PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Backlit by the first glow of sunlight over the hills east of the city and sporting a T-shirt with the slogan “Women run the world,” Shiobbean Lemme calls the predawn hours “the best time of the day.”
“To get this view, you have to go to bed before Jeopardy is over,” Lemme jokes. “I don’t ever get to see Final Jeopardy. But, you know, the tradeoff is worth it for me.”
On Friday, Lemme was joined by more joggers than usual as the Berkshire County running community joined runners throughout the nation in honoring Memphis, Tenn.’s, Eliza Fletcher, who was kidnapped and murdered during her early morning run one week earlier.
Heading out from the Crane Avenue trail crossing of the Ashuwillticook Trail at 5 a.m., about three dozen runners ran an approximately 3-mile loop to the Berkshire Mall Road crossing and back.
It was one of hundreds of similar events planned Friday from Boston to Seattle to both memorialize Fletcher, 34, and raise awareness of safety issues for runners and, in particular, women runners.
Lemme does not do her usual 4 a.m. run just to enjoy the views. It happens to be a time of day that fits into her busy lifestyle, which includes two jobs and a large family.
The same thing is true for many runners, including, likely, Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two.
“I have a group of anywhere from 10 to 20 men and women who work out every morning at 5 a.m.,” said Lemme, a co-owner of the Berkshire Running Center, which organized the local “Finish Eliza’s Run” event. “So some of us meet before to get a run in or whatever.
“But I’ve had to be conscious of where we go. We have to choose where’s going to be the safest option.”
She said it is sad that the world is such that runners have to weigh such considerations. And an undeniable, unmistakable tone of anger underscored her pre-run talk with the people who gathered in the parking lot outside the center.
“One week ago, Eliza Fletcher went out for her run,” Lemme said. “She would run every morning at 4 o’clock. I run every morning between 3:30 and 4, and I hear that, ‘What the hell are you doing up?’
“But then some people have the audacity to say, ‘Why was [Fletcher] running so early?’ I think she should run whenever she wants to run and should be able to do it wherever she wants to run.
“But that’s not the world we’re in right now.”
That world compelled Lemme to tell her fellow joggers to think about acquiring a set of “knuckle lights” or other form of illumination or even a mace dispenser like the one she carries. In lieu of such specialized equipment, she encouraged the runners Friday morning to activate the flashlights on their cell phones even while running in a large group on relatively obstruction-free trail.
Acts of violence like the one that took Eliza Fletcher long have been a concern for the running community. The 2016 murder of Vanessa Marcotte in Princeton, outside Worcester, inspired a foundation in her name dedicated to advocacy “for a world where women are safe and free to live boldly and fearlessly.”
Runners in Berkshire County are not immune to those fears.
“I think men, too, but probably not to the same degree,” Lemme said. “I’ve been running for 35 years. You get heckled. People yell things. Sometimes they yell inspiring things, like, ‘You go, girl.’ But then you also get the catcalls or whatever it’s called.
“But in the environment in which we live now, in our city, there are a lot of situations you run into where you’re not sure who the person is who’s out there.”
Lemme was horrified by the news of Fletcher’s murder but heartened when she saw a grassroots effort develop around the country to organize runs in her memory.
“The interesting thing is I knew maybe half of the women who came this morning, and some of them I met for the first time, which makes me feel, in the smallest sense, maybe her family will get some comfort to see the support – that we feel it for them,” Lemme said.
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