Friendship Fail: How Acting on Accidental Stalking Creeped Out a Complete Stranger

"Hey, look at that license plate frame in front of us," my husband Spencer said from behind the wheel. 

I glanced up from the passenger seat and sat up straight.  "What the heck?"

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"It's that car again!"

There was no mistaking it. 

You see, for weeks, at different times of the day and in different parts of Orange County, I had begun to notice myself driving behind the exact same car: a red Honda Accord station wagon.

It was like a ghost car that kept showing up out of nowhere.

I remember the car specifically because not only are Honda station wagons rarely seen around Orange County, but it also had a very distinct license plate frame that got my attention the very first time I was behind it at a stoplight.

The frame read "Winning Group of America - Run USA."

I thought, "Ooo, sounds interesting.  I wonder what that group is.  It must be some fun running club, or a running store, or maybe these license plate frames are only given to US Olympic athletes..."

My detail-oriented mind joined forces with my over-active imagination to list out the possible reasons in my head for having such a license plate frame.

And because I prefer to torture myself these days with the pastime of running, I took a special interest in the frame's advertised subject.

But not enough to give it another thought once the light turned green.

Until.... dun dun dun.... 

A few days later, I looked up and saw the exact same car ahead of me at a different part of the day.  "Weird," I thought, followed by more pondering of this Run USA Olympic athlete who must have at least a bronze medal.

Or possibly silver.

And it wasn't lost on me what coincidence it was that I had seen the exact same car in front of me again, at a completely different part of Orange County, at a completely different time of day.

But then I shrugged and kept driving, and eventually traffic separated me from the mystery runner behind the wheel of the red Honda.

But then, a few days later, I found myself driving behind the exact same car.  Then again, a few days after that.

Then three more times in the same week.

Now, think about this.  There are millions of people in Orange County, and hundreds of thousands of people within an immediate few mile radius from my house alone.  We don't have empty lots here -- we'll put a house or a taco shop on any pile of dirt, if city ordinances will allow it.

And just about every post-16-year-old around here owns a car.

There are so many cars in this county, that our freeways are better known as parking lots.

So, then why was I running into the exact same vehicle, not once, not twice, but half a dozen times in just a matter of days?

Was it some sort of fate?

No, Jolie.  That's how weird people think.

After multiple run-ins with this car, I finally brought it up as a dinner table conversation topic.

"So... there's this car I keep seeing on the road... it's weird...." with my sweet husband taking enough of an interest to validate me until I changed the subject.

Cut to -- a couple days later, we were both in the car together when we ended up behind none other than the red Honda station wagon again.  

After having a conniption fit full of "What the heck??s," I did what any normal accidental stalker would do.

I pulled out my cell phone and took a picture:

The Run USA car.

"Can you see who the driver is?" I asked.  But before we could make out any details in his or her silhouette, traffic separated us. 

But then the very next day, on the way to work, I was flabbergasted to find myself again behind the exact same car.  And like a total-wanna-be-detective-who-is-really-just-a-weirdo, I managed to pull up next to it at a stoplight just long enough to get a glimpse of the driver.

She was a petite Asian with long hair.

Ah ha!  I finally had a face to go with the license plate frame.

But... she was pretty short for an Olympic athlete...  She must just be really fast.

After all, she pulled ahead of me when the stoplight turned green.  


I couldn't wait to tell my husband I had discovered what the mystery driver looked like.

Before I got the chance to, however, I was driving the 12-ish miles home from work that very same day in crawling traffic on the 5 freeway, when the car in front of me decided to merge into a neighboring lane.

Imagine my surprise when it revealed the new driving neighbor directly ahead of me...

The red Run USA Honda.


Twice in one day?

I looked around me.  There were hundreds to thousands of cars within my eyesight.  The statistical probability of me ending up directly behind this same vehicle both on the way to work and on the way home from work in the same day had to be next to zero, not to mention all the other times I had driven behind her in the past few weeks.

This needed to be a story problem in some college statistics book.

Officially creeped out, I continued to drive home, unable to keep my eyes off the red Honda.  About a mile before I got home, I saw her turn into nearby a neighborhood.

Great.  Now I knew where she lived.  This was weird.  

