

Sun on her face. She was running.

We had this in common. She was a runner, too.

I feel a break in my heart when I think about what she endured and what her family is going through right now. You may wonder, why am I so effected by this? I didn’t even know her? Well, she is like me and she is like you. And she reminds me of the community we have and how life is fragile. She was like the beautiful, open-hearted, giving runners I meet all the time.

One time I fell down in a race and a woman reached down to pick me up and didn’t care about being slowed down. She made sure I was ok before she continued on. Runners are part of an amazing community. We are there for each other first. The race comes second. The woman who picked me up knew it. We were connected and she could not go on unless she knew I was ok. So I feel this loss in my heart. We lost a runner in our community who loved what we loved and was connected to us by this passion. For some of us, this tragedy has another layer.  It may be a loss of our running innocence.

I started running 5 years ago. I use to run alone everywhere, at any time, on any path. I felt kind of invincible. But I really was quite naïve. I was born and raised in New York. I use to stay out way too late and take the subway home in the wee hours of the morning. I felt like the city streets taught me how to handle myself. Surely, I could smell danger coming, so I didn’t really think about where I was running.

And then a stupid rabid raccoon I heard about in one of the parks made me rethink my position on running alone. This city girl didn’t know the first thing about dealing with a raccoon! So I found myself staying away from parks alone.

And then it dawned on me. Doing something good, like running, won’t protect me from the bad stuff that can happen to me. There were rabid raccoons, bears, and people hell-bent on hurting people. I actually started tucking my ponytail under my baseball cap because I thought that ponytail was a nifty handle for someone who wanted to grab me. I started thinking differently about my run. Danger lurked everywhere.

It seems simple and like, “duh, of course, everyone knows they should be careful.” But the fact of the matter is this week I told my running friends to please be careful. And several of them admitted to me that they sometimes run alone in places that are far from being populated. Our runner friend we lost probably thought she was taking precautions, too. She was running with her phone and even texting a friend before tragedy struck.

I have felt silly these past couple of months, running through cul de sacs in my small development. I think my neighbors think I am crazy running in circles, literally. I run daydreaming about being out on a beautiful path. And now with this tragedy I think I am making a wise choice. But does that still keep me safe? No. Honestly, tragedy can strike at any time. I am not safer than any other runner out there. Recently, a school superintendent was hit by a car while running in his neighborhood, by a student from his own school. Another senseless tragedy.

You can never be too careful. We are never truly safe.

So I know that it is simplistic of me to write this and say ‘be careful.” I believe Katrina thought she was being careful. I think every runner thinks they are being careful. No matter what, when we run outside we take a chance. We dodge cars, and bikes and avoid people we think might harm us. But when someone wants to truly harm you, there is not much you can do.

So I am not here to admonish you. Although I do want you to be safe. Nor am I here to say “if Katrina would have listened to her father.” I know there are people who are saying that now. We cannot go back and change anything.

But I do feel compelled to remind you of some things that MAY keep you safer, although there are no guarantees.

  • Listening to music/podcast makes you less aware of your surroundings
  • If you must listen to something while you run, use one ear bud instead of both
  • Run with a partner or with a group. There are some wonderful women’s running groups that would love to have you join.
    (Tip: Check out some of our past bloggers. They are part of some great groups.)
  • Run a different route each time you run
  • Change around the days of the week and times of day you run. Be unpredictable.

This piece is to honor our running friend and to recognize, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I was lucky I was not harmed as a young adult in the city subways when I was running around at night. I took chances I should not have taken. But the fact of the matter is, when I put my feet on the floor in the morning and shift out of bed, I don’t know if I will return there. There are no guarantees.

I am thankful for the gift of running. I am thankful for this community and for women like Katrina who loved running. I am also thankful for you.

Remember to tell the people in your life you love them. Do your best to be safe each day. There are people counting on you. Add “Find a Running Buddy” to your “to do list” today. But most of all, don’t stop enjoying the run. I have a feeling even Katrina would have reminded you of that.

Toni Genovese Toni Genovese is a Beauty and the Beach Run Steering Commitee member, blog contributer and founder of Strong at the Core Coaching. Toni is a health coach, personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist and therapist and combines her expertise to help women lose weight, get relief from the stress of emotional eating, feel amazing in their bodies and create the lives they were meant to live.
Click here to access Toni’s free program, “Body Positive, Body Healthy.”