Monday, June 18, 2012

12 Trail Running Hazards That Could Kill You

Trail running is, in my humble opinion, the best kind of running. Streets and greenways are fine and convenient. But, running through the woods, across mountains, or over prairies — really getting away from suburban sprawl and urban drama — brings out the primal kid in you. There's just something about that combination of running and being in the wild.

Of course, stepping outside your man-made comfort zone requires a degree of caution. The trails of the world are not exempt from life's dangerous inconsistencies. Thus, it is wise to be prepared for those rare perils of the natural world through which we choose to run.

So, here are 12 trail running hazards that could kill you. (Granted, in most cases, you will not be killed by these things. But, it's possible. So... Yeah):

A Mamma Bear
Mother Bear and cubs

Bears are big, fuzzy things that probably inspire more awe than aaarrrgh! Just look at those wittle beady eyes and fwuffy, fat bodies. They're like extra large, huggable dogs!

Honestly, I'd love to see a bear in the wild sometime. I'd be scared shitless. But, it would still be a neat experience. And, of course, the bear that I see in this fantasy would be the gentle type that glances at me for a moment before disappearing into the foliage.

In reality, I'd have the sense to avoid the bear at all costs. Have a look at this list of fatal bear attacks in North America, and you'll understand. Being that they're rather solitary, evasive creatures, we are unlikely to see a bear on the trail. In those rare cases when people happen to cross paths with bears, none will be as confrontational as when there are cubs involved. Hell hath no fury like that of a mother bear who thinks you're about to steal one of her adorable babies.

So, it's worth being bear savvy before you embark on a trail run through bear country. Reading this handy bear escape tutorial would be a good use of your time.

A Cliff

Cliff Jumping

Sure, they make it look easy in the movies. Everyone survives a fall from a cliff except the bad guy. But, in real life, you should be so lucky as to have a body of water at the bottom. One of the primary causes of deaths among hikers is falling from a rock ledge.

Unless you're cliff jumping, like the person in the photo above, you'll probably be smart enough to stay away from cliff edges. But, imagine you're running along and accidentally step through a thicket, or something. And, on the other side of that thicket is a sudden drop off. Bam! You're a goner!

Or, perhaps more applicable to a running situation, suppose you are running along a trail that skirts a very steep cliffside. One wrong step and bam! You're a goner!

Just be careful around high places, okay?

A Copperhead
(and any of its venomous cousins)

As a kid, I walked the Colorado fields near my house for hours catching anything with scales. And, I never saw a venomous snake. Fast forward to when I'm twent-thir-four-ish and running on a NC trail for the second time. Bam! I almost step on a copperhead lazily stretched across the trail. It didn't even move!

I certainly agree that snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them. But, sometimes they're feeling sneaky and want to prove the effectiveness of their camouflage. So, they lie still and root-like on the path before materializing beneath your foot like the Cheshire Cat of the snake world, which is startling.

If you fall victim to this reptilian trickery, you might be rewarded with a painful bite, probably on your calf muscle just to fuck up your running for a while. Read Hiking Dude's snake bite tips to brush up on the appropriate actions in this scenario.

Keep in mind, too, that venomous snake bites are uncommonly fatal. Many times a snake doesn't bother to inject venom when it bites in defense. Deaths happen, though. So, take any snakebite seriously.

A Cougar


Another rare killer of people, the Cougar will avoid you unless it's young and ambitious, protecting something it's eating, defending it's kittens, starving...the usual. Most cougars would rather eat a deer than snack on you.

But, these kitties like to roam. And, human populations don't make it easy for them to avoid us since we keep taking their habitats away. (Then, of course, it's the cougar's fault that Princess Scruffy got pulled into the night while she was dining on her kibble out on the back porch)

Anyway, these cats are faster than you. And, since people haven't been allowed to hunt them in a long time, they're not all that afraid of you either. So stay still and look as big as you can when you face one. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some good advice for you with regard to cougars.


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Trail runners frequently share space with hunters. Each party has a right to enjoy nature with his or her goals in mind. But, let's face it, people make mistakes, even the former VP of the United States.

So, it couldn't hurt for you to prepare yourself for the possibility that a well-meaning, overexcited dude with a gun might have a momentary error in judgement as you go sprinting past. Pay attention to signs posted around the trail and wear bright colors — bright colors.