When I got home, I opened the door, dropped my purse on the table, and announced "She's Asian!"


"The Run USA driver girl.  I saw her both to and from work today.  I know what she looks like, and I know what neighborhood she probably lives in."

I paused.

"And I sound like a total stalker."

We laughed.

I thought a moment.

"Ya know, maybe I should try to meet her."

Spencer searched my expression to see if I was serious.

"I mean, she doesn't look like a scary person, and I don't look like a scary person.  What if the next time I see her drive into her neighborhood, I just happen to drive that same direction?  It's a pretty stalker-esque thing to do, sure, but maybe we all need to be a bit more friendly to each other and take a bit more risks.  We already must have running in common -- what's the harm?"

Kumbaya for my air-tight logic.

So right then and there, I decided that if I ever saw her drive into her neighborhood again, I would try to meet her.

Honestly, in that moment, I figured the chances of me seeing her turn into her neighborhood again were slim, so I wouldn't ever actually have to stalk her.

But no.

It was two days later.


I was driving home from work, when I was mortified to see none other than that red Honda station wagon with the Run USA license plate directly in front of me.

In my mind, I had made a commitment I couldn't back out of now.

There was no turning back.

Sure enough, the red Honda turned into the same neighborhood I had seen it enter before.

Only this time, a silver Tacoma also turned right behind her.  

My silver Tacoma.

She took a left into a residential neighborhood, and my silver Tacoma also took a left.

Stalking in action.
She slowed down, and I got nervous.  "Ugh... she totally sees me following her... I'm such a psycho."

Another left.  Then she began to parallel park her car on the curb in front of a house.

I did not look at the house.

Knowing what the house looked like felt like diving too deep into stalker territory.

Instead, I just pulled up next to her and rolled down my window.

With the most overly-friendly, unintimidating voice and face I could muster, I said, "Hi!"

She looked up at me, understandably confused.

I took a deep breath and continued.  "This is going to sound really weird, cuz it is weird, but I live in a nearby neighborhood, and I have coincidentally driven behind you about a dozen times, so I told myself that if that ever happened again, I would introduce myself and say hi."

She just stared at me.

I tried again. "Umm... I'm actually a runner, and your license plate got my attention."

She finally spoke.  "What?"

She had a very strong accent.

Oh no.

This interaction was going to be weird enough without any sort of language barrier.  If she had trouble understanding English, then there was no saving it.

"Are you a runner, too?"

She clearly did not understand what I was saying.


I tried again.

"Do you like to run?  Your license plate says 'Run USA.'"

She paused.  "Huh?"

"I'll show you."  I hopped out of my double-parked vehicle and walked around to the back of hers.  I pointed.  "See?  Run USA."

She looked at it for a moment.  "Oh... no, I don't know that."

My heart sank.  "Oh... the frame maybe came with the car?"

More staring.

Awkward times twelve.

And in this awkwardness, apparently I was accidentally taking selfies of myself...

Accidental selfie during our awkward conversation.
Accidental selfie via my phone during our awkward conversation.

One more try.

I reached out to shake her hand.  "I'm Jolie.  I have a running blog, which is why I wanted to meet you."

And none of this makes any sense to you, I thought.

"I promise I'm not as creepy as I seem," I awkwardly explained.

In a brief, unclear conversation, I gathered her name was something like Katzco (though it sounded like Costco), and that she moved here from Japan less than a year ago.

Great.  You haven't even been here a year yet and some random American followed you home.

Welcome to the home of the brave.

I wanted to pull out my phone and show her pictures of me doing normal, nonthreatening things, like working at Disneyland or something -- anything -- to prove I wasn't going to show up on her doorstep at 2am, but there was no time.  Suddenly my objective had gone from "making a friend" to "preventing this poor stranger from having nightmares for the rest of her life."

Abort mission!

She opted out of taking a selfie with me.

What a shock.

I finally freed her from our conversation, and openly mocked myself on the drive home.

She hadn't even been a runner.

She barely spoke English.

My "fun" idea of throwing caution to the wind only ended up making a stranger throw caution into everything she does from now on.

And "Run USA"?

