New to Trail Running? Common Trail Fears Addressed (part 2)

Trail Fears 2

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This is part 2 of 2 of my mini-series. Last time we discussed tripping and getting lost.

Trail running can be truly amazing.

But it can also be a little intimidating for newer runners. Trail running will get you out in nature and into some of the most beautiful parts around, but it can also be more wild and unpredictable than the roads.

Don’t be afraid of trail running, but a little knowledge and some advance planning will make the experience even more amazing.

Part 2 is more ‘things you should be aware of’ than ‘fears,’ really. Not to scare anyone away, but these are things you might not know you should be afraid of/aware of. Knowing about them and preparing will make your trail experience even better.

(More) Common Trail Fears

Bears, cougars, snakes, oh my!

A few years back I was doing a trail run on my own in a state park in Marin County. In an open, sunny patch I saw a very large snake coiled up and sunning itself. After a very undignified squeal/scream, I soon realized I didn’t know what snakes are in the area. I didn’t know if any of them are poisonous or what I should do if I came across one. (I later found out it was likely a harmless gopher snake).

Learn what critters lurk in your area. Learn what can hurt you and what won’t. Find out what to do if you come across them. Most parks have information on local animals, the time of day they are likely to be active and what to do if you run into them at the park visitor center, trail heads, and/or website.

And pay attention when you are on the trail.


Another critter concern, but ticks are more a matter if when, not if, you’ll have to deal with them.

Running in the center of the trail and always wearing a hat have been my successful prevention methods so far, but I won’t pretend to be particularly knowledgeable on ticks. I’ll send you over to the Centers for Disease Control for more information.

And pay attention!

Poison Oak/Poison Ivy

If you react to these plants, this is another matter of when, not if. And if you don’t react, consider yourself lucky.

Like my grandfather before me, if I even look at poison oak I start to itch, so this my biggest struggle being a trail runner. I could write a thesis on dealing with poison oak. I was going to post a picture of the last time I was devoured by it, but it was just too gross and would give people nightmares.

Not coming into contact with the plants is the key here. Depending on the temperature, long sleeves and long pants are great protection. In warmer weather, Arm Sleeves or arm warmers and calf compression sleeves, can provide some coverage without quite as much warmth.

Learn to identify the plants in your area. Most parks that have poisonous plants have identifying pictures near trail heads.

After a run, I swear by Tecnu Original Poison Oak & Ivy Outdoor Skin Cleanser. Tecnu is a wash (found at any drug store or outdoor store) used to remove the oils that cause the rash after coming into contact with the leaves. There are other wash options out there, but I can’t speak to their efficacy. I keep Tecnu in my car and scrub down my legs after every run, whether I saw any poison oak or not. This is probably excessive, but better safe than sorry.

I don’t know about poison ivy or poison sumac, but poison oak can take up to two weeks to start to itch. If there is any chance you were exposed, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security if you aren’t itchy by the time you are back to your car.

If all else fails and the itching starts, break out the Calamine Lotion and be prepared for oozing.

There will be oozing.

Health and Safety

This is one area that I get uncomfortable even thinking about. But you (and I) have to think about it. Medical emergencies are always bad, but on the trail, you are often out of cell phone range and EMTs can be a long time responding, even during races. And while rare, assaults and robberies can happen as well.

This is an area where you need to be prepared before ever putting on your running shoes. Take a Red Cross first aid course, a wilderness first aid course (I took mine at REI which is done in conjunction with the National Outdoor Leadership School), and a self-defense course.

It’s a skill set I hope I never have to use, but I am very glad that I have it.

Health and safety concerns are another reason it is best to not run alone. There is safety in numbers and more people will be around to help if the need arises.

Oh yeah, stay aware of your surroundings and stay alert!


I hope I didn’t scare anyone away from trying the trail. Be prepared, and remember to stop occasionally to enjoy the view.


Any lessons you have learned on the trail that others should be aware of and prepared for?

new trail fears 2

Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

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