My biggest running nightmare became reality- 4 miles into my long run Sunday afternoon, I stopped to use the restroom and was assaulted by a man hiding in a stall (that is my GPS in red lines). I fought for my life screaming("Not today, M**F**er!"), clawing his face, punching back, and desperately trying to escape his grip- never giving up. I was able to lock him in the bathroom until police arrived. Thankfully I just took a self-defense class offered at my work and utilized all of it. My face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact. #fightingchanceseattle #ballard #runnersafety #marathontraining #womensselfdefense #myballard #fightlikeagirl #fightback #dontbeavictim #nottodaymotherfucker #youcantbreakme #instarunners #garmin #garminvivosmarthr
“Not today, motherf***er.”
Kelly Herron, a 36-year-old Seattle runner attacked in a public restroom last week, repeated that battle cry while fighting—and ultimately defeating—her offender.
Herron was four miles into a 10-mile marathon training run in popular Golden Gardens Park on Sunday, March 5, when she paused for a bathroom break. As she was drying her hands, she realized something was off. She turned to see a man who had been hiding in one of the stalls.
In an ABC News interview she recounts: “He immediately took me down to the ground, hit both my knees and legs, and then it was a fight on the bathroom floor.” As Herron explains to Runner’s World, adrenaline then took over. “Time stopped, the room became bigger and my life flashed before my eyes.” Herron began screaming her battle cry—“not today motherf***er”—over and over.
The self-defense techniques she’d learned in a class offered through her work just three weeks earlier quickly came to mind as she realized, “this doesn’t have to be a fair fight.” One such technique was “to put hard bones in soft fleshy places,” so Herron began whacking the side of her attacker’s head with the side of her hand.
She also clawed his face and punched back, doing everything she could to escape his grip as blood gushed from the wounds on her face. Herron credits the fact that she was extra flexible and agile from having just run four miles—as well as her tight compression pants—for her ability to wriggle, “almost serpentine-like,” out from under the bathroom stall. She jumped to her feet (an action she credits to sturdy running shoes plus a habit of doing burpees) and escaped from the bathroom.
A passerby who had heard her cries helped Herron lock the attacker—40-year-old Gary Steiner, a registered sex offender in Arizona—into the bathroom with a carabiner. Another passerby acted as Herron’s body guard until the police arrived. Herron says the officers who arrived on scene told her she “did an awesome job” and “a pretty good number” on her attacker’s face. Steiner now faces charges of attempted rape and assault.
Two days following the attack, after reading local news articles that didn’t focus on the fact that Herron had just taken a self-defense class—which she describes as the reason she survived—she decided to tell her own story with an image on Instagram.
It shows a view of the crime scene, Herron’s bruised, bloodied face and her Garmin GPS tracker of the attack, along with an educational, uplifting message: “Thankfully I just took a self-defense class offered at my work and utilized all of it. My face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact.”
In sharing the post, Herron “wanted to promote the value of self-defense and empower both men and women runners that we don’t need to be afraid of the places that we run.”
The two-hour defense tutorial that Herron took before the attack, delivered by Fighting Chance Seattle, included 90 minutes of “awareness training” to help participants avoid dangerous situations and 30 minutes of what Herron describes as “finding your inner warrior”—i.e. combat techniques like striking, forcefully saying “no” and breathing.
“The basic concepts and little phrases I learned—like ‘hard bones to soft fleshy places’—really stuck,” Herron said. “It’s not like I was taking notes and trying to actively memorize the class. Your brain is built to survive, but you have to put the right information in it.”
The attack comes about 16 months into Herron’s running journey. Her passion for the sport began in November 2015, about five months after she achieved sobriety from alcohol addiction. “I had a lot of spare time on my hands that I wasn’t accustomed to having,” she explains.
Running became a healthy and stress-relieving way to fill that time. She was quickly hooked and in 2016, set a New Year’s resolution of running a race every month, a goal that she reached through a combination of 5Ks, 10-milers, halfs and the Ragnar Relay race.
This past December, she set a new goal for 2017: run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon—her first ever 26.2. “When I tell people I’m training for a marathon, they say, ‘You’re crazy,’” laughs Herron, “And I say ‘Runners are crazy and we run to stay sane. It’s our therapy, meditation and how we process life.’”
While her training has been momentarily derailed as she recovers from her injuries, she’s determined to get back on track—and the Seattle running community has rallied to help. Five days after the attack, Herron posted her story on the Seattle Green Lake Running Group’s Facebook page and mentioned her desire to join long group runs on the weekends. An outpouring of encouragement and support ensued.
This past Saturday at 9 a.m., she laced up her sneakers and joined a pack of runners for a jaunt in the Green Lake neighborhood.
While Herron’s story is an extreme example, it’s unfortunately part of a broader trend. Forty-three percent of women experience harassment while running, per a recent Runner’s World survey. And while the run was a positive experience and Herron feels “totally protected and welcomed” by her Saturday group run, she stresses that she doesn’t want her story to make runners afraid of running solo.
“We’re runners because we like to be alone sometimes,” she says. “My message is about empowering people to learn to defend themselves and to take back our city beaches, parks and trails and recreate with confidence.”
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Watch: This video demonstrates basic self defense moves that can help any runner fight off an attack.