4 Tips for Trail Running & What To Do If You Encounter a Big, Scary Deer

Over the weekend I went out to Long Island to visit my family. Well, at least that’s what they think I came for. Really it was because the tree-lined, dirt running trails in the park across the road from my neighborhood have been calling my name. (Totally kidding! I came for both.) I love running in the city, but I’ve been missing these trails like crazy.

4 Tips for Trail Running
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On Saturday morning, after fueling up with some apple slices, a bit of peanut butter, and of course, a Pop Tart (Found them in my mom’s pantry. Score!) I laced up my sneakers and headed straight for the park. Before this weekend, I can hardly even remember the last time I ran these trails.

Luckily, my memory served me well and I still remember the route like the back of my hand. But as I was making my way through the winding woods, I got to thinking about some useful tips for trail workouts, including the fact that you should always map out your route. You know, so you don’t get lost.

4 Tips for Trail Running

Trail Running

1. Map Your Route
If you’re running a new trail that you’ve never navigated before, map your route. (It’s probably even a good idea to do this when you have run the trail before.) Look it up before you go and get a good idea of where you’re going. Yes, adventure and being spontaneous is fun, but if you get hurt or you’re too tired to keep going, being lost is not. Also, tell a friend or family member where you’re going so they’ll know where to find you if  you need help and bring your cell phone so that you can be tracked via GPS and can get in touch with someone if you encounter any problems. Even better, it’s always a good idea to take on long trail runs with a buddy when you can.

In addition to mapping your route, you should also pay attention to trail markers. Most parks that have trails for hiking and running should have their trees marked with colored squares to let pedestrians know which route they’re following.

2. Run Slow
Trail terrain is not the same as running on the road. The benefit is that with dirt surface there’s less impact compared to asphalt and cement. However, it’s a good idea to take your pace down a notch or two because you’ll need to watch out for tree roots, sticks, leaves, rocks, and just uneven terrain in general. Trail running is great because the twists, turns, and varying terrain add an extra challenge which will make you a stronger runner in the long run. But if you twist your ankle because you were going too fast or weren’t paying attention you won’t be able to run at all, and we all know how much runners hate not being able to run.

3. Enjoy the scenery
Pardon my French, but trail running is freakin’ beautiful! Especially in the fall when the foliage is more colorful than a double rainbow. So instead of checking your GPS every 3 minutes, pay attention to your surroundings (also do this for safety reasons too), stop and smell the roses (it’s OK to walk or even stop and stand with your mouth agape for a minute), and just genuinely enjoy the fact that you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by nature while you partake in the best activity known to man. (I’m talking about running, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Trail Running

4. Ditch Your Headphones
I saved this tip for last because it relates heavily to number two and three also. There are several reasons why you should head out sans music when you’re hitting the trails. Number one is because you need to run slow and pay attention for the sake of not tripping over a stick and falling down; Number two is because you should be enjoying all of the beautiful nature around you instead of  listening to Pitbull tell you about how much money he’s worth; And number three is because there are animals everywhere. Depending on where you are some of them might be very large. Chances are one will never harm you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to maul you if they feel like it. (You never know, and runners aren’t very well liked by some right now either.)

While I was running on Saturday, towards the very end of my run, I heard some rustling in the brush to my right. I thought nothing of it. I assumed it was a squirrel because come on, this is Long Island we’re talking about, not the Outback. Well, I assumed wrong. About 30 seconds later the biggest male deer I have ever seen in my entire life leapt across the path about 50 yards in front of me. I won’t lie, I almost peed my pants. Even worse, I didn’t know what to do and it was a good minute or so before it ran off into the distance. So for what felt like an eternity, I was just standing there, and it was just standing there, and I guess you could say we were both like deer in headlights. Minus the headlights, though.

Usually deer aren’t scary, but first of all you never know what any animal will do, even if it does look as cute as Bambi. And second of all, this particular deer looked more like a moose. It had huge horns and an enormous muscular body. It was truly terrifying.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much information about what to do if you encounter a deer while running. (Plenty of tips on how to avoid hitting them with your car though!) However, one Patch reporter says:

If you do run into a deer in rut [mating] season and you feel threatened, then you need to be loud i.e. yelling or banging on a tree by you with a large stick. Most likely any movement you do will scare off the deer.

And Runner’s World has a few tips for encounters with even scarier animals like bears, coyotes, and mountain lions. God help me if I ever come across one of those! But ultimately, Holly who blogs at RustBeltRunner.com summed up my feelings perfectly in writing about her own deer encounter when she said, “I did not want to get antlered!”

Have you ever encountered an animal while running? Are there any tips you would add to my list?

4 comments
  1. This post came at a perfect time for me as I am doing my first ever trail run at a 5k on Thanksgiving morning! Though your solo trail running experience is worlds away from what I expect to be a busy, holiday race – I am taking your tips to heart!

    Just wanted to leave a comment and let you know I am loving this website and especially your Instagram food posts!

    1. Cool! Good luck 🙂 And thanks, that means a lot! I just checked out your site, looking forward to reading some of your writing!

  2. I came across a relatively small buck as I was hiking on a white trale at Willowbrook Part in SI with my 6-months-old daughter who was asleep in the carrier. I was walking down the trail, and it jusr appeared out of nowhere. First thing I did was getting the phone out of pocket to snap a picture as I got so excited. I was trying to be quick and quiet because I didn’t want to scare him away. He was literally 10 steps away! Few seconds later I realized that not only he is not going to run away but he was walking towards me and this is when I felt threatened and didn’t know what to do. Obviously, I couldn’t run with the baby (thank god she remained asleep as this was happening). So I got pretty damn scared! I covered the baby with my hands and could feel his nose on them. I don’t know if he was smelling me or the baby but my entire body was on fire. I tried not to panic and think of the way out. The first thing that came to my mind is that I entered his territory. The other thought is that he was looking for food. So there I was. Standing right next to the buck and apologizing in the sweetest voice for entering his territory and not bringing any food to feed him (it might sound funny now but I was not joking at that moment at all). I ended up slowly turning my back to him and walking back to where I came from.
    I honestly don’t feel like making noise would be helpful as some people recommend in their comments. At least not in my situation.

    1. Wow! That sounds terrifying. Glad you made it away OK!

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