Well, I finally went home and Googled it.  Guess what it is?

A really terribly-named tiny little used car dealership in Los Angeles.

Perhaps I should have Googled it earlier.

How to Protect Yourself from Weirdo-Creeps While Running Alone

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I'm a bit of a safety nut.

Even my dogs wear seat belts.

My dogs wear seat belts
JPeg (left) and Comet (right)

Shut up.

And with all my safety-nuttedness, I couldn't help making a video about a unique running safety product...

And for all you doubters, my husband had no idea that wake-up call was coming.


Anyway, when I surf the web looking for "runner safety," cuz that's the kind of stuff I surf the web for, I often see the exact same advice:

Don't. Run. Alone.

Ok. Sure -- no problem.

If I were a wildebeest.

These things took out Mufasa.

As much as I appreciate that advice, I am not fortunate enough to have a plethora of nearby running pals with a remotely similar wacky schedule or training plan.  

I used to have one of these friends, but then he packed up my safety dreams and moved away, leaving me alone to fend off random weirdos.

With my running buddy, Greg, during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon (before he moved away - booo)
With my running buddy, Greg, during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon (before he moved away - booo)

And we all know there are weirdos out there.

I once had a stalker who wrote letters to my dogs.

Which is much weirder than putting them in seat belts.


And then, there are all the terrifying stories you can find online -- like the murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King, who was attacked while running in a park near her home in San Diego.  Or the terrifying story of a woman who barely survived an attack while she was running in Hawaii. Washington DC even has a map that shows each place a runner has been attacked in the region -- there are dozens of orange markers over a simple 4-year period.

Not cool.

So what do us women runners do?  Heed absolute safety and never run alone?  Perhaps.  Though, if we all heeded absolute safety, then we really couldn't ever get into a car.  Or eat a donut.  Or pet a scorpion.

And then there's the gender equality part of me that gets a severe eye twitch when I'm told I can't do something because A. I'm a woman.  And B. Men won't let me.

Don't get me wrong -- Not all men are creepazoid attackers of women.  Most men out there would probably be more likely to rescue someone who was attacked, and I love them for it.  But the fact remains that when I'm out there running alone, I'm usually not keeping a cautious eye out for a Jennifer or a Brittany.

For me, the answer lies in balance.  I won't be a person who says you should or shouldn't ever run alone, but I will say that those of us who choose to do so, need to be smart about it.

And here's how.

How to protect yourself from weirdo-creeps while running alone

Run in Well-Populated Areas

If you can see multiple additional runners, walkers, drivers, or cyclists at any given time, you're probably on a pretty good path.  The chance of every person in sight being a weirdo-creep is pretty slim, so if one of them is one, having other people around may deter the punk from making any bad moves.  Not to mention you have a higher chance of getting help from others if something were to happen.

This path was not well-populated, unless you count the two hungry vultures sitting on the rail...

Running near vultures.

Mix up the Routine

Don't be predictable.  Try to run different locations on different days or during different hours.  If stalker-McGee doesn't know when you're going to run by the orange tree, he won't know when to go out and "pick oranges."

Bring Pepper Spray

Carry it with your thumb on the trigger.  I like to aim and shoot at random tree trunks for practice.

pepper spray for runners

Be Suspicious of Everyone

This probably sounds really pessimistic, but I think it's essential.  Whenever I'm running alone, I suspect every male I see to be a potential attacker.  I confidently make eye contact with each passing person, and make sure it's clear to them that I am not a passive runner. 

I'm a friendly runner, so I'll probably nod or smile at the same time, but I do it from a safe distance with an obvious finger on the trigger of my pepper spray.

Some guys really get the message and quickly reciprocate with an over-friendly anxious wave of surrender, as if to say, "I'm a good guy -- please don't spray that in my face."

It's similar to being a defensive driver.  To be prepared for that one idiot who gets behind the wheel after drinking a bucket of vodka, you need to assume that everyone around you could potentially be that person.  

Defensive running in action
Awkward below-chin angle of defensive running in action

Don't Blast the Music

If you wear headphones, try wearing them in one ear, or turn the volume down enough that you can still hear what's going on around you -- Whatever you need to do to be able to hear an approaching attacker.  

