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:
(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 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.
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.