Out There: Running For My Life, From Wildlife

If there's a rattlesnake up ahead, it's best to turn around and let it be. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

When Susan Lacke spots a wild animal during a run, she usually high-tails it the other way.

My fastest mile this summer didn’t happen during a race. It didn’t even happen during a tempo run or a time trial. My fastest mile this summer took place in the middle of what was supposed to be an easy 10-miler. What kicked me into high gear, you ask? Those six little words of inspiration:

“That is one big-ass rattlesnake.”

While my fellow runners stopped to gawk at the snake coiled up in the middle of the trail, I froze.

“Wait, what?” I queried.

“A rattler!” One of the runners whispered excitedly, pulling out her phone.

“Oh, hell no!” I cried, turning on my heels. “No. Nope, nope, nopenopenope.” Before she could Instagram a shot of our impending death, I Usain-Bolted out of the park, locked myself in my car, and checked my running shorts for excrement.

Maybe it’s the city slicker in me, but I have yet to find true peace in nature. I love the challenge and beauty of trail running, but the second I begin to relax and enjoy the scenery, I come face-to-face with something in that wants to kill me: Austrian man-birds in Texas, hungry bears in California and rattlesnakes in my own Arizona neighborhood.

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My knee-jerk reaction to these critters is the same every time: Get the bleep out of there. There’s no way in hell I’m sticking around to live-tweet a bunch of Yogi Bear jokes, mostly because I very much enjoy the act of being alive.

“Actually, with bears, I don’t think you’re supposed to run away,” my partner Neil told me. “They’ll chase you. You’re supposed make yourself bigger while making mean noises.” This nugget of knowledge was accompanied by the world’s worst bear impersonation, complete with a puffed chest, bared teeth, fingers gnarled into talons and a growl that sounded less “mean” and more “constipated cat.”

Make myself bigger? This makes no sense. I’m not a blowfish. No matter what shape I contort myself into, I’m still a 130-pound sweaty runner—or, as a 2,000-pound bear would say, “a delicious, salty snack.”

To find out how to balance a love of trail running with an even greater love to make it back to the trailhead alive, I hit up Ranger Steve, who works at the mountain preserve where I came across my rattling friend.

“You don’t have to worry too much. Attacks on trail runners and hikers are pretty rare,” he said. “Wild animals mostly want to be left alone. If something happens, it’s usually because the animal has been provoked in some way.”

“Provoked how?” I queried, imagining a trail runner spewing “Yo Mama” jokes at a coyote.

“You’d be surprised how many people intentionally move closer to an animal instead of backing away.”

If a light bulb had been hanging over my head, it would have snapped on at that very moment. “Let me guess,” I smirked, “taking pictures?”

Ranger Steve clicked his tongue and shot an air gun in my direction. “That’s one reason they do it, yes. If you come across a wild animal, the best thing to do is to respect the animal’s space. As soon as you spot one, move away quietly and confidently. Don’t do anything that would make the animal feel threatened.”

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That list includes no roaring, no teeth-bearing, no fake talons and definitely no Instagramming. Apparently, animals really hate that. As someone who has been tagged in more than one unflattering photo on Facebook, I can totally sympathize.

I’ll change my tactic slightly next time I encounter a furry or scaly friend on the trail, remaining as calm as possible instead of leaving an audible trail of tearful “nopenopenopes.” But there’s one thing that definitely won’t change:

As soon as I get out of sight, you can bet I’m hauling ass back to the car.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she is a featured contributor to Triathlete and Women’s Running magazines. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with four animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, a pinscher and a freakishly tall triathlete named Neil. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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