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Runner vs. Nature: How To Deal With Snakes While Running

Here on the Central Coast of California, the warmer days are upon us as the seasons turn towards summer. While this is a great thing for us runners who prefer a little heat, it also means that we will be sharing our trails with a few slithery friends.

That’s right, we’re talking about snakes.

While most of the things strewn out along the single tracks are nothing more than debris, snake encounters can happen, depending on where you’re running. And you know how it is – after you jump over one snake, every stick on the trail is covered in scales and has inch-long fangs.

One of this writer’s more adventurous trail runs yielded three real snakes – as well as a bobcat sighting and the sound of a gunshot off in the distance, though we’ll save that story for another time.

Come across a snake on your run? Relax. Unless you try to play with or otherwise provoke it, you’re not likely to be bitten. Simply give the snake some space and chances are you’ll continue your run with nothing more that a slightly elevated heart rate.

Say, though, that you do get bitten. It’s true that not all snakes are venomous, but let’s face it – you’re probably not going to be able to identify whether or not the snake that bit you is venomous in the brief, panicky seconds before the snake disappears. So let’s just assume that the snake was of a venomous variety.

In this case, the best thing you can do is to stop running. Continuing to run will increase the rate at which any venom will circulate through your bloodstream. Instead, try to stay calm and keep your heart rate down.

Despite what common lore may tell you, don’t try to suck the venom out of the bite or use a snake venom extractor kit. You’re not likely to get much of the venom out, and you may actually just make things worse.

Instead, your best bet is to get to a hospital as soon as possible for antivenin treatment. If you are carrying a phone, call 911 or the nearest park ranger’s station. Likewise, if you are running with a friend, have them go get help. Without a phone or a friend? Calmly walk to the closest populated area for help, and be careful to limit the movement of the bitten area.

It can’t be emphasized enough, though, that your chances of being bitten by a snake on your trail run are incredibly slim. Even though Indiana Jones may tell you otherwise, they’re not out to attack you. Simply pay a little extra attention to the ground ahead, stay on designated trails, and give any snakes you do come across plenty of breathing room, and you should be fine.

Of course, should all else fail, you could also just enlist the local squirrel population to come to your aid.

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  • deadesq

    We had a superstition among my trail running friends in Arizona–never run trails in groups of three. The first runner wakes up the snake, the second runner give the snake something to aim at, and the third runner gets bit. We had a well-known runner get bit by a rattlesnake on a trail run, and no one asked if he was okay. They only wanted to know if he was third. He was.