I listen to podcasts or audiobooks ('cuz I'm a nerd) in loosely-fitting wireless headphones, which allows me to easily hear the world around me.

Use GLYMPSE on Your Cell Phone

I know, I know.  My phone is the size of a Bible, too.  But it is totally worth bringing it along, not only to call for help if needs be, but because of this saweet app called...

Glympse GPS app for running

Using your phone's GPS, Glympse sends out a live map of where you are and how fast you're moving throughout your run, so people you trust can track you.  It is awesome.

Glympse app in action
Watching my brother run with Glympse

Every time I go running, I activate Glympse and send a notification to my husband and siblings to track me.

It is so detailed that my brother once noticed I was stopped in a random place, so he texted me to make sure I was ok.  Love that.

Stay Away from Possible Hiding Places

I steer clear of buildings (even bathrooms if they lack people traffic), bushes, trees, ditches, or anywhere Steven King could have hidden a creepy clown.  It lessens the chance of a surprise attack, as well as the chances of being dragged somewhere out of sight.

Ditches + bushes + no one in sight = scary

Run with a Dog Bigger Than a Hamster

He doesn't know it yet, but my eight-month-old whippet is four months away from being my new running buddy.  

Attackers are less likely to go after you if you have a canine companion by your side that is large enough to literally take a bite out of crime without being air launched by the flick of a finger.  Not to mention dogs can bark loudly and draw attention to a scene.

Psh, cat people.

Fight Back

If a nightmare attack does come, experts say that you need to fight back -- immediately and violently.  Aim for the eyes, throat, knees, stomach, groin -- anything that will debilitate the attacker for just enough time to allow you to escape.

Be prepared with a response in advance so that you instinctively take action should that terrifying moment come.

Other Safety Products

Just like the alarm I showed in the video review, there are other products created with the goal of making women safer while they're running alone.  

There's this "Go Guarded Self Defense Ring," which might need to be my next purchase...

Or the "Tigerlady Self-Defense Claw," which looks pretty bad-butt (that's Mormon-speak, but not really).

Whatever your choice, if you decide to run alone, just make sure you're prepared for the worst.  And then we'll hope it never happens.

Or just wear the Tigerlady because it'll make you feel like Catwoman.

7 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Disneyland Half Marathon / 10K / 5K

I've run 14 Disneyland races to date, and I've got them down to a science.

Wearing all 14 Disneyland race medals
Medals + Macho Face Fail

That sounds more boring than intended.

Take two.

I've run 14 Disneyland races to date, and I know how to ace the awesome experience meter.

"Meter" still sounds like science.  Blast.

Moving on.

Finishing the Tinker Bell 10K, dressed as Peter Pan
Finishing Saturday's Tinker Bell 10K
(photo credit: Disney PhotoPass)

Disney really does know how to put on an awesome race experience.  Everything is safe and organized, down to smallest detail.  If you haven't signed up for a Disney race yet, even if you're not a runner, you should go for it.

Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of your Disneyland race experience:

7 Tips to get the most out of your Disneyland Half Marathon, 10K, or 5K (RunDisney race)

#1. Sign up Immediately When Registration Opens

Put the registration time on your calendar and plan a way to get to a computer at that exact time, because these races fill up quickly -- especially the Disneyland Saturday races (10K & Kids Races).

I have legitimately seen these races fill up within 45 minutes.  

signing up for a RunDisney race
Signing up for the 2015 Avengers 10K.  I tried to register immediately when it opened at 9:00am, and I was actually  able to sign up at 9:18am.

If you haven't already done so, sign up for an account before registration.  Disney typically uses to manage race registration, so if you already have all your personal information in the system, registering is much easier.

signing up for a Disneyland race
Signing up!

Also, you won't be able to sign up other runners on your account unless they are minors, so have each adult in your group ready to register themselves.

If you're registering for the half marathon, you'll need to provide proof of time in order to be correctly assigned a corral, so have an up-to-date finish time from another half marathon on hand to type into registration.

Otherwise you may end up in the last corral, where the fastest you'll be able to weave will be at a 13-minute/mile pace.

Totally fine if that's your pace goal.  Not so fine if you're aiming for a 7:30.

