Every March 4th I take the day off—off from work, and from all the other responsibilities in my life. I go running. I order my favorite coffee and book a pedicure, maybe a massage.
My day always ends with a cookie cake. I order it myself, with extra frosting flowers around the message: “Happy Survivor Day.”
Two years ago, I’d moved to Silicon Valley from Rochester, New York with a new job and a boyfriend. I’d been feeling like a superhero, running the city’s hills to prepare for my fourth half marathon, San Francisco Rock ’N Roll.
On March 4, I was working an early shift in tech support, so I put on my baggy sweat-wicking sweatshirt at 4:45 a.m. I stuck to my regular route, through well-lit areas near surrounding businesses. My plan was to run about seven or eight miles, depending on my pace.
But after two miles, a man jumped out of the bushes, knife in hand.
My first emotion wasn’t fear. Instead, I thought, “Is this real? Are you awake?” It was like an episode of Law & Order: SVU or a true-crime podcast.
When he grabbed me and put his hand over my mouth, I realized I wasn’t dreaming. I’d always thought I was tough, but my fists weren’t much help in a knife fight. He overpowered me and we fought all the way to the ground.
Before I knew it, he dragged me to a secondary location—his car, about 20 feet away—and locked me in. I knew I was in trouble, and despite my best efforts, he assaulted me. It sounds so strange when I say it now, but I remember feeling like I should have been able to prevent this. “Everyone is going to be so mad at me,” I thought.
I was wearing my Apple watch and tried to call 911 with the emergency alert. He heard it and grew agitated, grabbing both my arms and trying to restrain me. Right then, I remembered a lesson from one of my favorite podcasts, My Favorite Murder: Try to get an assailant to relate to you, treat them like a human being.
So I began soothing my attacker. “If you let me go now, no one will notice I’m gone,” I said. I told him when my shift started, that my boss and my boyfriend would miss me. You don’t always have a gun, or mace, or a knife. The only thing I did have was my wits, and I used them.
Before touching my watch, I’d maneuvered without him noticing to unlock the door. As I talked, I shifted closer to it. Right then, I saw my moment. I thought: “You’ve got the legs, get out of this car and run.” That’s exactly what I did.
I saw an apartment complex and darted in. I was too scared to go to a stranger’s door, so I hid under a BMW in the parking lot and called 911. My then-boyfriend had picked up my location from my watch, so he came, and so did the police.
They searched the grounds, but didn’t find him. Meanwhile, I went to the hospital. They tested my blood and gave me a rape kit and drugs that prevented disease but made me feel very sick, and asked me to describe my attacker.
I think he had black hair and brown eyes. I have no idea how tall he was or how much he weighed. But I kept describing the way his car smelled—like my high-school ex-boyfriend’s, a gym bag meets Old Spice and possibly a cigarette. Anytime I’m out now and I smell that scent, I’m immediately on edge.
The investigation into my case is ongoing. We have some clues to go on—because I was using an app to track my run, you can tell the exact moment he stopped me because my pace dropped. You can see the struggle in the parking lot, all these zigzags.
Did I catch him? No. But I’m still here, and that's what matters.
The next few days, I was super sick from the medications. I didn’t go to work. I stayed in my bedroom, and announced that I was never running again.
My boyfriend came in, handed me my shoes, and said, “We’re going to Steven’s Creek Trail, see you in five.” We ran six miles together.
After my attack, I thought there was no way I would make it to the start line of the San Francisco Rock N Roll. But I did, just three weeks later, and have never cried as hard as I did when I finished. I couldn’t believe my legs had gotten me out of that situation and then kept moving me forward. That day, I proved I could endure whatever was thrown at me.
It’s still very difficult for me to face early morning in the dark, even being fully across the country. I’ll only run on a treadmill before work during the week, and get my outdoor miles in on the weekend. I still don’t carry any sort of weapon; I run to forget things like this, and having mace or something else on me would just remind me that I live in a scary world. However, I will not run without my phone and my Apple Watch.
But I’ve run four half marathons since. I’m hoping to do another one soon, and maybe work on improving my 5K time. I’m working through a lot of other things too—nightmares, lack of sleep, and complex PTSD. Running reminds me that I’m strong, and despite the challenges, I can persevere.
The first time March 4 came around again, I was getting really worked up about it. It felt like an impending storm for me—I could see the clouds rolling in, but didn’t know if lightning would strike. My entire life had transformed that day, and I’d barely even told anyone what had happened. In a way, I was mourning my old self.
But then I thought about my dad, who’s one of my best friends in the whole world. Eleven years ago, he got into a near-fatal motorcycle accident; someone took a left into him and we almost lost him. He survived, with some surgery—he calls himself Titanium Tim—and every year on that day, he would text me and my siblings and say, “It's my life day.”
It got me thinking that I could flip things around, too. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life hating March 4. It’s not fair for me to have this dark day. He's taken enough, and I’m done with it. Now, it’s Kat’s day, my Survivor Day.
The day always includes a daylight run. I can fully grasp why someone would not want to continue running after something like this. Most of us run because we can lace up our shoes and go out for our freedom, our peace of mind. You might have that moment where someone tries to rob that from you.
But I hope other runners who feel afraid will reach out, will find a group, or a friend, or even a treadmill. With help, you can pick up the pieces and reclaim that freedom—just as I’ve taken back March 4. Running is what saved me then. And now, it’s what reminds me I’m still alive.