- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

A sniper is on the loose and the streets of the Washington area are monopolized by fear. If you are not affected in some way, you are not aware of the situation.
For runners, it is particularly unnerving because most of us train on the very streets where people are being randomly murdered. We are out in the open, exposed and very vulnerable.
But as runners, we are particularly bold people. It is a personality trait that comes with the sport, one that allows us to run through pain and injury and miserable weather conditions to accomplish our goals.
So many of us have vigilantly kept up our training during the past 11 days. Many have made alterations. The decision, for all, has not been easy. In such situations, humans react on a very emotional basis.
Mathematically, however, the chance of being killed by this sniper is less than that of being killed in an automobile accident. There have been 10 shootings in a region with more than 5million people.
Statistics cannot convince race directors to take a risk, so virtually every road race in the area was canceled or postponed this weekend. Will the Army Ten-Miler next Sunday and the Marine Corps Marathon the following Sunday also be called off?
Two patterns have emerged with this sniper: He or she likes stationary targets, not moving (e.g. running) targets, and he or she reacts to police and newspapers reports.
So is writing about this topic going to prompt the shooter to hunt down a runner next? That is an interesting concern brought forth by a woman named Joy who responded to my query last week on a listserv to see how area runners have been affected.
"I have gone back and forth on raising the issue on the list because while I do want to know what others are thinking and doing when it comes to outdoor exercising, I wonder if it gives this crazy person ideas when we talk about these things publicly," she said. "Did he or she plan to shoot a child, or did he decide to make our worst fears come true when he saw parents yanking children out of school and the school system locking school down?"
Geoff wrote, "I haven't changed my running routine, but I sure have thought about the sniper during my recent runs. And, for some reason I can't explain, I feel more vulnerable when I'm running than other times when I'm outside or in my car (even though none of the victims have been running).
"I do find some comfort in the idea that, as a runner, I'm a 'moving target' and, therefore, perhaps less attractive to someone seeking to inflict maximum harm. Overall, I'd guess most runners are no different than the general population. We go about our daily business because cowering indoors is not an acceptable option. But we think about the danger, and that sad fact takes a toll on everyone."
Jean, from the Glenmont area of Silver Spring, writes, "I still run my normal routine. A little over a year ago, I changed my running time from 5:15 to 6 a.m. to accommodate a running partner who has to drive from Springfield to Aspen Hill, Md., for our runs. Since the shootings, the shopping center and two gas stations are on [our] running routes, my friend has gone to the treadmill, so I have moved my runs back to a 5:15 a.m. start."
And J.W. writes, "Unaffected so far. I think that it's like the chance of being struck by lightning it could happen. But what are you to do never go outside again?"
Which leads me back to Joy's sad commentary.
She writes, "I am nearing the end of training for Marine Corps, and as much as I hate it, I will be doing my last long run on Sunday on the treadmill. The defiant part of me wants to say to hell with this crazy person, I'm not going to let him take my running (and my major stress relief) away, but I used to say that about running on the tow path and running trails alone in early morning hours, and then a woman was killed near Rock Creek Park running in the middle of the day, and I promised my husband no more running alone, at least when it was barely light outside. I've also asked my husband to abandon commuting to work by bike for a while."


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