'I'm a runner from where Samantha Murphy was allegedly murdered. We need to reclaim our trails.'

When I turned 36, I decided I wanted to run my first marathon. There were many barriers. I have three small children, work four days a week, and my husband is training for an Ironman. But concerns about my safety were never a factor. I never thought running would be an unsafe thing to do.

On Sunday, February 4, a Ballarat mother of three went missing. She left home at 7am, and like many of us, set out for her long run before the intense February heat took hold.

Samantha Murphy ran in a place where many of us train, a quiet native forest on the edge of town, full of meandering trails and popular with runners and cyclists.

Watch: The Ballarat community pays tribute to Samantha Murphy. Post continues after video.

Video via 9News.

As part of the marathon training routine, runners are expected to hit the pavement at least every other day. When you are parents juggling school schedules and a myriad of extracurricular activities, balancing this commitment requires strategic planning.

Like so many families, my husband and I alternate our mornings. On Sunday, February 5, it was his turn. And so, while I tackled the Weetbix and toast ritual, Samantha went for a long run. She never came home.


The next morning, the news broke. There were whispers in the office, "Have you heard about this mum who's gone missing?" Colleagues and friends knew her. And Ballarat suddenly felt like a small country town.

My WhatsApp group chats lit up with theories; Samantha had low blood pressure. Maybe she collapsed somewhere? Or maybe she went to the toilet off-track and got bitten by a snake? Maybe, in a state of deliriousness (it was 36 degrees that day) she fell into a swamp? Or maybe she fell down a mine shaft? Ballarat's famous for its mineshafts.

At the very worst, the most pessimistic of us thought that maybe it was a hit-and-run. But no one suspected an alleged murder.

We all hoped for good news. But as Monday rolled on, our anxieties became fears. Friends and colleagues joined the search party, and we all waited in hope. That hope began to wane when the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into a month.

The running landscape for women changed immediately. The creek trails, the forest tracks, all those beautiful places in the bush where women used to run in pairs or by themselves were deserted. If you did see women runners, they were always in groups.

My all-female running group began to meet more regularly and train as a team. Meanwhile, my family would send me messages pleading with me to stop running alone.


On the days I did run solo, I would run only one circuit - the six-kilometre route that borders our famous Lake Wendouree. This track has recently been upgraded with lights, a decade-long project with many locals protesting the development.

Last week, my sister-in-law sent me a screenshot from Strava, a social media network app set up for athletes. It said I had been awarded 'Local Legend of the Lake'. This acknowledges any users who have completed a specific route more than anyone else in the past 90 days. This status confirmed that since Samantha Murphy went missing, I had run around that lake close to 50 times.

This morning, I don't want to run this route. I want to run in the forest. I want to run with both AirPods in. I want to run by myself at 6 am, in the dark, when it's cool. I want to run without a head torch. I want to run without the surge of adrenaline I experience every time I see a shadowy figure in the distance. I want to run without fear.

Whether you are a woman, a runner, a mother, or a Ballarat local, the news of Samantha Murphy is gut-wrenching and deeply tragic.

On Thursday, a 22-year-old man was arrested and charged with murder. Our Ballarat world became a lot smaller. Everyone I know has a connection to either the victim's or the accused's family. And everyone is heartbroken. We are a city in mourning.


We all feel an enormous sense of sadness that our beloved city, Ballarat, a city famed for its gold rush history, its Eureka Stockade, its heritage architecture, and its tree-lined streets, is now known for another reason. 

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In April, Ballarat will host a two-day running festival. Off the back of losing the Commonwealth Games, our city has redirected its energy into the event, which is led by one of Australia's most respected marathon runners, Steve Moneghetti. Every morning the lake is busy with activity. Runners of all ages and abilities train in groups, pairs, or by themselves. It is a vibrant place to be. But beyond the lake and the lighting, you never see women running alone.

This morning, I've had enough. We need to reclaim the trails, the forests, the bush. There are already too many barriers for women and girls to be active. We will not let safety be another one. This will not be Ballarat's legacy. And so tomorrow, while I may not do it in the dark and might only have one AirPod in, I will return to my favourite trail, and I will run alone.

Francesca Carter is a runner, writer and communications consultant living in Ballarat.

Feature image: Supplied.