My (mostly) Irrational Running Fears

irrational running fears

I’m an over-thinker. Even more so when I’m out doing a long run, simply because a long run means I have a whole lotta time to think without a whole lot else to think about.

On a multi-hour long run, I’m gonna think some useful thoughts, and I’m gonna think some not so useful thoughts.

However, I also have a decade of experience as a professional risk manager hard-wired into my brain so I’ll not only think of all the things that could go wrong, but the risk management skills will automatically kick in to weigh the possibility of that risk happening (so I can usually recognize the utterly irrational from the possible).

I’ll also usually come up with a list of steps I can take to prevent or minimize the impact of that bad thing.

Maybe creating an action plan for my irrational fears just feeds them, but chances are I’m going to think about my irrational fears anyway (consciously or unconsciously), so I may as well make it productive.

My (mostly) Irrational Running Fears

These are actual thoughts (and action plans) I’ve come up with on the run, so while they may seem ridiculous, they all come from somewhere deep in my brain.

irrational running fears

I Need A Bathroom ASAP

This isn’t actually all that irrational. Chances are it will happen to you on some run sooner or later.

I include it on this list because while it may occasionally happen, my fear of it greatly outweighs the likelihood or severity of it.

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

  • On the trail: Practice squatting behind a tree. While it isn’t fun, it is something you get used to after a few tries. It’s really not so bad once you know what to look for in a good go spot (and remember to watch out for poison oak!)
  • On the road: Know the places that have public bathrooms. Grocery stores and Starbucks are usually good bets.
  • Scout out routes that pass public parks with bathrooms.
  • Carry some cash in case you are desperate and the only places around have ‘customers only’ restrooms. Buy a bottle of water and use the bathroom.

I’ll Fall On My Face

This is also a not terribly irrational irrational fear. It’s come to pass a few times for me.

I discovered just how much I react to poison oak by stumbling (OK, falling) into a patch of poison oak. I’ve also done two straight up face plants. Thankfully, neither of those involved poison oak (that would have just been adding insult to injury).

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and your footfalls, even when the ground seems relatively flat. In my experience, it won’t be the obvious cracks and tree roots that will get you (they are, after all, obvious), it will be the tiny rock and the nearly imperceptible tree root.
  • Learn how to fall better. Practice reacting to catch your fall. Practice the ‘stop, drop, and roll’ technique for when you can’t prevent your fall. Do your best to protect your head.

There Will Be A Medical Emergency

This fear takes many forms.

I’ll be injured, a running buddy will be injured, I’ll come upon another runner who has had an emergency.

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

  • Run with your cell phone. If you are in a county or state park, have park emergency numbers. In many areas, park staff can more quickly respond to an emergency than 911. Note, however, you can’t always rely on phone reception (especially on the trails).
  • Learn basic first aid, CPR, and Wilderness First Aid. Practice your skills and keep the certifications up to date.
  • Carry a little first aid kit

Animal Encounters

This is both a rational and irrational fear. Every time I’ve headed out on a trail, I’ve pondered (however briefly) the terrible and ferocious creatures I could encounter.

There are zero wild tigers roaming in Northern California, yet I have considered what I would do if I ran into a tiger mid-run (I still don’t have a good action plan for that one though). That is the very definition of irrational.

But I’ve also had a few real-life animal encounters in all levels of scary. A few snakes (all have been harmless, but still – eek!), a seagull near Santa Cruz decided to re-enact The Birds and kept dive-bombing me as I ran along the coast. On a later run, a bobcat was giving me the evil eye.

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

  • Know thy animals. Know what animals you could come across in your area. If you are going to be on the trail, ask park rangers what has been active. Based on that info – prepare accordingly.
  • Snakes are a big fear for me, so I’ll give them their own action item. Learn what snakes are in your area, learn to ID them, and which ones (if any) are dangerous/venomous. While spending a few hours looking at pictures of snakes was not a fun way to spend an afternoon, in the long run, it was good for me.

I’ll Be Assaulted

This sadly does happen, both in urban areas and on the trails.

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

  • Stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Run with a group.
  • Learn basic self-defense.
  • Carry mace or pepper spray.

I’ll Be Hit By A Car

Drivers are more distracted than ever. While you may have the right-of-way in a crosswalk, a driver who is not paying attention poses a huge risk.

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

  • You are not a ninja – don’t wear all black. Don’t make it harder than it has to be to see you. Wear bright colors and reflective clothing.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t wear headphones when running near traffic.
  • If need to be on the road, run so you are facing traffic.

I’ll Find A Body

I know this one is entirely irrational, but occurs to me on nearly every trail run.

I watch too much Discovery ID – It’s always a hiker or runner who finds the body.

Fear Prevention/Mitigation Steps

Not a lot to prepare here, either it will happen or it won’t

  • Have the police (or park) non-emergency phone numbers in your phone.
  • Watch less Dateline and Discovery ID.

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true crime trail runner


What about you? Do you have any irrational running fears?

Irrational Running Fears

2 thoughts on “My (mostly) Irrational Running Fears

  1. Oh man, I haven’t thought about finding a body! I’ve definitely had the bathroom situation happen to me and I’m really good at going anywhere so I guess i’m pretty prepared for that, lol. For new running routes I’ll usually check for Starbucks like you said! I’m huge about being safe so I let people know my location when I’m in the City and going on runs. As always, I’m aware of my surroundings and try to run in a group when possible. These aren’t all that irrational and it’s good to be prepared!

    1. I’m sure finding a body only occurs to me because of my love of true crime! I’m all about being prepared for anything!

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