#2. Plan Something Fun to Wear in Advance

Even if it's just a pair of mouse ears, sparkle skirt, or a Disney tech shirt -- you will not feel dumb wearing it, because others around you will have much bigger and brighter reasons to feel dumber than you.

Like me.

Yesterday I dawned yet another new costume....

Peter Pan costume for Tinker Bell race
Peter Pan costume for the 2016 Tinker Bell 10K.
(I used BBQ sauce + hot cocoa mix to die the rope tie tan -- resources!)

Peter Pan!

I don't feel quite girly enough to be a pixie, so I went for the little more masculine version...

Kinda dumb, 'cuz I don't think anyone really considers Peter Pan to be masculine.


But crazy fun, nonetheless!

If you want some ideas for future Disney costumes, check out my last entry, My Evolution of Disney Race Costumes, or search Pinterest.  

#3. Race Day: Get There Early

I live 15 minutes away from Disneyland, and even though the race typically starts at 5:30am, I leave my house no later than 4:00am for 10Ks or 5Ks, and 3:30am for half marathons.

Talking to friendly Len, the first cast member we came across during the parking process at the 2015 Disneyland 5K.

That gives me enough time to wait in parking and security check lines, and still have more than enough time to check a bag, use the bathroom, take some pre-race photos, dance to DJ Clark's music, watch the pre-race show, and walk to my corral without stressing or pulling my hair out.

2015 Disneyland 5K Pre-Show

Learning how to do the nae nae before the Disneyland 5K

Nothing messes up a race experience more quickly than nervously watching the clock tick closer to start time while you're still sixteen cars back from being able to pay for parking.

I suppose falling on your face during the race would actually mess up the race experience more quickly, but you get the idea.

Depending on which Disneyland race you sign up for, the walk from the holding area to the corrals could truthfully take you 20 minutes on top of the walk from your car and the other things you need to do, so plan accordingly.

Your pedometer will go up significantly on race days, even before and after you run.

corral sign at a Disney race

If you're staying at a hotel that offers a trustworthy shuttle that early (many neighboring hotels do) -- you'll save yourself a solid parking fee by taking it.  Just keep in mind that you'll still have to walk from the shuttle drop-off to the holding area, and then to the corrals.

Good news is, you'll be all warmed up for the race start! 

If you're staying at the Disneyland Hotel, you are set for both race day and the expo.  

Good for you.

Aren't those Mickey Glove lamps super cute?

#4. Don't Run for Time

Not only do you run through the parks and backstage areas, but there are music, lights, and character stops all along the in-park route = Plenty of photographic moments to capture on the way.

The character stops are themed to the race (example: BB8 is not going to show up during the Tinker Bell races), and they typically have lines to wait in, which grow in length as the corral letter increases.

My pal Lisa with Rosetta during the 2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend.

And for the 5Ks?  They aren't even chip-timed.  So if you're running for time, that's between you and your Garmin.

I can tell you that while the top finishers of Disney races are crazy fast, almost everyone else isn't.

Since I've been lucky enough to collect a plethora of Disneyland photos over the years working and playing at Disneyland, I didn't stop for any photos at Saturday's 10K.

Without stops, I ran it in 50:59, and I got 12th place out of 1,142 women in my age group of 30-34-year-olds, which is normally a much more competitive group.


Out of 1,142.

That's not to say "Hey, I'm so fast!!"

But more to say, "Hey, no one cares about running fast!!"

Lots of people even walk these races, as I did with a group of former Disney Ambassadors last year for the Disneyland 5K, and that's totally OK!  Even encouraged!

Speed-walking the Disneyland 5K with the Disneyland Ambassadors

Listen -- even if you are terrified of the word "race" or the letter "K," you do not need to worry.  Many people don't exactly "run" these races at all, and those who do, typically just run for fun.  

Anyone not trying to run for fun is kinda missing the point.

#5. Engage the Spectators

I love spectators.

These people wake up super early and stand out in the cold, usually just to watch a single runner breeze past them in the blink of an eye.

That is selflessness.

And whenever you're running inside the park, the cast members (aka, Disneyland employees) are your spectators.  

