Runner vs. Nature: Dealing With Bears While Running

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Perhaps one of the more exciting forms of fauna a runner can come across while on the trails is the mighty bear. In our hometown of San Luis Obispo, California, we have our share of bear sightings, including one that recently terrorized the student population of our nearby university for several days. (Incidentally, this university happens to be close to one of the larger trail networks in SLO, so this is relevant).

Though a bear sighting is sure to startle many runners, we can take solace in knowing that most bears have little to no interest in attacking humans. Opting instead to feed off of berries or fish if you’re near a stream or find a quick snack in a nearby trash bin or automobile, most bears are simply looking for a bite to eat. That said, bears can be dangerous, and it’s important to exercise caution to make your bear encounter more bearable (sorry).

If you come across a bear, be sure to stop running but try and keep your distance. Vocalize your presence using your normal, talking volume and try to refrain from surprising the bear by making any high-pitched screams or sudden noises. Most bear aggression arises from nervousness, so it’s best to remain as calm as possible.

Slowly back away. Do not run. Bears tend to chase animals that flee, and despite how fast you may say you are, there is no outrunning an animal that can cover over 35 miles per hour. If the bear comes too close for comfort, wave your arms aggressively continue to make noise (again, using your normal voice). Pepper spray, if you have it, can be a good choice here as well.

And should the bear make contact? The best response depends on the type of bear. Black bears are generally timid, likely to back off if you fight back. If your opponent is a grizzly bear it’s best to play dead to show that you’re not a threat.

As always, if you’re going to be venturing out into bear territory it would be wise to avoid running at night, and to only run with a buddy who can find help should something go wrong. Be sure to make plenty of noise so that you don’t surprise any bears, and be extra cautious when running around any blind corners.

Of course, you could just do what this guy does and run for your life.* (Warning: language)

*Not the best idea. Do at your own risk.

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