A Pack of Hungry Coywolves

Contrary to what the name suggests, these wolf-coyote hybrids are not all that shy. They're the modern North American wolf, filling in where grey wolves have largely been killed off and coyotes are not afraid to venture.

Essentially, coywolves demonstrate the agression and pack hunting tendencies of wolves in conjunction with a penchant for areas populated by people. They're also larger, cleverer, and more brazen than the typical coyote. These are not your friends.

There's only been one recorded death by Coywolves according to Google search results. But, as an emerging species, it is not a good idea to assume they'll skitter off as soon as they see you. Handle encounters with these canines in the same way you would in the case of a bear or cougar.

This Killer Rabbit

Typically, killer rabbits are charged with guarding passageways and caves that lead to treasures. So, as long as you aren't greedy, and have the good sense to run away, you should be safe from these little beasties.

Getting Lost


There's getting lost and there's getting lost. Of course, you might take a wrong turn on the trail or lose sight of the blazes for a few steps. But, you're usually observant enough to find the path again.

It's not impossible to get really lost, though, especially after the sun sets on that trail you're running. And, that kind of lost is serious business. If the weather is cool, you could freeze overnight. Or, you might panic and wander into some deadly trouble before you can find your way out of the woods.

Read this set of instructions on surviving in the woods — just in case.

These Guys from Deliverance

Deliverance Rednecks

Unlike hunters, these Deliverance hillbillies are amused by your suffering. Avoid eye contact. Do not approach them. Run away if you can.

If you are unfamiliar with this Deliverance reference, feel free to look it up. I'm not going to embed the scene to which this image alludes, because, well, that's the kind of thing you can't unsee.

A Tick

Deer Tick

Okay, so reported deaths due to tick bites are scant. But, they can make you really, really sick. I mean, if you haven't already been warned about Deer Ticks and Lone Star Ticks, those purveyors of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, let me welcome you to life outside the bubble.

Ticks are pretty much everywhere trail runners would want to go, except in the winter, I suppose—in some climates. And, they want your blood!

These suckers are beyond loathsome. I don't even want to waste anymore time and space writing about them. Read all you can to avoid and identify ticks here.

Crossing a Stream

stream crossing

Any moderately seasoned outdoor enthusiast knows not to underestimate the hazards of a moving stream. This is another case in which one wrong step can mean the difference between a successful stream crossing and a cracked skull or drowning.

Familiarizing yourself with these pointers on crossing streams and rivers might prove useful.

Your Own Carelessness

That's right, you could be the reason for your own demise; simply because you couldn't be bothered to inform someone of your trail running plans before leaving the house.

It's common for hikers, climbers, and runners to suffer a minor, albeit debilitating, injury in the wilderness. And, of course, these injuries are easily treatable. But, when those injured hikers, climbers, and runners embark on their adventures without letting someone else know where they will be and when they will return, they die.

I mean, if you break your leg in a bustling suburban park, someone will be there to help you. But, if you break your leg miles from the nearest road, you could be rendered immobile and alone for days.

Now, I know that the video clip above represents a true story in which the hero survives. But, it's a really good illustration of my point. And, most people in similar situations are not as fortunate as Aron Ralston. Besides, if he'd have amputated his leg instead of his arm, the story might have turned out differently, don't you think?

So, don't be an ass. Take a few minutes to tell someone where you're going and how long you'll be gone. In most cases, this precaution will seem superfluous. You, and everyone who loves you, will be glad when it's not, though.

Happy running!


  1. Excellent post my man! Just excellent. Wish I had written it.

    1. Ah, thanks Scott! I don't think I can the number of your post ideas I wished I'd written.

  2. THanks for the tips! I have to add the tip - move to Lincolnshire. There are no bears, cliffs, copperheads, cougars (well... ) or coywolves. Other dangers still exist - particularly killer rabbits. Lethal things they are.

    1. Thanks Petra! I really appreciate your UK perspective. I was hesitant to post something so North American-centric. So, I'm glad that the Killer Rabbit is something with which my UK friends could identify. ;-)

  3. He survives? Thanks for the spoiler, dude.

  4. Don't put commas after "but" or "and" at the beginnings of sentences. It is ungrammatical and breaks the flow. Look this rule up. Don't be an ass.

  5. Thanks a lot very much for the high quality and results-oriented help. I won’t think twice to endorse your blog post to anybody who wants and needs support about this area.
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