Friday, June 11, 2010

The Dangers of Trail Running - Part 2

I got out for a seven and a half mile trail run last night. It was blissfully cool and a little drizzly by the time I finished. That’s not always the case here in Southern California. Spring is usually the time of year when we start seeing a warm up. It’s also usually the time of year that animals that have been hibernating for the winter come out of hiding. For us in Southern California, that means reptiles.

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the danger of trail running that makes most people real nervous – animals. I talked  about some of the typical wild life we might run into in Southern California – bobcats, coyotes, bears, mountain lions. A few folks from other areas of the U.S. chimed in with one other animal that causes havoc – moose. We have no moose in California, but I have seen them in Wyoming/Montana. Those are some HUUGE beasts! And I’ve heard of moose attacking people. So – if you live around moose – be careful – evidently Bullwinkle is a little more temperamental than he appears on TV.

Today, I want to talk about a few things that can be much more problematic for trail runners than the mammals that we rarely if ever see. Today’s problems are all smaller than a shoebox, but a much bigger issue than a mountain lion.

So let’s start with the biggest (by size) of these problems. Reptiles. For most of us this means snakes (although those of you in the desert southwest need to keep a wary eye out for Gila Monsters too). With only a few exceptions, snakes are completely harmless. You can outrun them. And in general, they do not want to have a run in with you. In fact, there are only four species of poisonous snakes in North America – rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes. And keep in mind - we are much more likely to run across one of these bad boys in the woodpile or while clearing weeds from the yard than we are on the trail.

Fortunately for me, we have only rattlesnakes here in Southern California, and they give us plenty of audible warning. Of course, if you’re clipping along with an iPod blasting, you may never hear the warning.

As far as dealing with these guys on the trail – two words – PAY ATTENTION. Watch where you’re running. Scan the trail. Look for obvious signs of snakes that have crossed. Really – something like this:

IMG_2609(Thanks for the snake photo Rachel!) Is going to leave a track across the trail:


Consider turning your iPod off if you’re in rattlesnake country. That way at least you’ll hear the familiar buzz of the snake. If you can’t see where you are putting your hands or feet (e.g., reaching up for a rocky outcropping when climbing, or running through a grassy meadow, or shuffling through leaves in a swampy area) DON’T DO IT! The majority of poisonous snake bites occur on feet and ankles from people stepping on a snake, or on hands from putting their hands where they can’t see them, but unfortunately, next to a snake. Stick to the trails.

Finally, if you are unlucky enough to get bit, don’t panic! The disadvantage that most of us runner have is that we are already moving around with an elevated heart rate. If you get bit, stop. Sit down. Relax. Get your cell phone out and call for help. Or, if you heeded my advice in Part 1, have your running partner get help. DO NOT GET UP AND TRY TO WALK OUT ON YOUR OWN! Modern medicine and antivenin can do wonders. But it can’t if you have pumped the stuff all over your body.

Next up on the list of things smaller than a shoebox are our favorite little arachnids – ticks. It doesn’t matter where you live, ticks are around. The problem with ticks is they are vectors for numerous blood borne diseases including Lyme Disease.  As runners we are a little more susceptible because most of us would not dream of running in long pants. Hah! If there is one thing I *don’t* mind showing off it’s my legs. Of course that means they are also pretty attractive to The Tick too!

The-Tick-the-tick-145562_800_1038Of course, if the tick we pick up on our bodies looked like that, they wouldn’t be a problem. But in reality, a tick looks like a spec of dirt:

lyme_tick_1The bottom line is anytime that we are in an area of grass, single tracks, brush, etc., we should always do a little chimpanzee gathering afterwards and check our extremities for any of these little pests. Dust your clothes off  before climbing in the car. It would be a real bummer to have one of these bad boys crawling around on your shirt only to end up on your seat and then your leg (or other nether regions). Also, a liberal application of deet based insect repellent before running also helps. 

