Stay away from things with teeth, and other advice for trail runners

Penny on the Boise front
Penny on the Boise front

Were I not working with Jack on his first half marathon, I’d currently be on a very different training schedule. The Race to Robie Creek is five weeks away, and my long runs should be in the ten-mile range right now.

Jack is up to six and a half miles, adding another half every weekend, and I can’t do a ten mile run one day and then run with Jack the next, even if we go super slow.

My husband-slash-running coach says two back-to-back medium length runs will mimic the impact of the weekly long run for training purposes. He also says Girl Scout cookies don’t have calories. He’s really smart, so I’m subscribing to both premises.

Saturday I thought I’d change things up even further, make my first medium run of the weekend a little more challenging, and hit the trails.

I’ve been reluctant to vary my normal routine of pavement or the occasional dirt road. It’s not for the lack of great trails around here, but because there are different variables to deal with in the foothills. And by “variables,” I mean the kind with TEETH.

When I’m running on roads, I’m usually highly focused on staying out of the path of cars. While navigating my way along the Boise Front on Saturday, I compiled a list of different stuff to be cautious of. Stuff that, in hindsight, might have been more helpful to consider before going out.

A trail run near Ketchum
A trail run last May near Ketchum

Ticks. Until the temperatures hit 90 degrees or so for a few consecutive days, trail running includes post-run tick checks. Ticks carry diseases that start out looking like the flu and end up with symptoms that would get you locked away in an attic in a Charlotte Brontë novel. You do not want to Google ‘symptoms of a tick bite,’ when you’re feeling woozy. It’s much less nausea inducing to find out how to remove a tick.

Rattlesnakes. While the website wins the unofficial “Um, like …. DUH,” award for its advice on rattlesnakes (“Basically, leave it alone. Snakes are shy”), they helpfully point out the time of year one is likely to encounter a rattlesnake on a trail run – which is right freaking now, as a matter of fact. File that under helpful tidbits I should have looked up before my run.

I don't know what the hell these are
I don’t know what the hell these are

Cougars. I’m not talking about the happy-hour-in-a-downtown-bar kind, I mean the fuzzy kind to which the house cat is distantly related. Like its domesticated cousin, cougars chase fast things, so I’m generally not at risk. But, also like the house cat, they’re sneaky and unpredictably grouchy. The Mountain Lion Foundation says that, no matter how lucky you may think you are to encounter a mountain lion (I don’t think they were being ironic), mountain lions are actually very dangerous.

The trick to escaping, they say, is to make yourself appear as big as possible, maintain eye contact, be loud and obnoxious and put some space between you and the animal without turning your back.

This all, by the way, runs directly counter to the advice for how to survive a confrontation with the downtown-bar type of cougar, but that’s a subject for another blog.

I don't know what these are either
I don’t know what these are either

Deer. Okay, I know deer are supposed to be pacifists and vegetarians and stuff, but they are notoriously uninformed on trail etiquette. If a deer needs to get out of danger, he may just stand there, paralyzed with fear, or else he may do this crazy serpentine hoppy thing, which is not something you and your dog want to make space for on a steep mountain trail.

I don’t know what we can do about this, just be aware that DEER ARE NOT ALL THAT FREAKING CUTE, people. They are dangerous and could knock you down. True, they’re not biters, but we need to be tougher on them and keep them accountable for knowing the rules on the trail and staying out of the way.

Bears. Yes, there is an occasional black bear sighting in the foothills, even this close to town. Although they look cuddly, this time of year they’re pissed. They might also have cubs they need to feed which will make you look more like hamburger than you ever imagined. The Bear Smart Society offers several helpful tips:

–       Respect the bear’s personal space
–       Speak in calm reassuring tones, but tell it firmly to “get out of here!”
–       Use bear spray if you have it (I usually don’t)

… basically just treat a black bear like you would any teenager who happens to be awake before 8 am on a Saturday, and you’re golden.

Last May's High Desert Trail Run half marathon outside of Pearl, Idaho
Last May’s High Desert Trail Run half marathon outside of Pearl, Idaho

Other people. One of the main reasons I’ve been reluctant to do a lot of trail running is I’m not sure if I’m going to be run over by mountain bikers or set upon by someone else’s rowdy dog. Actually, folks on the trail Saturday were all exceedingly polite. Most stood to one side to let me pass, and a few complemented my dog. I guess it’s something about the first direct sunlight of spring that had everyone feeling all Pollyanna and friendly.

Your own damn dog. Well, maybe not YOUR dog, but MY dog is a problem. She’s likely to notice something she needs to sniff at right in front of my damn feet at any damn moment, which makes her a tripping hazard. She refuses to pose for pictures, which isn’t dangerous, just irritating, and she is pretty sure everybody on the trail is there just to say hello to her, so she’s going to get in your way, too, if we happen to cross paths.


She was also completely oblivious to all the potential issues with trail running – as well as my rising panic as I assembled this list in my head – and blissfully alternated between threatening to trip me and yank my arm out of the socket the whole run.

Despite all this we returned home on Saturday unscathed, except for some crinky ankles and a very pressing need for a cheeseburger.


This all will have been worth it if you vote for me, which you can do every day. Thanks.


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