I have worked among them -- these are hard-working, heartfelt people -- some of whom are there, off the clock, just to cheer for you.

Some of them are working their first race ever or possibly even seeing their first race ever.  Cheering loudly for strangers a few feet away may be a little out of the box for them, but they happily do it anyway.

And if you engage them, you might just inspire one to join you next year.

Back in 2010, as a Disneyland cast member myself I "stage managed" 200 high school cheerleaders during a portion of the Disneyland Half Marathon route that runs by the Honda Center, and having never watched a race beyond the Olympics on TV, I was so inspired by each person who ran or walked by.

Working the 2010 Disneyland Half Marathon -- I had no clue I'd be running it the next year.

Now that I've converted to the crazy side, I personally run through and thank every person who is cheering, and smile and nod and those who are just staring.  If I come across a big group that isn't cheering, I playfully raise my arms until they get excited.  If I see a funny sign, I laugh and throw out a compliment. 

Tinker Bell 10K - dressed as Peter Pan
(Photo Credit: Disney PhotoPass - they ROCKED the photography)
It's all about the positivity.

Sure, their sign might be cheering for some guy named Steven, but as far as I'm concerned, it's cheering for me, too, because they woke up early to stand there and hold it while I was running by.  

I also thank the volunteers passing out water.  I thank the police officers.  Everyone there, paid or not, is awake earlier than they need to be, and I want to make sure they know I'm grateful for it.

The coolest thing is, you may think that engaging spectators may slow you down, but I've found that my pace increases after these interactions, because it raises the level of fun.

Hooray fun!

Candy, puppies, and laughing babies!

After finishing Saturday's 10K, I even had a few fellow runners come tell me it was fun and (somehow) inspiring to run near me.  One girl even asked to get her picture taken with me.

It's all about building a better experience for everyone.

#6.  Don't Bother With Headphones

If you are the kind of person who simply can't run without pumping your playlist, go right ahead.

But if you're open to it, especially during the Disney 5Ks or 10Ks, leave the headphones at home.

Most of your running will be inside the parks, where you're surrounded by music and a unique, five-senses atmosphere.  

Well, 4 senses, unless you're licking poles along the way.

Which I don't recommend.

Running through Cars Land - Tinker Bell 10K 2016
Running through Cars Land always reminds me of running through Southern Utah.

As a person who normally wears headphones during just about all of my races or training runs, I used to bring headphones to each Disney race too, but I found myself pausing the music constantly in order to enjoy the atmosphere.  During one race, I didn't turn my music on at all.

Now I just leave the headphones at home.

And I don't miss them.

The only exception would be during longer stretches outside the park during half marathons, where a little extra musical motivation doesn't hurt.  But even then, be prepared to pause your playlist when you run by the many high school bands, music performers, dancers, cheerleaders, and even classic car line-ups you'll come across, all there to cheer for you.

Trust me -- your headphones become obsolete as you run by cheering grandstands at Angel Stadium.

Running through Angel Stadium during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon
Running through Angel Stadium during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon

#7.  Cheer Through the Final Runner

Whenever possible, once you finish your race, pick up your medal, snacks, checked bag, have your picture taken, meet up with your friends and family, and then --

Head back to the race course sidelines to cheer for those behind you.

Mom and I cheering on the rest of the runners after I crossed the finish line.
Trust me.

As the race progresses, I find that most spectators leave their post once their runner has passed by, so the sidelines or bleachers next to the finish line empty out, sometimes completely.

Honestly, I think the last runners are some of the most inspiring, and they deserve and need crowd support the most.  I may not be a crowd, but I can yell and clap pretty loud, and I love doing it for anyone who got their booty out of bed in the middle of the night to accomplish a healthy personal goal.

People are awesome.

I usually check a bag with a couple jackets and a cowbell, so I can head back over to the finish line and ring that bell for others over the next couple hours. 

It is truly almost as awesome as running the race all over again (in a good way).

What you may not know is that not only is confetti shot off for the first finisher, but confetti is also shot off for the last finisher.  Stick around next time to see it -- you'll be glad you did!

Here's a seizure-inducing animated GIF to finish this off, courtesy of Google Photos:


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