The title is not a metaphor; it is literal.

I never thought about it much until a conversation with a fellow runner at The Fitness Summit in 2015. The conversation began as a discussion about using music for running motivation. She told me she couldn’t use music any longer after having been attacked by a man while out running.

Running alone had made her fearful.

If you think women being fearful of men while out in public is just paranoia, then I strongly suggest you read this piece.

We talked about running in nature and how I had this habit I didn’t think much of, but I brought it up to her and her reply was, “Oh God! Thank you so much for doing that! You have no idea how much it means.” Intrigued, I brought it up to a few other women runners over the past year and got similar responses.

What was this thing I did? It was actually something I didn’t do. I didn’t look back.

On the metaphorical front, taking up running and not looking back is great. Running is an awesome activity that imparts myriad lifelong health benefits. But as I already stated, we’re talking about literal looking back.

As in: looking back to check out someone’s ass.

I run in a moderately remote area. It’s not uncommon to only see three or four people during a six-mile run. Often, I’ll be running and see a lone woman. Sometimes she’s even a really attractive woman with a physique I admire. I’m married, not dead.

There is no one else around. It’s just her, the path, and me. And while what’s going through my head is “hot,” what’s going through her head is likely something very different.

Like maybe, I hope this guy isn’t a creep or a rapist or a murderer. Or a creepy raping murderer.

There are women who cannot help but view me as a threat. Think this isn’t real? Think the fear is irrational? That article again.

So I give her the exact same treatment I give every other runner I see: the runner’s wave. Two fingers jutted out to the side for half a second. Some return it. Some smile. Some don’t notice. It doesn’t matter. I wave to everyone with zero expectation of acknowledgement. If anyone, regardless of gender, age or appearance, has an especially cute dog I might say, “Nice dog,” but I never break stride.

But with a woman, after we pass each other, even if she has an ass that I imagine was chiseled by Michelangelo, I Will. Not. Look. Back.

I won’t look back, because she probably is. She is alone in a remote area passing a guy she doesn’t know, and she’s probably going to look back to make sure I didn’t turn around. The only thing she wants to see is my rapidly disappearing back. She’s not checking out my ass; she’s trying to stay safe.

But if she turns around and sees me looking back, I might feel a little sheepish for getting busted for checking her out, but imagine what she feels.

I don’t have to imagine. I talked to several women about it. It creeps the shit out of them. It goes way beyond rude. Because of the circumstances, it’s often viewed as a threat. They are legitimately worried about being attacked. Seeing that I’m focused on nothing other than running further away is comforting to her.

“But what about MY equal rights?” some might complain. “How come she gets to look back and I don’t?” If this is an issue for you, allow me break out the crayons and explain this very slowly. Her right to make sure she’s not about to be assaulted > your right to check out her ass. Maybe that seems unfair in douchebag MRA land, but in the real world it’s the decent human thing to do.

If I can, by some small effort, make the women around me less afraid and more comfortable, I feel honor-bound to do it.

If you really want to check out some hot ass, I’m pretty sure that’s why the internet was invented. As an example, the photos on Bret Contreras’s Fitness Page.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.