Now, all that said and done, if you’ve been trail running and a few days later come up with something you suspect is an insect bite, check it out closely – Mr. Tick could be hiding there in the middle.

tick1If you *are* this lucky, please please please go see a doctor. You need a course of antibiotics at a minimum.

Bottom line? If you are on the trails, take some time and check yourself afterwards. Ticks are little bastards that can be quite a problem if not taken care of. And if you ask around, I bet you’ll be able to find someone who has had a tick bite. I’m not so sure you’ll find someone who was attacked by a mountain lion….

Next up – Part 3 – what we should really be worried about on the trails.


  1. This is the scariest post ever! You would NOT catch me running on those trails! I wimp out with the snakes we have in the DC/MD/VA area...I can't imagine rattlesnake country! Ick!

  2. Don't forget about fire ants. Ouch. I sure won't.

  3. Eeek! There's always some sort of critters to look out for!

    A while back you had a post about making slushy ice in ziplock bags, perfect for post-run sore muscles. Can you give me the ratios of alcohol to water? I'd appreciate it. :)

    I thought I starred that particular post, but I can't find it...

  4. treadmill sales just went up in SoCal.

  5. Hi Glenn,
    Oh my God! Yuck! I am going to be paranoid going out on my runs in the woods. I am terrified of snakes...even the harmless garden variety! I will be keeping my eyes open:) Great post! Enjoy your weekend Glenn!

  6. You know...I'm pretty sure this post has completely persuaded me to never do trail running. The snakes and the animals don't bother me, but bugs sucking out my blood?


  7. Great post - We (luckily) don't have poisonous snakes here in Maine, but we do have ticks. Those things suck.

  8. I'm rolling several post comments into one. First, great advice on snakes and ticks. I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as a teenager and know all too well how bad it can get. The smaller the tick, the more the concern. And check everywhere for them.

    Also, you are far from alone in your critical appraisal of this year's RnR finish. The funny thing is, I had some trouble recruiting volunteers because everyone thought we'd be stuck for hours getting out of Fiesta Island and onto Sea World Drive. Now I know why it was a breeze. I am sure that will change next year. I'm not sure who came up with the trolley solution, but I'm sure they were considering post-football games and not realizing the marathon is a much different animal.

  9. Ticks scare me more than any other trail critter, blah! Our dog go sick from a tick bite years ago and it's freaked me out ever since.

  10. THanks for sharing the Trail cautions Glenn. Ticks can be quite the problem. My older brother has that Lyme disease because of one. I am glad that I shave my head as one of the quick ways to check to see if any of those boogers are on my head. Of course, it is very wise to check yourself afterwards. Thanks for sharing man.

  11. We don't have the rattlers here (although there are some in the bluff country of SE Minnesota). But we do have the ticks. And up north, we have moose. And yes, you don't want to run into a moose. Encounters are rare, but they are surly, big, and can't see very well.

  12. Ok, that almost made me sick to my stomach! I HATE ticks!! I don't encounter them here in CO, but when I lived in AL, I'd see them walking across my living room walls at time - soooo gross. They totall freak me out!!! I do see snakes from time to time at the park I run at a lot but no rattlers...but I did spend a summer in Wyoming at geology field camp and we saw rattle snakes ALL. THE. TIME! Nasty. Congratulations, Glenn, on successfully making all us females fearful of trail running in Southern Cali!! :P

  13. i'm just relived there were no gross photos. i could live with all of these! whew. (thanks)

    both are gross and definitely make me leary of going in the woods. course i see snakes anyway just running through neighborhoods here. probly those dangerous garden variety but still! i don't want to see/be near any kind.

    lol to patrick's comment! i'm sure they went up all over.

  14. Was at work one day and had a funny feeling on my scalp, right on top, it was an tick. latched on since the day before when hiking. I think my co-workers were more grossed out than I. It's part of the deal, being an outdoor person. Now we all check each other out well after any adventures. I am sure we look like that troop of monkeys you mentioned!